Summits of Sinai

Uncovering Egypt’s best-kept sporting secret

Sinai is known for many things — biblical history, world-class diving, posh resorts and conflict with Israel to name but a few. Just a few hours north of the perennially popular tourist retreat Dahab is Mount Sinai, where Moses is said to have carried down the Ten Commandments. Mountains, it seems, have figured prominently in the region’s identity. And though adventure sports from kitesurfing to free diving draw thrill seekers from around the globe, few are aware that the mountains of Sinai offer the potential for world-class rock climbing.

That lack of awareness doesn’t come as a total surprise. Climbing is largely undeveloped throughout the Middle East, particularly when compared to nearby climbing destinations on the European side of the Mediterranean. Globally, the sport is rising quickly in popularity and recent years have seen small but highly active climbing communities emerge in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey. In Egypt, however, the sport is virtually unknown.

One group in Sinai is trying to change that. “At the moment, I’m the only climbing instructor in Egypt,” says Jenny Lord, who leads climbing expeditions for the Dahab outfitter Desert Divers.

Desert Divers runs a dive center on the corniche, but has been a pioneer in Sinai climbing, heading inland and scouting locations, bolting routes and developing climbing areas since 2005. Countless hours exploring the canyons just half an hour by car from Dahab’s main strip revealed rock faces and boulders that many climbers only dream of.

One of those areas is Wadi Gnai. Overlooking a lush oasis, the valley is home to over 35 bolted sport-climbing routes, with more being developed. The diversity of climbing here is impressive, varied enough to accommodate first time climbers and long-time enthusiasts. (On the French rating system for difficulty, the routes here range from 3a to 7a.) It’s an easy place for climbers of any level to pass a few days, with enough challenging lines to keep people coming back.

Not far from Wadi Gnai is a bouldering area affectionately known as “Little Hampi,” named after India’s bouldering paradise in Karnataka. In the base of a dry riverbed, boulders sculpted and smoothed by thousands of years of erosion and flash floods pose endless technical challenges sure to keep climbers puzzled. They extend deep into the canyons, ripe with possibility for honing advanced climbing technique just a few feet off the ground.

St. Catherine is yet another option for Sinai climbers. At the base of the epic, sloping granite are bouldering problems, a preview for the challenges that await traditional or ‘trad’ climbers on multi-pitch ascents. Due to the historical importance of the area, drilling permanent protective bolts is strictly prohibited in St. Catherine, so climbers should bring full racks of trad gear.

Saint Catherine has already earned an international reputation for its difficult pitches, most ranging between 6a to 8b, but with plenty of lines that go off the chart. It has been featured in a few British climbing magazines in recent years and has seen a steady increase of traffic since. And although the site is rising in popularity, much of the area remains unexplored.

“There are loads of opportunities for new routing,” says Lord. That alone should be enough to draw serious climbers with visions of making first ascents to the site.

But for those without the experience or gear to take on St. Catherine’s technical climbs, sport, top-roping and bouldering options are needed to build a following.

Fortunately, Sinai has all of that.

In 2005 the European Union launched the South Sinai Regional Development Program (SSRDP), which, according to its mission statement, is intended for “the development of local economy and activities, and the preservation and support of the social, cultural, and natural resources of South Sinai.”

After the 2006 bombing in Dahab, tourism waned. At the time, Tanis Newman and her husband Said Khedr, who together own and operate Desert Divers, were just beginning to realize the climbing potential that awaited inland. But with sinking revenues and expensive equipment needing to be shipped from Europe or the US, developing climbing sites was simply impractical.

“After the bombing, to dig into your own pocket for $5,000 [LE 27,877] in climbing equipment — it just wasn’t going to happen,” says Newman. So she and Khedr applied for an SSRDP grant to fund, among other things, further exploration and development of nearby climbing sites. The following year, Desert Divers received a 74,000 (LE 548,750) grant from the EU.

Newman and Khedr, a Sinai Bedouin, have more in mind than simply developing a sustainable climbing scene in the region. For them, climbing is a way to preserve Bedouin culture in Sinai, which has been marginalized as a result of the Western-oriented development that has taken place along the coast.

“Bedouins don’t have access to traditional jobs,” says Newman. By creating employment opportunities in eco-tourism and adventure sports, Desert Divers is attempting to create opportunities and share an integral piece of the peninsula’s identity.

And it makes perfect sense. Nobody knows the local canyons better than the Bedouin, who have been free soloing the region’s granite chimneys for hundreds of years. Their help has been integral in developing the climbing sites that exist today.

Reference: Egypt Today

Posted by : Yasmine Aladdin

Categories: Adventure Tours, Cultural Tourism, Safari Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Summits of Sinai

  1. 🙂 In the future I’d like travel and i want visit this country.

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