Jebel Katherina is Egypt's highest mountain, towering up to a height of 2642m. It takes its name from St Katherine, the young Christian scholar from Alexandria who it's said the Romans beheaded for her faith. Legend has it a band of angels carried her remains over the deserts to this mountain. A few centuries later it's said a group of monks ascending from the Monastery of St Katherine - at that time called the Monastery of St Mary - found her bones near the summit, carrying them down for safekeeping. A small orthodox chapel crowns Jebel Katherina today, marking it as hallowed ground. Only Mount Sinai is regarded as more holy in Egypt. Jebel Katherina is one of the best-known, most popular hiking peaks in the Sinai and those who make the ascent are rewarded with one of the most iconic viewpoints on earth. On a clear day each of the Seven Summits can be seen. Views reach out to the great dividing plateau between North and South Sinai - the Wilderness of the Wanderings - and over the Red Sea to Africa and Asia. Anybody sleeping on top will see the sun setting behind the summits of Africa, rising the next morning over the Hejaz mountains of Asia. Jebel Katherina is the best peak for beginner hikers to start with on the Seven Summits. Everything is done on good, well-trodden trails and a camel can be used to carry heavy bags almost all the way to the top.
Jebel Katherina can be hiked in 1 day. The classic route begins from St Katherine, starting in Wadi Arbain. After a few kilometres, a turn is made into Wadi Shagg Musa: from here, a good, zigzag trail leads all the way to the top. Getting to the summit is a 5-6 hour hike and a little less returning the same way. A more interesting scrambling route can be done in 2 days. The classic route is followed up Wadi Arbain before turning into Wadi Jarajiniya: a long, bouldery wadi leading to the top of the mountain. Overnight camp can be made in a small summit shelter. On the way down, Wadi el Ahmar - The Red Wadi - leads through rose-coloured granite to wadis dotted with Bedouin orchards. From here, the pass of Abu Jeefa leads to St Katherine.
Tribes & territories
Jebel Katherina rises in the heartland of the Jebeleya tribe. The Jebeleya number a few thousand today and live mostly in the town of St Katherine and its surrounding villages. At least one clan of the tribe, known as the Awlad Jindi - Children of the Soldier - are said to trace their ancestral roots to a battalion of European soldiers dispatched to protect the Monastery of St Katherine over a thousand years ago. Any hike on Jebel Katherina or other mountains around St Katherine must be organised with the Jebeleya. It is forbidden for Bedouin of any other tribe to work as guides or cameleers in these high mountains. Jebel Katherina is one of two mountains on the Seven Summits in Jebeleya lands. The other is Jebel Tarbush.
Getting there & away
St Katherine - the highest town in Egypt - is the launchpad for hikes up Jebel Katherina. Hikes begin and end from the town. No transport is needed to get to trailheads for the routes recommended here. Only if lesser-known ascent routes are used - such as from Wadi Rutig on Jebel Katherina's south side - is extra transportation necessary. St Katherine is the hub of Egypt's hiking industry and guides and camels are easy to find. Fox Camp is an excellent place for hiring Bedouin guides. For overnight trips on Jebel Katherina it's always a good idea to hire a camel. Camels can walk almost all the way to the top of the mountain, carrying water, food and heavy baggage, easing the burden of the ascent.
Jebel Katherina is the easiest of the Seven Summits and a good first summit for beginner hikers to attempt. The classic route is a long, strenuous hike, involving around 1000m of vertical ascent from St Katherine, but without any technical difficulties. Paths are wide, well-trodden and easy to follow from beginning to end. Camels can carry heavy bags on these paths easing the passage further. The suggested scrambling routes are more of a challenge but do not involve technical difficulties or anything more than brief exposure. Weather conditions are typically more extreme on Jebel Katherina. Blizzards can sweep over in colder times. Temperatures can drop sub-zero and even summer can be chilly.