A friendly tip for climbing the traditional Mount Sinai

A friendly tip for climbing the traditional Mount Sinai March 20, 2019


Jebel Musa in Sinai
A view from near the summit of Jabal Musa (Mount Moses), in the Sinai Peninsula — the traditional site of Moses’ encounter with God   (Wikimedia Commons public domain photograph)


In my younger years, I climbed to the top of the traditional Mount Sinai several times.  I’ve done it only once or twice since then, and I haven’t done it at all for quite a few years now.


Sinai map
A map of the modern Sinai Peninsula   (Wikimedia Commons public domain)


Still, I might be able to offer some helpful pointers.  First of all, though, in the spirit of full disclosure I need to say that I think that the actual historical Mount Sinai may not be the Sinai Peninsula’s Jabal Musa at all — which looms above St. Catherine’s Monastery, marked in the map above in the southern portion of the triangular peninsula).  Instead, I’m now inclined to think that it actually stands on the opposite side of the Gulf of Aqaba (or, if you’re an Israeli, on the opposite side of the Gulf of Eilat) in the territory of modern-day Saudi Arabia.  But who knows?  And the areas look just about identical, in any case.


Anyway, the common practice is to stay in a guesthouse near the mountain, which is located in the precise middle of nowhere, and then to be awakened for the climb at about 1:30 AM.  The goal is to watch sunrise from atop the peak.


The first time I did this, I wanted to be absolutely certain that I didn’t miss the dawn, so I really cruised.  And I reached the summit with a good two hours to spare — and it was dark and frigidly, miserably cold.  When I got to the top, though, I was walking alone and there was nobody there.  And, to my horror, I saw a complex of buildings and bright lights on an adjacent peak.  Had I missed a fork in the trial and climbed the wrong mountain?  Was there really, out there in the empty desert of the Sinai, a restaurant and perhaps a hotel atop Mount Sinai?  (It looked almost like a revolving restaurant.)  Could anybody really be so crass?  (Later, I realized that it was some sort of Israeli military installation atop Jabal Katarina.  I was on the right mountain.  The territory has now reverted to Egyptian control and, obviously, the Israel radar station or whatever it was is long gone.)


The next time I climbed the mountain, I resolved to go more slowly.  But I still reached the peak too early and, once again, I nearly froze in the dark.


So my advice is, Take time to smell the (completely nonexistent) roses!  If you feel like taking a rest, take one!  And then linger longer!  There’s no rush.


I did, however, notice that, by the last time I climbed Sinai, older and in much poorer shape, the mountain had grown considerably taller and significantly steeper, and that I didn’t need to worry so much about summiting it too early.


Also:  On one occasion, I decided to ride a camel up.  But, after about forty-five minutes, I decided that I would much rather walk.  So try the camels if you like — there are always camels available for rent, accompanied by camel drovers — but you, too, may find that you prefer your own two feet.



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