Egyptian Holiday (part 3): I got high on Mount Sinai

I had not thought much about this activity on our itinerary – hiking Mount Sinai. I had no expectations either positive or negative about it. The only thing that I’d thought about was that it was an all night event and I was concerned about getting over-tired from the loss of a night’s sleep. I was already feeling the effects of losing a night’s sleep traveling from Cairo to Abu Simbel and Aswan. When we got to the Old Cataract Hotel I should have napped in the afternoon instead of going out in the felucca (boat) with everyone. But it was a beautiful day, a neat thing to do and I did not want to miss anything. I got chilled on the boat and that’s how I came down with the bad cold – fatigue and chill. I was concerned that losing another night’s sleep would make me sicker.

Our driver and guide picked us up around 10 pm. We had about two and a half to three hours drive ahead and we all hoped to catch some shut-eye on the drive. We had to go thru many checkpoints at which we all had to show our passports. So much for getting much more than 40 winks on the drive. We arrived around 1:00 am at a small station, which had the usual facilities and met the young Bedouin man who was to be our guide for the hike. It was cold. It was dark. There were millions of stars. As usual, there were lots of hawkers pressing their wares on us – gloves, scarves etc – telling us how cold it was going to be at the top. Lots of other mini buses arrived with many more tourists.

We were given our flashlights and we started up the mountain. As we passed the Christian monastery (the first one ever built) we saw activity – movement, campfires. As we got closer we saw a large herd of camels and their Bedouin owners/drivers. They were looking to get hired to take tourists up the mountain. We trudged by them, away from the light and into the darkness. Only surprisingly, it wasn’t that dark. It was a beautiful moonlit night. With my flashlight on, my eyes could not adjust to the darkness, so I turned it off. It did not take long for my eyes to adjust. I could see so much. I could see the path so I had no trouble with my footing. I could see the whole valley, as well as, up and down the mountain. It was wonderful! Others in my group though wanted and needed the flashlights on. This bugged me because it meant I couldn’t see anything but the immediate path. I wanted to see the whole mountain and valley. I wanted to experience the ambiance of hiking in the moonlight – I’d never done it before. Usually I don’t say anything, but this was important to me. Because I thought we had to stay together I told them to ‘turn off their frigging flashlights’. That did not go over well. I was told to go on ahead. To me, that was a fabulous idea, so I took off. I don’t know what happened to me. I usually ‘collapse’ around 10:00 – 11:00 pm. Instead of being tired, I had energy to burn. I was excited. I did not feel sick at all and forgot all about being sick or getting sicker. I loved hiking up the mountain in the moonlight! I did not even think about my safety. I just soaked up all the sensations of occasion. SJ came along with me. Several times we came across what seemed to be large rocks in the distance but as we got closer they turned out to be a lying down camel with his squatting driver beside him. “Camel, camel”. No takers from me. We went at a good pace. I’m what I call a ‘high-class’ hiker. I have a group of women I hike with and most summers we drive to and/or helicopter into a mountain lodge (ski lodge in winter) and hike 2000-4000 vertical feet a day, ending up in our extremely comfortable accommodations at night. So I had no trouble with the vertical we were doing. At one of the several rests stations on the way up SJ said she was feeling sick. I knew it was from the exertion of the climb. She hired a camel to ride the rest of the way up. I did not want her to be on her own so I kept pace with the camel and driver. It wasn’t easy. Camels take big steps and I did not have the proper footwear. Usually I’m wearing my hiking boots but I did not want to pack them all around Egypt for one occasion. I had brought old tennis runners that were worn smooth. I was finding it very slippery. At some point, the camel driver just took my hand. My immediate reaction was to pull away, but I didn’t. Holding his hand I found it so much easier to keep pace with the camel. Now that I didn’t have to worry about slipping I could relax and enjoy the scenery even more and chat with the driver. He did not speak much English but I learned that it was his brother’s camel and that it was 6 years old.

It was wonderfully strange to be hiking up a mountain in the moonlight holding hands with a Bedouin man in traditional dress, trekking behind a camel. Once we got as high as the camels could go, SJ got off the camel. She was feeling much better. She had enjoyed the ride. We each tipped the driver and told him to go and find other tourists to help. Then we waited for the rest of our group to arrive.

When we reached this station there still was lots of time before the sunrise. It was warm and comfortable here and I knew it was going to be cold on top. I thought we should wait here until closer to sunrise. Our guide told us that there were so many tourists that if we did not get to the top early we would have trouble finding a spot to watch the sunrise.

The next part of the journey was the 750 irregular rocky steps up to the top of the mountain. I certainly did not count them. Now the group was together again, flashlights and all. It was crowded with tourists and we were going so slowly. SS was ahead with our guide holding his hand. I continued to have so much energy and no patience, so I told the guide I wanted to go ahead. I passed SS and the guide and headed to the top. GH, one of the fellows in the group, was keeping up with me. When we got to the top we did not know where the best spot was so we found a spot to wait for our group. Our guide came looking for us and took us to the group. We hunkered together in the cold to wait for the sunrise. Gradually it started to happen. There was something wonderful about being huddled together watching the night turn into day. Once the sun came over the horizon it did not take long to be fully day. Sun’s up! Time to go down again.

I don’t know what happened to me on the hike up Mount Sinai, but it was wonderful!


Dr. Bea Mackay

Comments are closed.