Egypt high point
|Gabal Katrîne (Mount Catherine)||2629m||2399m||High point Egypt|
See also “Egypt Diary” for lots of snorkeling and underwater pictures…
This trip was my Christmas present to Anne. Prior to our Egypt trip, I emailed the company Darb Sina and asked if they could provide transport and guiding services for Mt. Catherine. I quickly got a response from Moussa, who offered both. After a few emails more, making sure there were no misunderstandings, we reached a fixed price and an agreement. After we arrived in Egypt, we texted Moussa to let him know we were here.
We were picked up at our hotel (Hilton Waterfalls, Sharm El Sheikh) at 5am this morning, but not without some confusion. We told the hotel security guy at the gate that we were to be picked up. “Taxi?“, he replied and waved towards a waiting taxi. “No taxi!!“, Anne and I synchronously yelled out. The guy looked confused and shouted something to the taxi driver. After a short, silent and awkward period, I went over to talk to the taxi driver, who – according to Moussa – would speak good English (opposed to the hotel guy). The driver smiled to me and said “Arne?” “Close enough“, I replied and asked him if he knew Moussa. “My cousin”, Muhammad smiled back and we soon were on our way.
We had a 3 hour drive to the village St. Catherine ahead of us. Once leaving Sharm El Sheikh behind, we entered a mountainous area, which – was not part of the Sinai desert – if we understood our driver correctly.
When we reached the desert, morning was dawning and we stopped for pictures.
After approx. 2,5 hours after leaving Sharm, we got Mt. Catherine in view and we made a second stop for pictures (top picture).
After approx. 3 hours and 6 (!) police/military checkpoints, we arrived the village of St. Catherine where we met Moussa. We started hiking right away. Smalltalk and breakfast later on (we didn’t get any breakfast at the hotel that early).
It was a gorgeous day and we entered a gorgeous landscape. We headed up a small valley, zig-zagging along the mountain path.
Then we went through a pass and arrived at our breakfast place 2,4km after heading out.
Moussa made up a fire so he could serve us tea. He had also brought bread and cheese and we had a very nice breakfast meal.
Two other guys came the opposite way, accompanied by a dog. The dog left them and joined us. Moussa told us that this dog had no owner. I felt pity for the skinny dog and had to give her some bread, well knowing our group could be extended by four more legs.
After breakfast, we moved on. Moussa, Anne, me – and the dog.
We were not following the shortest route to the top. That route was closed, and even though Moussa tried to explain, we didn’t really understand the logic. Accidents do happen. No need to shut down the mountain!
Mt. Catherine was our primary goal, but the deal with Moussa was that if we felt up for it, we could also visit Mt. Sinai on the way back. The return to the village would then go through a valley parallel to the closed route.
But with emerging intense headache, I soon realized that Mt. Sinai was out of the question. And I also questioned if there was time, with respect to daylight. Moussa was confident, but I was not so sure. Mt. Catherine still seemed far away. Anyhow, Mt. Sinai was always just a bonus top. No big deal, and Anne visited the top back in 1996.
Going from sea level and up to 2600m+ was not a clever thing to do, given my sensitive skull. It would have made all the difference to spend the night in the village (~1600m). But that would require some additional planning, plus the fact that we would be paying for two places to spend the night.
On our way into the main valley, Moussa had a present for Anne. A beautiful, handbag (cell-phone size) made by Moussa’s sister. I could see that Anne really cherished this present, and Moussa – if you’re reading this – she’s still using it…
Eventually we reached the main valley, and after 6km (all distances counting from the trailhead), we turned northeast – aiming for Catherine’s north ridge.
After 8,1km, we reached the fork where we would turn right to Mt. Catherine and later on go straight ahead for our descent. I left one water bottle at the fork and then we went for the final climb towards Mt. Catherine.
During the ascent, we reached snow. Not much, actually barely anything at all, but still enough to “yeah” about it…
I had read on the internet that the south top is most likely higher than the north top. I checked with Moussa one last time – he would take us to the true high point, yes? But it turned out that Moussa (and probably every other Egyptian) regarded the north top as the main summit.
I explained the “severe importance” of reaching the true summit, and he understood. But still not convinced that the north top wasn’t the highest. Well, we hadn’t reached it yet, so time would show. Possibly…
Eventually, we reached the north top. The dog was still with us and Moussa gave her water.
Okay – Mt. Catherine is a fairly easy top to reach. 10,5km along a nice path and 1000-some vertical meters. But we had traveled all the way from Norway to get here, so there was absolutely no reason NOT to be very happy about being on top! Even the splitting headache couldn’t kill the moment.
Around us – endless mountains and desert.
Time to visit the south top, which was only a short hike away. We offered Moussa to pass on this, as he referred to it as “just a military top”, but he came along. Just before we reached the very top, I told Moussa that I could now see the horizon behind the north top. He was still not convinced. And by all means, that’s not a scientific measurement, but my GPS track showed 2645m on the north top and 2649m on the south top. Not that I assume the heights to be correct, but the relative measurement is of interest.
We returned to the fork and descended towards the El Arabeen valley with Mt. Sinai on the other side.
On the way down, Moussa took us to a place where he wanted to serve lunch. He spent some time gathering wood and bush for a fire and when he returned, I asked if we could just have some bread and move on. The headache was too strong for sitting still.
Down in the valley, we reached a small village where the dog decided to leave us. She looked at us as if to say; “farewell my comrades. It was a nice hike and thanks for the bread“. I could hear other dogs bark her welcome, and I assumed this was a place she already knew.
From the village, we followed a path in the direction of Mt. Sinai. It was towering right there above us, and would have been a nice bonus. But that meant that we would return to the trailhead after dark and perhaps miss our dinner back in Sharm El Sheikh.
And this was the point when we learned that the normal route to Mt. Sinai runs from the St. Catherine Monastery, and not up along the closed route…
After a little while, we turned north and headed towards St. Catherine in a valley adjacent to the one that was closed for tourists.
Muhammad waited for us down by the road, ~4:30pm, 21,1km, 1220 vertical meters and 8h:20m after we left him. We stopped by Moussa’s brother’s workshop and we had a nice chat with him. It was truly interesting to listen and learn about life in this region from these fine Beduin men.
Then we started the journey back to Sharm El Sheikh, as the day slowly turned into evening. We ran into problems already at the St. Catherine checkpoint. The police officer wanted us to wait 55 minutes for a convoy. The convoy thing was clearly a stupid idea from the government, but fortunately, Muhammad was allowed to pass.
Along the way, we stopped in the pitch-black desert and stared at the stars in the sky. Just … wow!
By 8pm, Muhammad had safely returned us to our hotel and we thanked him for his services and all information and knowledge along the way. Keep in mind – in order to pick us up and return us, he had to take the 3 hour drive 4 times!
It was definitely an adventure!
Pictures from the trip: