A holy presence reigns over Mount Catherine, Egypt’s highest peak -elevated at 2,600 meters and located in the Sinai Peninsula.
The region is said to have been traversed by Moses and his people on their way to reach the promised land, and it is home to Mount Sinai, where Moses is said to have spoken to God and received the Ten Commandments. At the top of Mount Catherine is a chapel dedicated to the Holy Trinity, and located at the foot is a monastery in the mountain’s name.
The area is therefore sacred to Christians, Muslims and Jews alike.
The journey through Saint Catherine is not just about a hike through the immense mountain range in the Sinai Peninsula; it is a spiritual journey where you will find yourself.
As cliché and overused as that sentence is, it really carries a lot of meaning to it.
The hike is an adequate start for couch potatoes who tremble when they hear the word 'cardio.' It is a rocky trail, ornamented with bushes. Strange-looking plants with powdery coatings will lure your attention, but the guide will warn you that they all cause allergies and itching. The harsh conditions limit the presence of animals on the trail.
You will find your limits, and you will break them; there isn't a 'quit' button when you're exhausted in the middle of the mountain -you will have to push through.
A feeling of comfort and relief will take over once you reach the peak. Refuge will be found in the room located next to the little chapel, enclosed in barbed wire. Like a squirrel coming out of its nest, you will be greeted by the enormous mountain range that surrounds you. All the peaks you had mistaken for Mount Catherine will now be below you. You will be able to see the horizon clearly, all around.
An overwhelming feeling of spirituality will be radiated by the mountain once you’re at the top. If the chapel and the mosque don't give it away, it is known that many men of different faiths have climbed Catherine to strengthen their relationship with God.
The more you immerse yourself in the mountain, the more the feeling of helplessness puts things back in perspective. Reorganizing your life’s priorities and belittling your daily problems; you rediscover the important things in life.
Once down, you'll understand the importance of concentrating your efforts and focusing on one objective in your life, just like you focused on reaching the top of the mountain.
For a few hours you lose touch of all civilization. No signal and no electricity, your phones become bricks in your pocket that you take out to take pictures to show your friends what you went through.
You'll realise soon enough that no picture does what you saw justice, and that it's impossible for the camera to capture the immensity and sheer magnitude of the environment you were in; you can only rely on your memory, with images acting as a catalyst for those memories once they have faded.
“Are we there yet?” you’ll ask.
“Ten minutes,” the guide will tell you.
For four hours you'll have ten minutes left.
You’ll have no other option but to endure, and endure you will. On the way down, you will choose to ignore the pain signals coming from your feet, and you will feel like your knees have turned to jelly.
As easy or as hard as the climb up Saint Catherine may be for some of you, it is a one of a kind experience. One lesson I have learned is that no matter how big things might seem, if you take it one step at a time, it'll be over in no time.
If you want to take on the challenge, a small, solid group of friends, a comfortable backpack, and good pair of shoes are all you will need to take on Egypt's tallest peak.