28 August 2009

Mount Sinai and St Katherine's Monastery

The 2285m peak of Mount Sinai is believed to be the mountain top where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. The only commandment that I received was "Thou must be back at the bus for 10am or risk the wrath of the bus driver and a walk back to Dahab!".

Being as it's another one of those "be at the top for sunrise" and that there's no cable car, Liz decided to give it a miss. I was picked up at about 11pm on Wednesday night, joined a bus load of sleep deprived climbers and driven out into the desert for a couple of hours. We started climbing at 2am and managed to bag a place on the summit about 15 minutes before sunrise.

Climbing in the dark is always an unusual experience as you don't actually get to see what you're climbing up or anything of your surroundings until after sunrise, by which point you're usually on your way back down. The views from the top and on the way back down were quite spectacular and well worth the effort of struggling through the darkness on the way up.

The most dangerous aspect of climbing Mount Sinai is avoiding waking into a camel in the dark. The route we took up the mountain is called the camel trial as, for a fee, the local Bedouin offer the lazy and unfit a ride up on their great stinking beasts.

Because it's pitch black you have to really concentrate on where you're putting feet. This means that you're walking with your head bent down looking at the floor. This in turn makes it quite difficult to keep your eyes peeled for any camels that might be lolloping down hill out of the darkness at you. I had a couple of close shaves where I was nearly crushed under a giant camel hoof.

Being as it is an important site for Christians, Jews and Muslims (I was just there for the climb!), the route up and the summit were absolutely packed. The climb up at times resembled a giant conga snaking up the mountainside. I guess that it's far from the serene and spiritual journey that a lot of those who are on religious pilgrimages imagine it to be!

The route down was via a trail known, rather ominously, as the Steps of Repentance. The route consists of 3750 steps that were laid single handedly by a monk as a form of penance.

Being as I was on my own I ended up joining with a couple of other solo climbers from our bus; Bart, a slightly angry man from the Netherlands, and Basmah, an Arabic speaking Canadian living in Jordan.

Basmah had my dream childhood job and is a pilot, unfortunately for her this mean that she had to put up with me wanting to talk about flying and planes most of the way up and down the mountain.

As we were working our way back down the mountain we met a couple of donkeys going in the opposite direction. Basmah asked the old croan who was herding the beasts if she could have a photo taken with her donkeys. When she started to feed the donkeys some left over biscuits that she had she was admonished by the croan. Apparently because the sun had come up and it was ramadan the donkeys should be fasting!

In the bottom of the valley at the end of the trial lies St Katherine's Monastery.

The monastery was founded in 330AD when a chapel was built beside what was thought to be the burning bush. You can't see the actual burning bush (I guess for health and safety seasons). However; they do allow you to see what is described as a "descendant" of the burning bush.

I guess it must be a cutting!

1 comment:

  1. Strange that our Jewish ancestors actually got that far if murder, perjury and theft were okay UNTIL they got a stone that said 'THOU MUST NOT'! Ovadiah.. stop that killing at the back now, it's not allowed....but Mom!

    I know where you can get some cream for that burning bush..