Saturday, May 26, 2012

Climbing Mt Sinai

Our trip from Cairo to Mount Sinai was to be about six hours. Unfortunately a State Department directive concerning travel by American tourists turned it into a 14 hour trip. The most direct route across the Sinai was considered unsecure. So we had to travel down the entire west side of the Sinai peninsula to Sharma ash Shayk and then turn north about a third of the way up the West side before heading into the interior and the area around Mount Sinai. Through most of this trip we traveled in bus caravans with armed soldiers in jeeps before and behind us. We weren't sure what the threat was, whether Bedouins were going to ride down from the hills and kidnap us or whether Ali Baba and the forty thieves had returned but it made for a very long day. We arrived at our hotel at about 11 PM.

 We were warned that accommodations at Mount Sinai left a lot to be desired, that was an understatement. The beds were so hard that your body changed shape to conform to them.  The shower lacked water pressure and hot water. The water valve to the toilet was off when we arrived but if you left it on it flooded the bathroom floor. But the best part of this adventure is that the main goal of climbing Mount Sinai is to be there at dawn to see the sunrise. This meant that getting to bed at 11 PM we were to be up at 1 AM. The majority of our tour group chose not to take advantage of this opportunity. I however having come this far could not pass it up. At 1 AM I stumbled out of bed got on the bus for the short ride over to the base of Mount Sinai. Mt Sinai is a little over 7,000 feet high but we start climbing at around 5,000. We begin near St Catherine’s Monastery. One of the most fabulous places unfortunately it was closed on the day we are there. Our climb from our starting point by St. Catherine's monastery will be 2410 feet in the dark with a half-moon with about two or 300 other people who thought that this was a great idea along with maybe three dozen camels and numerous Bedouins offering us ride on their camels.

Our tour guide insists that we stay together even though our normal walking paces are quite different. This made for laborious travel. A few of our people chose to take camels up. I have to say that this was as hard as the hardest climbs I have done in the Appalachians. The first 1800 feet are a good steep climb. Then when you are good and worn out, it really gets steep. The last 600 or so feet are a steep rough stair climb. It took the full time from 1 AM till sunrise at about 5:40 to make it to the top. At the top the sunrise is absolutely marvelous and when you think that this is the mountain (or at least millions of pilgrims throughout the ages have thought this was the mountain) on which Moses saw the burning bush the revelation of God, and at the top of which Moses received the 10 Commandments the law from God and on the side is where Elijah fleeing from Ahab seeks to hear the voice of God who is not in the great wind or the earthquake but is in the still small voice. It was a powerful experience.

On Mt Sinai This was the only sign in English andd it was only in English
Our tour guide had described this as a moderate climb. I think for people our age you needed to be in better than average shape to make the climb. Also the camels would take you up to the 1800 foot mark from which there is an excellent view. And then you could climb the last 600 feet.

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