Are you a spiritual seeker, a religious believer, nature lover or hiking enthusiast? In any case, you should consider climbing Mount Sinai in Egypt. Believe me, an ecstasy awaits you.
CLIMBING MOUNT SINAI FOR SUNRISE
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Find out why Mount Sinai in Egypt is called Moses’ Mountain, where is the Burning Bush, where was found the oldest manuscript of the Bible, how I hiked Mount Sinai for sunrise and more.
WHERE IS MOUNT SINAI & WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF MOUNT SINAI
Mount Sinai is an impressive ancient mountain of Biblical significance in the Sinai peninsula in Egypt.
Sinai Mountain in Egypt is traditionally known as Moses Mountain as it is believed to be the Biblical mountain where God spoke to Moses and where Moses received the Ten Commandments.
Mount Sinai is the mountain that Moses climbed. The Arabic name of Mount Sinai is Gebel Musa or Jabal Musa what literally means Mount of Moses. For centuries Mt Sinai in Egypt, also known as Horeb Mountain, has been an important religious pilgrimage site of followers of all Abrahamic faiths. Moses, the Holly Bush, and the Ten Commandments are of huge religious and spiritual importance to Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
Mount Sinai in Egypt is a holy place of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as it is believed to be the Biblical Mount Sinai and ‘the Mountain of the Ten Commandments‘.
But, nevertheless, Mt Sinai is a dramatic granite mountain with cruel but jaw-dropping landscape views.
When you see the Moses mountain, it becomes obvious why Mount Sinai is a part of an Egyptian National Park – the St. Catherine Natural Protectorate.
Egypt Mount Sinai is one of the oldest mountains in the World. Some parts of the Sinai mountain are about 600 million years old. Furthermore, the Mount Sinai area is one of the richest eco-systems in the Middle East. Mountain Sinai is home to many endemic, rare and protected plant and animal species, such as Egyptian jackals, Nubian ibexes, hyraxes, foxes, and wolves to new a few. In Mt Sinai, you can find the smallest butterfly in the World, called the Sinai Baton Blue.
But, let’s go back to Moses and Mount Sinai’s story. Moses and Mount Sinai are inseparable. After all, the mountain is named after Moses.
Tradition places Moses’ life in the late 14 century BC. But, the story of Moses and Mt Sinai originates from the Book of Exodus written around the 6th century BC. According to the Book, God spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai from a burning bush telling him to take Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land. After that event, Moses went back from Sinai to Egypt to convince the Pharaoh to release Israelites from slavery. For the next 40 years, Moses led Israelites out of Egypt, across the Red Sea, the Sinai desert and Sinai mountain to the Promised Land.
Today’s visitors of St Catherine monastery in Sinai can see what’s believed to be a descendant of the Burning Bush. On the summit of the very same mountain is believed to be the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. A Christian church and a Muslim mosque sit at the top of Moses Mount Sinai with respect to that Biblical event.
While the legend of Moses has been living for the past 3.500 years, the narrative of the Book of Exodus has been keeping a written track of the legend for the past 2.700 years. Over the centuries Moses got accepted as a symbol of a leader, prophet and God’s messenger, while the Ten Commandments became fundamentals of social morality and ethics of the Western civilization.
ST CATHERINE MONASTERY & MOSES’ BURNING BUSH
The St Catherine monastery is a 1500-year-old Christian Greek Orthodox monastery in the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt.
The official name of the St Catherine Sinai monastery is ‘Sacred and Imperial Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount Sinai’. The monastery was built on the site where it was found, what’s believed to be, Moses’ Burning Bush.
In the 4th century AD Empress Helena, the mother of Roman Emperor Constantine who legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire, attended a pilgrimage to the site. After the pilgrimage, she protected the bush by building a small chapel on the site.
Later in the early 6th century AD, Roman Emperor Justinian built a huge basilica with a monastery to protect the chapel. Additionally, he built high walls to protect the basilica, chapel, and bush.
In the 6th century AD during his life, Prophet Muhammad made several pilgrimages to Mt Sinai. In his letter to the monks of St Catherine monastery in Sinai, he granted a Charter of Privileges – protection of the site, monks and Christians in the area from religious persecution.
