Gebel Musa (= Moses Mountain) is said to be the summit where Moses received the Ten Commandments. There is - however - no scientific prove
or indication that supports this thesis. It would mean that Moses left his people for a full month in order to climb this mountain from the the Red Sea. This is what the bible says. Another theory claims that he climbed a horeb that is located near El Tur City at the Red Sea. Most Jews believe that Mount Sirbal
is the place where Moses actually spoke with God. The tourists centers
of the Gulf of Akaba and their Sheiks around Saint Katharina are convinced that Gebel Musa is the real horeb and concentrate their efforts on this wonderful mountain in the center of Sinai, where thousands of tourists admire the monastery at the foot of Gebel Musa. Saint Katharina is the oldest christian monastery
and has been inhabited since the 6th century. Thanks to its isolation no objects of art of that time were destroyed and some of the treasures are shown to the public by the greek orthodox monks. The monastery survived the invasion by Arabs in 640, by crusaders of the 12th (and 21st) century, by Napoleon and many others.
There are three ways to climb this easy mountain. Park the car 1 km below the monastery at ca. 1520 m). Leave the old building at your left and follow a path that is also used by camels. It smoothly follows the eastern side of Gebel Musa and ends at ca. 2000 m. The rest of the trail is steeper and is not suited for camels. If you like it steeper right from the start you can chose a direct path beginning at the monastery with thousands of steps. A third way to climb the mountain is to start at the village of El Malga and chose the the south-west side. This path leads at ca. 1900 m to the ordinary camel track.
We chose to climb the Gebel Musa from the monastery side on the ordinary trail (2 hours from the parking lot to the summit) and to descend to El Malga. Thus we actually went around the whole mountain. That does not mean that we have seen all the beauty, since it is customary to start in the dark of the night in order to see the sunrise at ca. 6 o'clock. The descent leads to another monastery Deir Al Arbain (= monastery of the 40 martyrs, not inhabited) and to the valley Wadi El Arbain. Beduins live here and I wonder what they live on in this wonderful but dry and arid place.
Although it is an easy mountain, that does not demand much effort for a maximum of 2 hours, many pilgrims do not think so and ride a camel up to 2000 m and shorten the pilgrimage to a 200 m climb. Even our complete climb ended at 8 a.m. in the village of El Malga, we decided to add a second mountain: Gebel Abbas Basha. (I will post it within a week and will furnish a link here). It would be wiser to chose the Gebel Katharina
as a second summit, but our Beduin guide refused a second climb and we had to find another guide at El Malga who happened to be a "specialist" on Gebel Abbas Basha.
Map: South Sinai (Map of Attractions), Osiris Office, Cairo 1:250'000 with High Mountain Region 1:50'000.
I did not find any climbing guide. However a nice book of the Sinai is:
ISBN 88-7009-948-2. Sinai. Text by Giovanna Magi. Casa Editrice Bonechi, Florence. Available in many languages.
Gebel Musa is in the region of the Saint Katharina, you can start from a hotel in this region or start at midnight from a tourist center at the Gulf of Aqaba. Price example: Group travel with start in Dahab at midnight, climb Gebel Musa and visit the monastery (open from 10 to 12 a.m.): $ 30. Since I do not like group travel, I hired a driver and 2 guides for 2 mountains on one day and paid for me and my wife 200 Swiss francs (ca. $ 120) plus tip. (Prices as of March 2002)
I recommend to buy the trip at a travel office at a fixed price which includes car and guide. This should include a car with a driver, who might meet you at the backside of the mountain. A beduin mountain guide is compulsory. The driver knows where to find him in the Katharina area. Your are not allowed to climb mountains without a guide. Each mountain has a fixed price. Anyway take your passport with you, since there are many check points along the road.
If you want to climb without a travel office, you can hire cars (minimum rate of three days). The gas is very cheap, 20% of European prices. Permits and guides can be obtained at the local Sheik at El Malga, who is kind of tourist mangager.
The roads are paved, and generally in good condition. Sudden holes can pose a problem for non-local drivers, if you drive at night at maximum speed. Speed limit is 80 km/h.
When To Climb
Spring and autumn seem to be the best seasons. In winter the Sinai mountains are white of snow and in summer it might get very warm. Even if the temperature is near 100°F (>35° C) at the sea side, it can be around freezing point on the mountain tops at 6 a.m. A northern wind of 3 Bf is quite common in the mountains at that time and is a sign of good weather. During the morning the wind disappears and heats up the rocks, in the afternoon the nice wind starts again and makes climbing pleasant. Southern winds may indicate a rising sand storm, which you should avoid. From far, such a storm shows gray clouds which you might erroneously welcome as rain. Often southern winds just disappear and leave an enormous heat in the afternoon.
Sunrises are cold and windy. If you have gloves, sweaters, wind jacket, warm and long trousers there is no problem at all and you will be envied by tourists wearing shorts and sexy blouses. On top of Moses Mountain these tourists will hire sleeping bags and buy warm tea. On other mountains this is not possible, no beduins, no tourists!
Since there is normally no water available, 1.5 litres of liquid per mountain is recommended. Gebel Musa is an exception, since the camel trail on the Katherine side is well equipped with tea shops run by beduins.
If you only want to climb mountains in the Sinai, you will find accommodation near the intersection below the monastery.
Daniela Village (hotel)
Zetona Camping (tents to rent)
Morganland Camping (rooms and restaurant)
El Raha Hotel
The airport is not open!! (March 2002)
For a combination of water sport with climbing, I recommend Dahab
, which is 1.5 driving hours away on the Gulf of Aqaba. Dahab has many nice hotels on the beach, hospital, taxies, etc. Due to a steady breeze it is excellent for wind surfing (beaufort 2-3), small waves.
The next international airport is 150 km south at Sharm El Sheik, bigger and noisier than Dahab, but too far away for one day climbs in the Katharina region.
It is possible to sleep on the mountain, so you are sure not to miss the sunrise. From outside these huts look like shacks of a favela. It is a shame that the beduins abondanned their black tents and live now in tin roof shacks.