Bucket List: Midnight Hike Up Egypt’s Mount Sinai
Bucket List: Midnight Hike Up Egypt’s Mount Sinai
Food always taste best when you’re hungry. After hiking to the top of Mount Sinai and waiting for the sun to rise, I’ll add that it tastes even better when you’re not only hungry but cold. And the shopkeepers along the trail know this. Would you pay $5 for a hot cup of of ramen noodles? I did and it was the best cup of noodle I’ve ever eaten in my life.
Walking In The Footsteps Of Moses
Located in St. Catherine, visitors can climb up to top of Mount Sinai at 2285m (7497 ft) and watch the sun rise over the Sinai region. The Bible tells us that it is here that God gave Moses the 10 commandments. While this location is still debated by scholars today, when you are watching the day break atop the mountain and the light spreads across the valley below, you’d hardly care whether it was true or not.
At 1 am, I began walking along with a group of other people who had left behind the comforts of their bed for an overnight hike up to the top of Mount Sinai. Slow and steady, I walked behind the “guide” that we were required to have, but probably didn’t need. The trail was shrouded in darkness with only the twinkles of the stars above to accompany the loose and slippery rocks that cradled my boots.
Despite this, I felt strong and and energized by the crisp night air. Occasionally, I would overtake other hikers who were heavily breathing and not fully prepared for the steep and windy climb. From time to time, the silence of the trail would be broken by the the rhythmic lumbering of camels being led by their handlers.
With frequent shops set up along the way offering, I took my breaks and contemplated their selection of snacks. As we climbed higher, I started to take more frequent breaks. I was in no rush and I knew we would have to wait at the top anyway.
The toughest part to this point was getting out of the way of the camels and avoid the little gifts they left behind. By 4 am, I had finally reached the last rest point before the summit. Now it was time to wait with everyone else. I changed my shirt wet with sweat and settled in for a bit of shut eye.
Negotiating For Noodles
The last part of the climb along the ridge to the summit is exposed and not the most comfortable place to wait over an hour before the sunrise. Those snacks started to look especially tempted. I succumbed and asked for the price of a cup of noodles. $7.50!!! The same noodles I could have bought for a small fraction of the price in town. Of course, I was no longer in town, nor did I have access to hot water to bring those noodles to life. I mumbled under my breath, drove the price down to $5, and made a deal.
There would be no buyer’s remorse. Within minutes, I was enjoying everything about that wonderful little cup of artificial noodles drowning in over 1000mg of sodium. Yes, delicious warm salty broth delighting my senses and warming up my fingers. No exaggeration, holding that cup in my hand felt like there was a warm force field around me shielding my body from the cold while I waited for the sun to come up. Worth every Egyptian pound I paid.
Sunrise On Mount Sinai
At 5:30, the restless crowd began to stir and move up to the summit. This was the moment we had sacrificed our sleep and hiked up a mountain in the dark for. The last 100 meters or so up was a lot more demanding on the knees and quads as I high stepped over large rocks, carefully finding my footing before fully committing.
At the top, you find a spot and settle in. And then it just comes. Just before dawn, the faintest of colors begin to appear spreading from an invisible line that had to be the horizon. The color become more distinct with each passing minute as the shape of the mountain ranges in the distance slowly come into view. Be patient, the best is yet to come.
Some make this journey as a pilgrimage in the steps of Moses, while others like myself do it to perhaps experience something spiritual at the top, a symbolic cleansing of the body and soul with the coming light of day.
You return down the same way you came up, but with the morning rays, it’s a completely different trek exposing the valley below and the all the switchbacks you when you were ascending.
Tips For Climbing Mount Sinai
Summiting a mountain in the dark can seem daunting, but it’s not so bad if you’re well prepared.
Bring A Headlamp. This is an obvious one. The trail is both uneven and unlit. Unless you enjoy stepping in camel poop or walking right behind someone else with a headlamp the entire way, BYOH. Bring your own headlamp. I use the Black Diamond Spot. It’s bright, water-resistant, has a red light mode and is a great deal at around $30. For an ultra-compact option, check out the Petzl e+LITE headlamp. It has a retractable zip cord that disappears into the tiny body and several modes and enough power to light your way.
Bring Warm Clothes. Although you’ll feel warm during the hike, the temperature can drop pretty quickly between 3 and 5 am and you don’t want to catch a cold. My current jacket of choice that I take everywhere is this down jacket from Mountain Hardwear. Super lightweight. Packs into itself and keeps me really warm. For this hike, I’d also recommend a synthetic base layer to wick away your sweat and keep you dry paired with a warm light jacket.
Bring An Extra Shirt. Even though it’s chilly, you’ll sweat during the way and might even feel warm. That’ll change pretty quickly when you get near the top and wait an hour in the cold. You’ll feel a lot more comfortable warm and dry than wet and cold.
Bring Some Snacks. These shopkeepers don’t stay open all night for their own pleasure. They know you’ll be hungry and thirsty. Bring chocolates or chips to keep your blood sugar up.
Buy A Cup Of Noodle. At the last shop before the top, buy something warm before the summit. You’ll still be waiting a good 15-20 minutes for the sun to rise. I saw a lot of envious eyes looking at my warm cup of noodles while I settled into my spot. Being so high up, this did make me a little nervous.
Was this on your list of things to do? If you need some ideas, check out my bucket list for inspiration and get out there.
Updated on January 5, 2022