Sunday, February 21, 2010

Mt. Sinai and the Burning Bush

By Claire
Using moleskin on my three blisters from the hike to the Monastery at Petra two days ago, we checked our gear and off we went to catch our ride to Mt. Sinai and St. Katherine’s Monastery 2 hours away. We were lucky that our seatmates were an interesting couple from D.C., Mark and Jenny, who are about to join the Peace Corps. We really enjoyed talking with them.

We pulled in and parked near all the other minivans and buses and met our Bedouin guide, Sala, who walked us to St. Katherine’s and the crush of people. This really is not my idea of a good time. Shoulder to shoulder, mincing along an inch at a time. No thanks. Inside the Monastery it was quite lovely but we were shunted along and the crowd was just oppressive. We soon came to the famous Burning Bush, or I should say, a descendant of the original. According to the monks, this bush was transplanted from the nearby chapel in the 10th century, and continues to thrive centuries later. St. Katherine's is considered one of the oldest continually functioning monastic communities in the world and the chapel is one of early Christianity's only surviving churches.

St. Katherine's Monastery

Burning Bush

Fire extinguisher under the bush—if the bush bursts into flame, do they put it out?

I squeezed myself past the hoards, desperate just to get out. We met up again with Sala and eventually headed to the camel trail that leads to the top of Mt. Sinai, our goal today. It’s an 8 mile hike with an elevation gain of 3,677 feet. It’s steep! Sala, who told us he is an original Bedouin, explained that the camel trail is the easy way up. The other choice is the 3,750 steps of repentance, put there by a Monk. We all wondered what in the hell he had done.

Known locally as Gebel Musa, Mt. Sinai is revered by Christians, Muslims and Jews, all of whom believe that God delivered his Ten Commandments to Moses at its summit.

The hike begins

Camel path

It was quite warm but as always, we had a nice breeze. Our group was small, only about 12 people—six Americans, some French, Canadian and Spanish. It was nice to be away from the crowds.

The trail was mostly desert sand and rocks. Along the way we met the other American couple, Kathleen and Tom—it was a pleasure talking with them. Sala was good about rest stops and we enjoyed the views around us and the people in our group.

Rest stop

Sala and Chuck

Elijah’s Basin where the prophet heard the voice of God.

There were plenty of camels along the way, sometimes an annoyance. The Bedouin figure someone will surely want to ride to the top rather than walk. Sure enough, they found a few customers from our group, the Canadians and a French woman.

I have to admit, it was a tough hike, maybe because I was still tired from our hike at Petra. Our trail merged with the steps of repentance and we began climbing the last 750 steps—the end was in sight! The camels don’t go up the steps so the Canadians and the French woman decided to wait here for the walk down.

Start of the 750 steps

These were especially tough—the steps are made of roughly hewn rock and are steep and uneven in many places, requiring concentration. We plodded along, there wasn’t a lot of conversation at this point, and there it was: the top, 7,496 feet!

It took about 2-1/2 hours to get there and now we just relaxed, talked and waited for the sunset. Another group had arrived but it was still manageable and fairly quiet. We noticed one guy, dressed in a gallabiya with a guitar strapped to his back, heading down a bit to a spot where he sat and played. There is a WC down on one side from the top. No door and quite filthy but hey, it was better than nothing. As the sun moved down on the horizon, the temperature went with it. I started adding layers, including my wool shirt, another shirt, mittens and a windbreaker.

View from the top

Waiting for sunset

Just before sunset

Sunset from Mt. Sinai!

Moments after the sun set, Sala called us together to begin the descent. Going down was more difficult in some ways, the sand is slippery on the rocks and the light was fading. Soon, it was full dark and the night sky was bright with stars. I stopped to look occasionally but my focus was on my feet, trying not to trip over the many obstacles along the path or slide on the sand—this happened often to almost everyone in the group.

We came to where the 3 people were supposed to be waiting but of course they were gone. Sala was upset but we carried on. About 10 minutes later he got a call on his cell phone telling him that the French woman had fallen and broken her ankle. He was beside himself. Apparently a camel was called in and we headed down to find her. She and the two Canadians were sitting on some rocks. We all waited until the camel ambulance arrived and she was hoisted up by several men, crying out in pain. It was awful. I felt so bad for her.

We continued on, the French woman emitting little screams of pain now and then—it must have been such a terrible situation for her. She spoke no English which most of the people do understand—she was not in her own country and her vacation is probably ruined. I have no idea if there is a hospital anywhere around.

I walked with the Canadian couple for awhile and they told me her shoes were all wrong, she had no flashlight and she had a heart condition. What can I say? She never should have been on this trek.

We finally made it back to the van where they managed to transfer her from the camel to the far back seat so she could stretch out. Hearing her shrieks of pain was terrible. Now the problem was that we had more people than seats. Kathleen had to sit on her husband’s lap and another woman sat in a kind of jump seat in the front over the hump. It was a very silent two hour ride back, most of us nodding off from exhaustion. We were dropped at Penguin Village and that’s the last we saw of the French woman.

Cost for the day: €26.78

I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in. ~ John Muir, 1913, John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, 1938


Paros Shepherd said...

I feel so sorry for the French lady. I hope she got good care. And her pain....oh! ouch! Chuck, it was great to see you on top of Mt. Sinai, you have come a LONG way from that hike you took with Claire on Cinqueterre! Remember? I believe it read something like: 7 miles, 5 villages and you were pooped! Ha ha. You are an expert hiker AND climber now! Congratulations! That sunset is fabulous! The climb down sounded pretty scary and downright dangerous! Glad you made it! It must have been a very wonderful aren't "experiencing" your history books anymore, you are "experiencing" the Bible!

And the starkness of it all is very beautiful in it's own way.

Karin from Paros from Prague

Paul King said...

An amazing story. You guys are fantastic. Not to mention hardy. I run regularly and the whole endeavor scared me just to read about it!
How beautiful to be experincing it.
Loved the John Muir quote.