The minivan picked me up at my hotel at 11pm, and drove a group of 15 of us up to Mt. Sinai (Moses Mountain) for an overnight trek to see the sunrise.
Mt. Sinai is on the Asian side of Egypt, the Sinai peninsula, and stands at about 7,500 ft. Sinai, which separates Africa and the Middle East, has long been a land of conflict; ruled by Egyptians, Ottomans, Britain, and Israel; but it's part of Egypt these days.
The drive (from Dahab) took over an hour, and there were police checkpoints on the way. We arrived at the carpark by 1am, met our guide, and started out on our pilgrimage up the mountain -- in the middle of the night.
Have you ever been hiking up a mountain in the middle of the night? I haven't, until now. I thought there'd be torches, or something. There wasn't. It's hard to climb up rocky paths and winding steps in the dark, and freezing cold.
It's exhilarating though, climbing Mount Sinai in the middle of the night, under a starlit sky, passing camels for hire and tea/coffee kiosks all the way up. It's quite unsettling though, not knowing exactly where you are stepping, relying heavily on your guide, knowing that a couple of feet in the wrong direction and you will be sent tumbling down a cliff in the pitch black darkness. I looked to the summit, or where I thought it would be, but couldn't make out anything in the darkness. So I just stepped cautiously, and tried to keep as close to my fellow hikers (with torches) as possible.
We took the slower, windier camel trek, as it's safer to hike in pitch blackness; we reserved the 3000+ stone-carved steps (by Monks) for the daytime hike down.
Before you climb Mt. Sinai, you will more-than-likely have your bags searched and passports checked, and have to enter through a metal detector: common practice in Egypt. We were lucky, being the middle of the night, the security was a little more relaxed than usual -- not that I had anything to hide.
The trek up the mountain took hours, I was prepared with scarf and ski jacket, but it wasn't enough. The temperatures must have been around zero, or just below (with wind, as we ascended higher-and-higher). Looking behind us as we ascended, we could see tiny white/yellow dots in a trail scattered like fireflies; the hundreds of tourists making the same pilgrimage, a race to the top to beat the rising sun.
Most of the group I hiked with were couples, over to Egypt for 10-12 days taking advantage of the low-season and low prices. We discussed travel plans and itineraries, but I didn't really click with anyone to join up for future travel. It's a bit like that sometimes with short-term holiday makers. It wasn't important, I was there for the experience of climbing the legendary Mount Sinai, where Moses received the 10 commandments from God.
I'm not much of a religious person, but I don't think it matters. Myth, legend, or fact, it's still something worth doing. Climbing to the top of the mountain to watch the sun come up, descending down the 3000+ steps to Saint Catherine's Monastery (one of the oldest in the world) to see the 'Burning Bush' that God used to appoint Moses the leader of the Israeli evacuation from Egypt.
We reached the summit before 4am, and the sun wasn't expected to rise until 7am, so we used the opportunity to gather in one of the few huts near the top, drink Bedouin Tea, and huddle under blankets for warmth. I managed to get 30 or 40 minutes worth of sleep, while trying not to freeze to death.
As soon as the first red light started to appear over the horizon we made our way to the best viewpoints with some other 250+ tourists to watch the sunrise, and what an experience it is; whether Moses stood here to announce the 10 commandments, or not.
Right at the summit is the Chapel of the Holy Trinity, built in 1934 -- I can't but help wonder how. All those bricks.
At 7:15am my small group made our way back to our guide for the pilgrimage down the 3000+ steps to the Monastery. The hike down was difficult on the knees, but the views and photos were worth it.
At the Monastery itself, once you got passed the touts selling their religious merchandise and geodes, you could enter the grounds and the church, which has a lot of religious significance that I won't go into here.
Let's just say its worth the hike, the cold, and the Egyptian entrepreneurs trying to sell camel rides.