Hiking Mt. Sinai, Egypt | A Quest of Biblical Proportions

We’re hiking Mt. Sinai, you say? Errr, I really don’t like hiking.

This hike won’t be that bad. Just a few hours up and a few hours down. 

But I didn’t even bring decent shoes. I can’t climb 7,500 feet in flip-flops.

You can borrow someone else’s.

But I didn’t get any sleep last night and I’m totally exhausted from being in the sun all day.

You can take a nap on the way there.

I’m scared of hiking in the dark.

You won’t be alone. You’ll have a flashlight. And the sun will rise before you know it.

But a coral reef attacked me this morning and my leg hurts.

You’ll be ok. If Moses did it at 80-years-old in sandals and without an iPod, I think you’ll manage.

Ok, fine. You win. I’ll hike Mt. Sinai.

Some backstory on Moses: He was born in Egypt at a time when the Pharaoh declared all firstborn Hebrew sons should be drowned. To save her baby, Moses’ mother and sister placed him in a basket and floated him up the Nile where he was rescued and adopted by the Pharaoh’s daughter and raised in the palace. Over the years, Moses was credited with leading his people out of slavery in Egypt, parting the Red Sea and hiking Mt. Sinai where he received the Ten Commandments from God.

While my attempt to summit Mt. Sinai was less significant on a world history level, completing the hike made me relate to Moses’ struggles to obey God in a way I never had before. When God told Moses to climb Mt. Sinai, Moses was like, “Actually, maybe you can find someone else. I’m really not feeling it. I don’t even like hiking. There has to be someone better for the job. I mean, I’m like, 80 years old. I didn’t bring my hiking sandals!” He didn’t want to be uncomfortable; he didn’t think he could do it. He doubted himself and he doubted God’s plan.

Moses offered a heap of excuses before finally agreeing to hike Mt. Sinai — kinda like I did.

It wasn’t a message from God that finally convinced me to do the hike of course, but instead it was the new friends I’d made on my On the Go tour. Though the night before was mostly sleepless and was followed by a much-too-early morning of snorkeling and an altercation with a coral reef, at 11 p.m. our ragtag group of Egypt-touring misfits boarded the bus for a two hour ride to the base of the mountain. I was fully exhausted, a little dehydrated, hungry and my leg was freshly sliced by the coral reef — and that was before I started the 12 hour overnight adventure.

The first hour was relatively easy despite it being pitch black — in fact, I think it was easier because I couldn’t see how far we’d climbed. The moon hung somewhere out of sight, but provided enough glow to backlight the mountains around us. The group stayed together, chatting & cutting up like we had at the Egyptian temples, on the hot air balloon over Luxor and on the felucca, at a manageable pace up a steady but comfortable incline.

As I was hoofing it during the first portion of the hike, it occurred to me (and I typed it as a note in my iPhone) that God often gives his clearest direction during a hike – be it a real one on Mt. Sinai or some other metaphorical quest. It’s not like Moses was just chilling by the pool at his resort in Dahab when God passed over the Ten Commandments, you know?

Moses had to wrestle with his own shortcomings and doubts, and ultimately climb a big mountain to get to his God-given purpose in life.

Life lesson noted.

Once we got to the dreaded 750 Steps of Penitence, my goodwill and cheer toward the adventure evaporated. I quickly fell to the back of the pack, wincing every time I stubbed my right toes on rocks in the dark. The cuts on my calf felt like they split every time I took a step. After 10 minutes of stair climbing, I was huffing and puffing and muttering woefully about that handsome Australian guy that convinced me to hike this stupid mountain in the middle of the night.

As I struggled with every additional step, I began to think up excuses to explain to everyone sprinting effortlessly to the top why I was lagging so embarrassingly far behind. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Flesh-eating bacteria from the coral reef incident earlier in the day was making me weak.
  • I have Achilles tendonitis – in both legs.
  • I was born with only one lung and it doesn’t work very well.
  • I lived at sea level my whole life so I get altitude sickness really easily.
  • I have asthma. And bronchitis. And I’m allergic to camels…

If nothing else, coming up with excuses for my lameness at least helped me to pass the time, and like Moses, I left Mt. Sinai with some solid truth:

Long term travel has not been good to my health.

