Ascent of Gebel Katherîna on 2012-11-24

Climber: Rob Woodall

Others in Party:Adrian Rayner
Richard and Denise Mclellan
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Saturday, November 24, 2012
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Gebel Katherîna
    Elevation:8625 ft / 2628 m

Ascent Trip Report

This is part of a one week DIY peakbagging trip focussed on the two Egypt ultra prominent summits.

After our Gebel Shayib al Banat ascent and our attempt on Gebel Amm Anad, we flew from Hurghada via Cairo to Sharm el Sheikh, arriving late morning.

1. There is a ferry between Hurghada and Sharm but it seems unclear whether it is running or not: apparently it is unreliable
2. On the Egypt Air website, if you select nationality Egyptian the tickets are half price. There is no nationality requirement stated in the ticket conditions and there are no issues at the airport on checking in.
3. It is apparently feasible to get to St Catherine village by bus but services are infrequent and reliable information not easy to come by
4. Self drive car hire can apparently involve hassle at the frequent military check points.
5. Minibus or taxi is easy to arrange: we paid EGP400 each way for a minibus for our group of four, arranged through Sheikh Mousa.

The minibus journey takes 2.5 hours. The scenery is impressive: initially a chaos of rugged bare colourful mountains, austere at times, then more attractive sand-and-mountain scenery. The road is quite fast and well maintained. We pass through 6 military checkpoints, being stopped at just one. We aren't asked to show our passports. At one checkpoint, our driver delivers some groceries and collects a shopping list!

We have rooms booked at the Bedouin Camp (N28.55871 E33.94349, 1585m) - not a camp (although there is camping there) but effectively a hotel, fairly basic, clean and friendly, single storey blending nicely with the surrounding village. After a late lunch we wander round the village and buy a few supplies. Impressive steep mountains all round; mosque; a few camels. Being winter at 1600m it is quite chilly once the sun dips behind the mountains, mid afternoon.

Sat 24: it is apparently mandatory to use a guide, although route finding is easy and our day would have been simpler without one. We hike from Bedouin Camp at 06:30, following a paved road east past the fancy Suez University outpost, then descending L on a small path to cross a gully then ascending to join a wide unpaved road heading east, into a valley hemmed in on both sides by tall mountains. This soon becomes a footpath. We pass a monastery then fork R on a path which heads up a side valley towards Jebel Katarina. The trail is nice: good surface and easy gradient with many zigzags. Behind us are fine views of the impressively steep Mt Sinai (Jebel Musa).

Our path exits to the R side of the valley then continues S keeping R of a ridge. There are a few side trails but our mountain is straight ahead and we generally head towards it, eventually crossing a minor saddle with a weather station enclosure to our L. We join a rough jeep road for a short distance, with the highest summit straight ahead with two masts and a small building. However we first visit the monastery summit, turning R (N), back on ourselves then following a good path (some steps) to the summit which consists of a rock outcrop (N28.51256 E33.95392) with a prominently displayed summit register, ironically provided by a diving club - with a small chapel nearby with a triangulation pillar on the roof. Access to the roof (and trig) is prevented by coils of razor wire.

We descend a short way to where our guide is waiting and has made sweet tea. Suitably refreshed, leaving our packs and guide, we head for the true highpoint, which is easily reached by a track then a zigzag path. It was once a radar base during the Israeli occupation but is now largely abandoned and unmanned; there is plenty of ex military clutter including spent bullet cases- not the most attractive of summits. We scramble up onto the roof although the natural highpoint is a rock outcrop (N28.50936 E33.95554) with an Egyptian flag, between two comms masts. On the way back we visit the minor, lower intermediate summit (N28.50979 E33.95452). Our guide has more tea waiting for us. He has taken no interest in our side trip but agrees that the south top is the higher.

It's a gorgeous day, sunny and not very hot. We decide to visit Mt Sinai on the way back, watching the sunset from the summit as is traditional then returning to the village in the dark. Our guide isn't keen on this but isn't willing to go back to the village without us, so rather unhappily stays with us (although we later learn he stands to be paid twice as much). We reverse our route to near the monastery, except that on descending into the side valley we turn R on a path which descends around the head of the valley to visit a small water source reached by a small causeway.