In the 11th century, a mosque was built next to the church in the monastery complex. In fact, the mosque was made out of the original monastery refectory. The mosques’ minaret stands just opposite the monastery bell.
Indigenous Bedouins of the Mt Sinai called the Jebeliya Bedouins, which literally means ‘Mountain Bedouins’, have been guarding the monastery for centuries.
Although the early chapel was named after Empress Helena, later the monastery got the name after St Catherine of Alexandria who was a Christian martyr and whose body, according to a legend, was mysteriously found on a summit next to Mt Sinai.
The 8.668 ft (2.629 m) St Catherine summit in the Sinai peninsula is the highest peak in Egypt. On the summit of the St Catherine mount in Sinai sits the church of St. Catherine.
The Sinai monastery is said to be the oldest continuously active Christian monastery in the World. In the monastery the Codex Sinaiticus or Sinai Bible – the earliest manuscript of the Bible, written in Greek and dating back to the 4th century was found. Today the British Museum holds the Codex Sinaiticus. Library of the Sinai monastery, which is today a museum, holds an impressive collection of holy manuscripts and iconography – over 3.000 manuscripts, over 5.000 early printed books, over 2.000 icons from the 6th to the 18th century. Only the Vatican library in Rome has a larger collection of holy books than the library of Saint Catherine Monastery.
2002 UNESCO listed St Catherine’s Monastery Sinai as a World Heritage Site, documenting that all St Catherine area is a sacred place to three World’s religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Opening hours of St Catherine Monastery: 10 am – 12 pm (noon); Fri, Sun closed; Greek Orthodox holidays closed
Entrance to Mount Sinai Monastery: free
Entrance to Museum of Saint Catherine Mount Sinai monastery: 20 EGP
HIKING MOUNT SINAI
Popular Mount Sinai hikes go from St Catherine monastery which stands at the foot of Mt Sinai up to Mount Sinai peak.
How tall is Mount Sinai?
Mt Sinai is 2,285-metre (7,497 ft) tall. And the Mt Sinai hikes go from St Catherine monastery which is at 5.249 ft (1.600 m) above the sea level to Mount Sinai summit which is at 7497 ft (2.285 m).
There are two ways to reach the summit: the Camel Path and Steps of Repentance. The Camel Path joins the Repentance Path at a place called the Elijah Hollow or the Seven Elders of Israel. From there final 750 steps lead to the summit.
The Camel Path is 4.3 miles (7 km) long snake-like way. Trekking the Camel Path up to the top takes about 2 and a half hours (up to 3 hours) on average. Local Bedouins offer camel rides for 250 EGP (15 USD) along the path. A camel can take you up almost to the Mount Sinai peak. Almost, as the camels can go to the Elijah Hollow and from there, there are still 750 steps to climb to the top. There are rest stops along the Camel Path where local bedouins sell water, hot drinks (tea, coffee, chocolate), snacks and even blankets that are welcomed during cold night climbs.
If you want to hike the Repentance Path, you need to take 3.750 steps to the top what takes 2 hours on average. Although the steps are faster, they are uneven, much steeper, seeking constant awareness and as such they more difficult to climb than the Camel way. The Repentance Steps date back to the 6th – the 7th century AD when a monk carved them out of the mountain.
My Mount Sinai trip started from Dahab, a small town on the coast of the Sinai Peninsula. I wanted to see a sunrise over the Dead Sea from the top of Mt Sinai and I took a bus tour from Dahab.
The minibus left the town at 11 pm and reached St Catherine monastery 2 hours later. Around 1 am on a dark and cold night in late November my companions from the minibus and I started climbing Mt Sinai along the Camel Path with a local Jebeliya Bedouin guide. The Jebeliya Bedouins live, control and protect Mount of Sinai. Moses’ mountain is their home.
The night hike was nothing less than beautiful. Although the night was cold, walking up the mountain warmed us quickly. Our Mt Sinai night trek was blessed with the light of the full moon. From time to time the mountain hid the moon, but the stars illuminated our way. The sky was full of stars as it can be only in areas of unspoiled nature with no light pollution. On our way up we took breaks a few times taking warm tea or coffee at the Bedouins’ rest places. But as soon as we stopped, the coldness was felt and we started shaking in our shirts and jackets which got wet during the hike. Thus, our rests never lasted more than a few minutes.
