Did you miss part 1 of this story? Why not catch it here first?
The desert evening was cold and we were shivering despite our warm clothes by the time we reached the car park staging point for the five hour climb to the summit of Mount Sinai. As we walked towards the gate of St. Catherine’s Monastery where pilgrims begin the climb. We were offered passage to the peak by a number of Bedouin guides (we even declined a goat ride up the mountain). Our guide, who escorted us from Cairo along with two drivers, had organised our passage with a fantastically warm and friendly Bedouin man who’s name – I’m ashamed to admit – is lost to me.
We started to climb the rolling foothills at the base of the mountain as our guide shared details from his life and regaled us with stories of life in the desert. Before long, the exertion made us warm and we shed layers of warm clothing (a mistake for which my companion would pay dearly). We stumbled across the ever steepening, rocky ground for about an hour without using our torches to save our night vision. The night was cold and clear and the stars shone brightly in the sky when they were not obscured by the mountain before us. Before long, the terrain changed and the uneven shale of the foothills gave way to the solid rocky path of the peak’s main slopes. We followed what appeared to be an ancient path through the rocks, littered occasionally with stalls set into the cliff in Bedouin tents of thick woven fabric. About half way up, we stopped to rest our legs and drink a warm cup of tea to reinvigorate our tired limbs. It was at this time my companion began to feel ill, complaining of dizziness and a headache. We pressed on regardless after agreeing that this was an experience not to be missed.
The path continued to wind up the mountains, here cutting through the cliff face, there winding back on itself to reveal the snaking way we had come along with other climbers who would doubtless meet us at the summit. We toiled on as the hour grew late and as my companion’s condition deteriorated to a level where we were forced to support her as she trudged on at a snail’s pace. She doggedly refused to quit, and we reached the final tent stall just below the peak with about 45 minutes to spare. I sipped a thick Bedouin coffee as my companion shivered weakly beside me. Our guide explained that her condition was likely due – in part – to the temperature, coupled with the rapid change in altitude, and that removing layers of clothing was not advised (something he had mentioned at the time as well).
As sunrise neared, we prepared to climb the 80 or so steps up to the summit and my companion refused to be left behind. We trudged up the stairs to meet a grey dawn (this time due to cloud rather than the surrounding peaks) and watched as light spread over the Sinai. The sunrise was underwhelming behind cloud, however the elation of completing the trek was adequate compensation for me. My companion, on the other hand, had showed no improvement and after feebly looking over the wall beside the summit chapel (erected at the spot where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God). Unwilling to prolong the suffering of my companion, we returned to the last tent and with the help of our guide, managed to half carry her back to the gates of the monastery. Exhausted and concerned, we returned to our room where neither of us stirred until well into the next day. When I awoke, I returned to the courtyard where I sat the previous day considering the 40 hour journey that brought me here and sample a shisha pipe. I thought about the climb – my first adventure in a trip that I’d been dreaming of taking since I was 7, and it remains the most significant climb I’ve attempted.
As this post publishes, I’ll be attempting another religiously significant climb, this time in Sri Lanka. This time I’ll be tackling Adam’s Peak, where the footprint of Adam, Shiva, Budda, or St. Thomas (depending upon your beliefs) can be found imprinted into the rock. We’ll be attempting the climb in the off season where the stalls, light and pageantry will be absent, replaced potentially rain and cold. Hopefully this time we will come away unscathed.