We started climbing at 1 am. I was wearing 2 layers of socks and closed shoes, yet my feet were cold. I labored with every step but the thought of stopping was scary because of the cold. No moon night. The sky was shimmering with stars but I had to look at the ground to avoid tripping. Friendly cats would follow us for a while then disappear in the mountains. Once we passed Saint Catherine Monastery, it was pitch dark. The higher we climbed, the darker and colder it got. Breathe, deeply. One foot in front of the other. We were going at a very comfortable pace. Stopping often. There are huts offering hot beverages, snacks, blankets and a much needed shelter where we would catch our breaths and warm up a bit. They also offered camel rides up but no one in our group of 13 opted for that. It’s the dead of winter and the nights are long. We had plenty of time before sunrise. Our experienced Bedouin guide, Farhan, knew how to pace the hike up Mount Sinai. We just need to get to the stairs by 4:30 am. I had envisioned metal stairs with railings and thought it would be the easy part. When 4:30 came I realized that the stairs are merely uneven rocks and mostly covered in snow and black ice. By the time we got to the last rest hut before the final climb, I was exhausted. Luckily we had half an hour rest and I took a quick cat nap amongst cats. Farhan woke us up just before sunrise and we climbed the last bit to the top of Mount Sinai as the sky was starting to show a reddish hue. It was spectacular. I could see why this place is sacred.
Mount Sinai, Moses Mountain, Saint Catherine Mountain (it has many names) is the highest peak in Egypt. It’s surrounded by other mountains and lots of hiking trails. Ever since a couple of people got lost and died, hiking without a Bedouin guide is not allowed. The local Bedouins know the terrain like the back of their hands and they hike up and down like mountain goats.
At the peak there is another rest hut (minus the camels), a monastery, a mosque on top of “Moses cave”: a hole in the ground where Moses supposedly spent some time when he received the 10 commandments.
As the sun slowly made its way up, the beautiful live painting of the mountains changed colors, textures and feel every second. All of them awe inspiring and divine. From the first glimpse of the view from the top, I forgot about the cold, the exhaustion and all the people around. Mother Nature sucked me in and put me in a trance. Magnificent views all around. Everywhere I looked, I saw amazing scenery. I felt one with Mother Nature.
Once the Sun was fully up, we started descending, shedding the layers of clothes that were no longer needed. Cats running around in the snow, getting in touch with their inner tiger. What took us 4.5 hours to climb, took us only 1.5 to descend. Now that it was daylight, we could see the amazing beauty all around us.
It was an experience of a lifetime! It doesn’t really matter what philosophy one believes in, when we connect to the beauty inside and around us, we can feel the divine. May we all find our way to this beautiful connection!
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