Jebel Serbal is one of the Sinai's most iconic mountains. A towering mass of rugged peaks, pinnacles and deep, shadowy ravines, it stands in the territory of a Bedouin tribe called the Garasha and is the northernmost of the Seven Summits. Jebel Serbal has long had a sacred significance in the Sinai. Some say its name is derived from the ancient God Baal, who people once worshipped across the Middle East. The ruins of a small shrine, probably Nabataean in origin, still stand on Jebel Serbal's summit today. Early Christians of the Sinai believed Jebel Serbal was the real Mount Sinai of the Bible: opinion only shifted to favour the modern Mount Sinai - near St Katherine - when the Monastery of St Katherine was built at its foot in the 6th century. Chapels, hermit cells, old paths and winding stairways are found crumbling across Jebel Serbal today: the relics of early Christians settlers who scattered out over its rugged hillsides for refuge and solitude. Today, the Bedouin do not regard Jebel Serbal as a holy peak but it is still fabled for its inimitable beauty, peace and solitude. Everywhere on Jebel Serbal feels wild and windswept; it is one of the great crown jewels of the Sinai and the wider Middle East. At 2070m, Jebel Serbal is the lowest of the Seven Summits, but climbing it should not be understimated. The ascent is started from a lower elevation meaning the elevation gain involved is significantly bigger than any other of the summits.
Jebel Serbal is best climbed in 2-3 days. The classic route scales its north face approaching via Wadi Aleyat and the ravine of Naqb Shaarani. This brings hikers to Farsh Loza, a small basin with a well and hiking shelter, about an hour's scramble below the 2070m summit. This is the best camp spot. On the descent, a camel path is followed around the southern side of the mountain - passing the large boulder shelter of Hajar Imbardaya - to Wadi Rim, which leads to Wadi Feiran. For an easier ascent, the camel path can be followed up and down Jebel Serbal, avoiding the north face routes. Other routes exist on every side of Jebel Serbal but involve more serious mountaineering.
Jebel Serbal towers high over Wadi Feiran, where Bedouin from many different tribes live today. Nevertheless, the territory is the land of just one tribe, who remain in control of the entire area: the Garasha. Hikers on Jebel Serbal must employ tribesmen of the Garasha as guides. Camels must also be hired from the Garasha. Garasha guides are excellent mountaineers but few speak English. Tourism never flourished here like elsewhere in the Sinai so opportunities to learn foreign languages have been limited for the Garasha. Hikers can bring an English speaking guide from another tribe but only as an addition not as a replacement for their Garasha guide.
Getting there & away
Wadi Feiran is the start and end point for all hikes. A road runs through Wadi Feiran, connecting the Gulf of Suez coastline with St Katherine. For ascents starting in Wadi Aleyat the trailhead is a small village called Seil Aleyat. Two shops and the only convent in the Sinai - Deir Banat - are found here. Seil Rim - which marks the end of Wadi Rim - is the finish point. Seil Rim is 8km up Wadi Feiran's tarmac road from Seil Aleyat. Public buses and minibuses pass through Wadi Feiran, but foreigners are not allowed to dismount. The best option is to hire a private taxi in St Katherine. For hikers wanting to shorten a hike on Jebel Serbal, jeeps can be used to go a few kilometres up Wadi Rim at the end of a hike.
At 2070m Jebel Serbal is the lowest of the Seven Summits, but because the climb starts from lower the ascent is greater than on any other peak. Jebel Serbal involves an ascent of about 1500m. Even on Jebel Katherina the ascent is only 1000m. Climbing Jebel Serbal involves steep, sometimes exposed scrambling via the north face route. Its difficulties can be bypassed if the camel path is followed up and down from Wadi Rim. Getting to the top of Jebel Serbal - even for those who walk the camel path - still involves a scramble at the top, but it is not technical or exposed. Every hiker on Jebel Serbal must understand it is a serious and remote mountain requiring caution all the way.