Climbing Mt Sinai – where Moses received the 10 commandments – at two in the morning is something I never had in my bucket list. To be cliche, “not even in my wildest dreams.” After getting too much history of ancient Egypt in Cairo and Luxor, I decided to fly to Sharm El-Sheikh in the Sinai Peninsula. And I’m so glad I made the decision. It is magical to witness the sunrise on the summit of a 7,497 ft-mountain, revered as a holy site in both the Christian and Islamic world.
Related: Photos – Sunrise at Mt. Sinai
If you’re planning to climb or hike Mt. Sinai to witness the incredible sunrise, here are some things you should know.
It’s your cheaper option. It’s a 3-hour drive from Sharm El Sheikh but nearer if you’re based in Dahab. I was picked up at 8:30 in the evening at Novotel Hotel and we picked up some more people in hotels around the city. We left Sharm El Sheikh at exactly 10:00 P.M. and arrived at 1:30 A.M., the next day, with a couple of stops along the way for bathroom break, tea and souvenirs.
Today, both Muslims and Christians protect the mountain. You cannot climb the mountain without a Bedouin guide for the whole group. If you do it alone, you must climb and pay your own Bedouin guide who speaks your language (English and Russian are common languages used by the guides.).
It is advised that you take the Camel trail when climbing Mt. Sinai. It’s a long way but it’s not tedious if you hike on your own pace. You will know when you’re almost at the summit when you start climbing a series of 750 steps. In fact, these steps are part of the 3,750 “Steps of Repentance.” Make no mistake, these steps are to be taken slowly and make sure you have a flashlight (because it’s still dark by the time you arrive here) with you. One false step brings you to a fatal accident. Stop or rest if you must when your knees become wobbly. You could fall if you force yourself and continue in that condition.
And what about the remaining 3,000 steps? You’ll hike on them on your way down, another route, back to the mountain’s base.
Yes, you can ride a camel if you want to. But remember, the animal can only take you more than halfway of the hike/climb. You’ll be on your own after that.
The climb starts at 2 in the morning. And depending on your hiking pace, you should be there by 5 A.M. The last steep steps I mentioned above would take 30-40 minutes alone.
Flashlights are provided by your tour guide before the ascent. One is given to every two hikers. I brought mine because I travel alone and I didn’t want the pace of my climb to depend on how fast and slow my partner was.
Two in the morning is still pitch dark. Though there are thousands of stars above you but they’re not enough to lit your way. Remember that the mountain is made or granite. There are sharp pebbles, rocks and edges you’ll walk on on your way. I remember when we walked on a trail with both sides are open cliffs. I had to hold my hat and scarf because it was so windy and cold.
Stay on the trail and make sure you are following or walking beside your partner. The Bedouin guide is always in front of you. If you are the last one and you think you’re already far behind them, you have to shout for help. When the guide stops, everyone stops to wait or see if you’re doing okay. We have one big, Russian girl who we kept waiting because she was so slow and her fellow Russians were so pissed off that they advised her to just get a camel, But she was a petulant woman who was determined to do it on her own. We could have arrived earlier, I think, if not of her.
Bundle up. I was told by the tour agency where I paid my bill that a light sweater would be okay at this time of the year (Mid March). I heeded his advise, of course. In fact, I wore shorts, a t-shirt and a pair of shoes only. However, I packed a light sweater, a pair of sweat pants, a light cardigan and a beanie in my bag—just in case. And boy, I had to change my shorts and put on all the clothes I brought because it was windy and biting cold even before we started our hike. I had to buy a scarf at the local shop to survive. Don’t forget your gloves, too!
To save you from the biting cold, there are a couple of shelters / shops for your pit stops. Here, you can fuel yourself with water, tea, coffee, chocolate bars, etc. These shops are run by the bedouins and are expensive. It is better to bring your own but make sure that they’re not too heavy on your shoulders.
Just like I said above, you’ll know when you’re almost at the summit when you start treading these steps. They are steep and turn your flashlights on all the time. In cold and freezing temperature, your hands begin to get numb and your knees wobble as you go up. Climb at an average pace and catch your breath. By this time, you can already see the orange line at the distance. Dawn is breaking and it gets you excited. It’s like the sunrise is cheering for you to finish all the steps up before it can reveal its breathtaking beauty.
While waiting for the sunrise, take a 360 degree view of what’s around the summit. There’s a chapel there but it’s closed. You’ll all be standing on the open space with other travelers. Some Muslim pilgrims start to pray facing where Mecca is, others are busy taking selfies, and few are relaxed, waiting for the first golden rays of the sun.
Related: Photos – Sunrise at Mt. Sinai