We reached the top around 4 am. Luckily there was a Bedouin’s rest place just before the final 100 steps where we took a warm shelter. Refreshed and alert a few minutes before the sunrise we went up to the top of Moses Mountain.
The sunrise started around 6 am and we were standing on the top of Mount Sinai. We were on the site where once Moses received the Ten Commandments when the big orange ball started coming out of the Red Sea.
The scene seemed like the birth of the Universe. Timeless. Infinite. Eternal.
At 7 am we started going down to the monastery taking another route – the Repentance Steps. Taking 1.750 steps down was a faster way but knee-busting. It took us an hour and a half to get to the monastery. The scenery all the way down was utterly fascinating. Harsh and dry but bewitching.
On our way down we passed by Elijah basin.
The Elijah basin is a plateau named after another prophet – Elijah. According to the legend, the prophet Elijah was hiding here in a cave in Mount Sinai for 40 days running away from Jezebel’s revenge after defeating the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel.
After a short stop at the Elijah basin, we continued our Sinai Mountain trip trekking to the St Catherine monastery. The monastery opened at 9 am.
At 9 am we entered the monastery following Moses’ footsteps and standing again on another site where biblical Moses once stood.
TIPS FOR CLIMBING MOUNT SINAI
• decide should you hike Mount Sinai for sunset or sunrise – The Mt Sinai hiking tours go in sunset and sunrise. The sunset from the mountaintop can be spectacular, but you will need to get down the mountain in the night what might not be easy. Hiking Mount Sinai down in dark is much more dangerous with a higher possibility to fall down than in the daylight. Keep on your mind that going down by 3.750 uneven Steps of Repentance on the Mount Sinai trek is not an easy task at all!
• check the weather forecast for Sinai – temperatures on the foot and the top of mount usually vary between 5 – 10ºC
• wear good hiking shoes, or good sneakers at least – be aware of the rocky terrain. Mount Sinai climb requires good shoes.
• dress in layers – during your Mount Sinai hike you will be sweating a lot, but also getting cold a lot
• take a warm jacket – you will need it at the top for sure. The wind at the top can be fairly strong!
• take hiking sticks – if you are fit, hiking sticks are not necessary, but will make your Mount Sinai trek much easier.
• take your water bottle and pack some light snack – do not overpack your bag. You can always buy more from the Bedouins at the rest stops along Mount Sinai hike.
• don’t forget to take your passport with you – on your way to St Catherine you will need to go through several police checkpoints. The police will ask for your identification documents.
GETTING TO MOUNT SINAI
Mount Sinai can be easily reached from Nuweiba, Dahab, Sharm El-Sheikh and Cairo. Popular bus tours go from Dahab, Sharm-El Sheikh, and Cairo to Mount Sinai.
St. Catherine’s Monastery Sunrise Trip (a tour from Sharm-El Sheikh)
Talking about distances, St Catherine Monastery in the Sinai peninsula is about 274 miles (440 km) away from Cairo, 143 miles (230 km) away from Sharm El-Sheikh, 83 miles (133 km) away from Dahab and 68 miles (110 km) away from Nuweiba.
A bus ride from Cairo to Mt Sinai takes 9 hours on average. A bus ride from Sharm El- Sheik to Mt Sinai takes 3 hours, and from Dahab to St Catherine monastery 2 hours.
Mount Sinai Egypt tours drive to the St Catherine monastery at the foot of Mt Sinai where all hikes to Mt Sinai start.
BEST TIME TO VISIT MOUNT SINAI
The best seasons to climb Mount Sinai are spring and autumn. Summer in Mount Sinai can be too hot. Daily temperatures in summer rise often above 40ºC (1o4ºF). Winter in the Sinai can be too cold. Winter night temperatures often go around -10 ºC (14ºF) with the snow on the top. From December to March, temperatures in the Mt Sinai go below zero and usually, the snow is on the top.
The best months to climb Mt Sinai are April, May, September, October, and November. From September to November nights are not too cold and are more favorable for climbing Mount Sinai in Egypt.