Climbing a holy mountain at 2am will leave you dazed at the best of times, but add a million stars and a few dozen bellowing camels into the mix and I defy you not to feel like you’ve stepped into a Christmas carol.
|Time to turn the torch off.
For some reason, I always imagined the summit to be rather large and flat. Perhaps with a nice grassy patch. I guess I always thought it would have to be quite roomy in order to fit both Moses, God, and the two stone slabs that became the ten commandments. But it’s really quite tight on the top, and there are dozens of grannies and nuns who worked as hard as we did to make it, so every climber jostles for the best spot like a queue of Ryanair passengers.
Fortunately, Rachael found us a wee spot around the way and down a bit. The rocks were somewhat precarious – and of course there was no safety railing – but most importantly we could sit alone as a group and feel proud of our efforts as we waited for the sun to surface.
|The spot Rachael found us.
Around ten minutes later, we let out a collective gasp when a sliver of intense scarlet light became visible. Though we’d been anticipating its arrival, the sun was far larger and more brightly coloured than we’d expecting. It wasn’t hard to see why the Ancient Egyptians considered the sun the most powerful of gods.
We spent around 45 minutes at the top taking photos, sitting in silence and watching the sunrise, talking about some of the many events that had happened there, and even singing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.
|The six of us who had the balls to spend all night conquering Sinai.
|My brother Michael on top of Mt Sinai. I love this photo.
Then, it was time to begin the trek back down. We opted for the lesser-known route: 3,750 steep steps directly down the side of the mountain. The path was created by a monk who intended its climb to be used as penitence. I can barely comprehend how hard it would have been in other other direction. Long before reaching the bottom, most of us were getting the yips – our knees threatening to twitch at exactly the wrong moment and fling us down to the rocks below.
|One of the easier stretched of stairs.
The way down felt vastly different to the climb up. Partly because it was steeper and there were no camels, but mainly because the sunlight enabled us to see the immense canyon we were climbing. As a kid, I always imagined Mt Sinai would resemble the mountains I was familiar with – grassy and fertile. But it turned out to be more like the Grand Canyon: vast, bare, red, and rocky.
|A small Greek Orthodox church part-way down.
Our descent took less than half the time our climb had taken. At the base of the mountain, we visited St Catherine’s Monastery – the oldest Christian church in the world. Sadly we weren’t able to go inside, as we were pressed for time to get back in time for our onward journey to Jordan.
|St Catherine’s Monastery.
Later that afternoon, we found out that other tour groups had been cancelling their Mt Sinai climbs following kidnappings in the Sinai area. I’m relieved that I didn’t know this in advance as it may have made me uneasy about taking part. And I’m stoked that our group were fortunate enough to have to opportunity.
I spent the night in a Christmas carol, and it was choice as.