On top of myriad injuries, illnesses and scars this year, I’m also ridiculously out of shape. I rarely get a chance to go to the gym or run and my food choices consist of whatever is closest and cheapest at the moment when my tummy starts to rumble. Usually that’s a Snickers & a Coke. No wonder I felt like I was going to die.

While breathlessly heaving midway up the staircase of doom, I reminded myself that if 80-year-old Moses in his sandals managed to go up and down this mountain twice, certainly I could suck it up and make it work. And Haytham, our guide, was frolicking like a little forest pixie up the steps — while chain smoking. Not coughing, not pausing, not stopping for a drink of water. His advice to me? Just run to the top. (Oh, and then, at around 5,000 feet, Haytham told me that this mountain is just one of several mountains that could be the real Mt. Sinai. REALLY.)

If I’d had the energy I would’ve beat him up.

Sunrise at the top of Mt. Sinai

A few hours later, after much internal whinging and external wheezing on my behalf, our group made it to the top of Mt. Sinai. It was freezing once we stopped climbing, so we rented mattresses and heavy blankets (of questionable cleanliness) from the Bedouins along the way. Haytham lead us to the perfect rock ledge overlooking the darkness and we cozied up and awaited the sun’s debut.

 

It was perfect.

 

“Be ready in the morning to climb Mount Sinai and get set to meet me on top of the mountain.” — Exodus 34:2

“The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled….” ― Exodus 19:18

“When Moses came down from Mount Sinai carrying the two Tablets of The Testimony, he didn’t know that the skin of his face glowed because he had been speaking with God. Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, saw his radiant face, and held back, afraid to get close to him.” — Exodus 34:29-30

My trip up Mt. Sinai wasn’t exactly a Moses-caliber hike. I didn’t come back with messages for the people via stone tablets and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t glowing with radiance when I returned to sea level. (In fact, I bet I was a scary sight. No photos remain of the trip down…)

Even without an expressly divine purpose, I experienced a breathtaking sunrise, spent time with some of my favorite new friends I met all year and had a few personal epiphanies about obedience, trials and life’s purpose.

So, yeah, hiking Mt. Sinai was worth it after all. 

COME AWAY WITH ME!
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  • Avatar
    February 13, 2012

    We only did the 10 day tour of Egypt so didn’t make it to Mt Sinai. Hopefully we get the chance to go back sometime! Haha you should have done it in jandals (flip flops) 🙂

    • Avatar
      February 13, 2012

      YOU should do it in jandals when you go back! That would be an interesting twist… just like Moses!

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    February 13, 2012
    angela

    I had a remarkably similar experience climbing Mt Masada in Israel. It was miserable, but the view from the to was incredible.

    There was this guy selling fresh squeezed OJ at the base of the mountain. Guy could’ve been selling the stuff for $40 a cup and I think everyone would’ve bought it! It was so good and so needed after the hike.

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      February 13, 2012

      Funny! I just checked in at my hostel and some guys were trying to tell me that Mt. Masada was great, blah blah blah. And I basically said, without confirmed directive from God himself, I am not hiking any more religious mountains!

      Unless I meet a cute guy and then all bets are off.

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    February 13, 2012

    Your loving-hiking posts are hilarious, your injuries sound pretty painful, but I’m not deterred yet from doing it, although, I confess, my hiking resistance is so low..

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      February 13, 2012

      I wish I were a person who loved hiking… I’m always happy I did it after the fact but I’m pretty rotten as a hiking partner!

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    February 13, 2012
    Mom

    Love it!

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    February 13, 2012
    Lauren

    Wow! Hey- ya did it- check it of the list and you don’t have to do it again haha but the pictures are amazing!!!!

