The view to the mountains that surround it is most spectacular at sunrise, but this is no secret. On any night of the year, there are a few hundred tourists scaling their way to the top. From the summit of Mount Sinai, Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments directly from God.
Almost every hotel in Sharm el-Sheikh and Dahab offers the tour for about 100 Egyptian pounds. And by 2am there are queues of minibuses dropping off tourists all wrapped up against the cold desert night. The trek starts near St Catherine’s, one of the first churches in the world. All tour groups are led up the camels’ path by Bedouin guides. The lucky hikers get to illuminate the path with torchlight. The not so lucky make do with the lit end of their guides’ cigarette.
A climb over two hours long, every thirty minutes there is the welcoming light of a stone walled cafe. Hot drinks are available for 10 EP, and there are basic toilets. Bring toilet paper and hold your breath. If the climb gets to be too much, inside the cafes there are plenty of cushions for lounging. Alternatively camels are available to hire for around 60 EP, there are always plenty of tired hikers splayed over their humps. And at the Bedouin cafes just off the summit, 2285 metres high, there are mattresses and blankets available to hire for about 20 EP each.
I climbed Mount Sinai this October. And by the time I reached the top, a fiery pain circled my knees and the ice wind blasted my body. The sky was still dark except for stars, but by 5am the first of the sun’s rays opened up the view. It was as ‘awesome’ and ‘incredible’ as everyone around me proclaimed. I perched next to the Greek Orthodox Chapel, others were by the Mosque. And we watched as night whispered towards light, and the mountains appeared carved out towards the horizon. They began a muted rose, and as the veil of grey was lifted, the colours deepened to faded orange under an opalescent sky. Perhaps forty minutes later, the sun took to the stage, neon pink. The crowd went wild taking photographs. And the colours heightened, until it became just another day of blue skies and terracotta mountains.
The scenic route down the mountain is the 7000 steps carved out as penance by a monk. The stairs are surrounded by fungus-like rock formations, made more trippy by a lack of sleep. And young Bedouin boys sell bizarre plastic eggs from the path side. The journey takes a few hours, and it will be a couple more before you are back on the beach.
But the view from Mount Sinai will stay with you for life.