We continue downhill on our early path, reaching the village near the monastery. We cross the main valley and turn R (E) on an excellent path which passes under the towering cliffs of Mt Sinai. The path zigzags then bends L, passing close to Sinai's prominence col then ascending NNE to join a wider trail coming up from the main St Katherine's monastery. We turn L and follow it uphill as it bends R (W), passes a few small shops selling refreshments then passes through a cutting. We then turn L, with what we assume to be Elijah's Plateau below us, relatively lush with a few trees. We leave our guide here with his friends while we climb the steps (said to be difficult and uneven but by mountain path standards rather good), to the summit area.

We are about two hours before sunset, so spend time chatting with the friendly stallholders, admiring the fine views and watching the choughs, quite common and very smart with their orange primary feathers.

Finishing our ascent we discover the natural highpoint is a rock outcrop on the L, abutting the christian chapel. This is quite tricky to get up and down: we climb up onto a low wall then make an awkward and rather exposed mantleshelf move. The descent is also tricky, requiring a carefully controlled slide off the smooth slab onto the top of the wall. It's not too bad if you can help each other but might be intimidating alone. Thus while the ascent from the trailhead is YDS 1, the highest point is probably YDS 4.

We spend some time wandering around the summit area, interesting but disappointingly litter strewn, although the stallholders are apparently contracted to keep on top of it.

The sunset (5pm) is quite nice but not at all dramatic. We buy a round of hot chocolate drinks then descend to find our guide. The view is that the steps descending N to the main monastery are best avoided in the dark so we reverse our earlier route, descending clockwise round Mt Sinai then continuing west down the valley, very easy with a full moon and occasional use of head torch. We're back at Bedouin Camp at about 7pm, a day of over 12 hours but quite easy, involving a fair bit of sitting around. Combining these two peaks in a single day is very doable, although the guides/ tour operators may not be keen on it.

Sun 25: departure day. In the morning we make the shortish walk to St Katherine's monastery, passing en route a couple of Moses related items: the golden calf (which of course isn't there- see the Book of Exodus!) and the manna garden. The monastery itself is closed but it's possible to visit the rest of the complex including the gardens. We walk up the granite slabs across the road for a nice view inside the complex. We walk a short way up the route towards Mt Sinai for the view (without getting hassled by anyone for having no guide, although this may not work if you were to try a guideless ascent). We see a few birds: white wagtail, Tristram's grackle (the local chough), white-crowned black wheatear and desert lark.

Midday we call at Bedouin Camp to settle our bill which comes to just over 2000EGP in total, 50GBP each for two bed nights and five meals. Our two-peak day comes to about 150EGP each, although the hike cost involved some hard bargaining by Richard. We then wander up one of the wadis leading up towards Jebel Katarina and find a shady spot for lunch.

14:30 we're picked up by our minibus and driven back to Sharm el Sheikh as Adrian and I have an evening flight back to the UK. Richard and Denise fly back the next day from Hurghada via Cairo with a brief side trip to see some pyramids.

We're very pleased to have ascended both ultras, given that we knew very little about Shayib, and Sinai had some security concerns. We found Egypt to be a safe, pleasant and friendly place to visit with excellent peakbagging to be had.

Thanks to Richard Mclellan for providing the GPS track - my unit wasn't available for the trip.

Katarina + Sinai photo album

Richard Mclellan's photo album of our Egypt trip, including additional geographical details
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:3572 ft / 1087 m
    Total Elevation Loss:3572 ft / 1087 m
    Round-Trip Distance:11.8 mi / 19 km
    Grade/Class:YDS 1
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail
    Weather:Pleasant, Breezy, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:3474 ft / 1058 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 3376 ft / 1029 m; Extra: 98 ft / 29m
    Loss on way in:98 ft / 29 m
    Distance:3.7 mi / 6 km
    Route:Wadi Shagg
    Start Trailhead:El Milga/ St Catherine village  5249 ft / 1599 m
    Time:5 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:3474 ft / 1058 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 3376 ft / 1029 m; Extra: 98 ft / 29m
    Gain on way out:98 ft / 29 m
    Distance:8.1 mi / 13 km
    Route:Wadi Shagg
    End Trailhead:El Milga/ St Catherine village  5249 ft / 1599 m
    Time:2 Hours 
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Rob Woodall
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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