    • Avatar
      February 14, 2012

      Definitely not doing it again! But glad I did it and glad it’s over =)

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    February 13, 2012

    Isn’t it annoying how big hikes and other physically exhausting things are almost always worth it in the end? It means we have to keep doing them! Sounds like a great experience though – I’m not really religious, but it would still be exciting to hike such a well-known, historically important mountain.

    • Avatar
      February 14, 2012

      So annoying! Some of my best stories come from the most uncomfortable situations!

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    February 13, 2012

    I climbed Mt. Sinai by accident, in moccasins (didn’t realize entirely where we were going until we were already there). WORTH IT. All the twisted ankles, totally worth it.

    • Avatar
      February 14, 2012

      In moccasins?! Now that’s crazy. I ended up borrowing shoes from a friend, but they weren’t very comfortable. I think good shoes could’ve really made the difference from crappy experience to mildly enjoyable!

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    February 13, 2012

    Hiking Mt Sinai was one of my most memorable events from the entirety of my RTW trip. Also love that you went with On The Go – I went with them to Jordan last month and really enjoyed it!

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      February 14, 2012

      On the Go was great! Several people from our group went on the Jordan leg afterward and loved it!

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    February 13, 2012

    Looking at those photos it was well worth the effort, love the way you used the quotes from Exodus.

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    February 14, 2012

    Soo beautiful!! I relate to the whole out-of-shape/no athletic wear problem while traveling.

    • Avatar
      February 14, 2012

      I thought if I left my shoes at home I’d be able to decline any hiking invitations…

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    February 14, 2012

    What a fun post! I like how Moses motivated you and I love the list of excuses you complied in your head for lagging behind. It sounds like a great hike, even if you didn’t bring any prophecies for the people with you 🙂

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      February 14, 2012

      Unfortunately no new commandments from the Lord… but hey, I got some good pictures!

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    February 14, 2012

    Sounds like one of those things you’re gonna remember in a few years and keep saying ‘what if I hadn’t done it?’ …what a way to look on the brightside of things, great post!

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      February 16, 2012

      Thank you! Glad I did it… NEVER doing it again =)

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    February 14, 2012
    Cam

    The funniest thing we remember about our night trek to Mt Sinai was the fact that all of the tourists had to walk through an outdoor metal detector, yet all of the locals walked around without being asked a question by security. It was such a bizarre set up, so unnecessary. Who is more likely to cause trouble, seriously?

    It was so cold at the top before the sun came up, then it was blistering hot on the way down. Great experience.

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      February 16, 2012

      Yes – freezing at the top and boiling all the way down! I remember that distinctly. Don’t think we passed through metal detectors though – funny!

  • Avatar
    February 15, 2012

    You do such a great job describing the experience! And those sunrise shots are lovely…

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    February 17, 2012

    I’m no fan of hiking myself, but I often force myself to see things I would otherwise not get to see – just like that sunrise. I imagine the photos didn’t give it nearly enough credit as you saw it in real life. Such a beautiful experience for you.

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      April 01, 2012

      It was worth it… in hindsight! I always appreciate the hike after the fact but definitely never in the middle of it!

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    February 17, 2012

    Sounds wonderful! Except for the hurt leg part. I really want to do this!

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    February 21, 2012

    Amazing! It is so cool that we watched the sunrise from that exact same spot!

    I thought the hike down was harder, to be honest. I think all the adrenaline had worn off by then 🙂

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      February 22, 2012

      The hike down was hard, too! Very slippery!

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    March 09, 2012
    Victoria

    I am scared of heights and don’t know if I will survive the climb…should I do it? Any encouraging words? Which way is the best way to go up the mountain?

    Thanks, Victoria

    • Avatar
      March 10, 2012

      Go for it! It’s so dark, you won’t notice the heights anyway. By the time the sun comes up and you can see how high up you are, you’ll be on the way down. Definitely get a guide if you want some backstory with your hike!

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    February 02, 2015

    After reading about you guys experiences of your climb. It filled my heart with joy because of your willingness. To just Love God enough to want to climb is Amazing. May God continue to bless you All in His every way.

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