The High Mountain Region, home to the Jabaleya Bedouin, is around the town of St. Katherine. The town itself lies at about 1600 meters from sea level, and many of the surrounding mountains are above 2000 meters, with Mt. Katherine the tallest at 2642 meters. The high ranges continue on towards the coast in the west and south, with some of the most impressive mountains, such as Jebel Umm Shaumar and Jebel Serbal, offering magnificent views on the big sandy floodplain at El Tur city and the Gulf of Suez. The area, little known for most Westerners, is a unique trekkers’ paradise.
Because of its elevation the area receives more precipitation than the rest of the Sinai peninsula and is still relatively wet – it is a desert ecosystem, but there are hundreds of Bedouin orchards and several natural waterpools. The area is mostly granite with characteristic smooth red domes and hidden basins, although about 20% is newer volcanic rock, black-colored and covered with broken, loose gravel. The two rock types often combine, with half a mountain belonging to one and the other to the other rock type. The whole region stands above the rest of the peninsula, and from its perimeter you can see down to smaller ranges, plains and at points to the sea. The climate is cooler than the rest of Egypt’s, making possible a unique flora and a wide variety of domesticated fruit species. In winter there might be snow and the temperatures can drop far below zero at higher elevations, although the days are usually still pleasantly warm.
Mount Katharina is the highest mountain in Egypt at 2642 meters, with a small Orthodox church on the summit. According to tradition this is the place where monks, after a dream, found the missing body of the martyred St.Katherina. Jebel Musa (Mt. Sinai) is right below, and the views onto it and the whole high mountain area are stunning. On most winter there is at least a little snow and the temperature can be chilly even on summer nights.
Jebel Umm Shaumar
The second highest mountain in Egypt, standing on the perimeter of the rugged mountainous interior, with long wadis and smaller ranges running towards the sandy plain and the coast at El Tur city. In clear weather you can see across the Gulf of Suez to mainland Egypt – an other continent: Africa.
Although standing just a little above 2000 meters, but since it is surrounded by low wadis and smaller ranges, Jebel Serbal seems higher then any other mountain. The long and very steep gully of Naqb Shaharani might take a full day to cover. There are other routes as well leading to the interconnected basins and wadis at the top, which harbour gardens and permanent water sources. The views to the coast are as good as from Jebel Umm Shaumar.
Wadi Mathar, Wadi Shaq and Wadi Zawatin
Wadi Mathar, Wadi Shaq and Wadi Zawatin are adjoining locations in the high mountain wadis, accessible from town directly via the Abu Jeefa pass. There are many lush Bedouin gardens, a small canyon with a waterpool, 1000-year old mulberry and olive trees and Byzantine ruins.
Wadi Jibal is the name frequently used by local Bedouins to include the whole High Mountain region. The wadi itself, one of the longest, runs from Rehebit Nada all the way to Farsh Rummana. Along the way there are many beautiful gardens and the opportunity to explore Wadi Buleia and climb Jebel el Bab.
Sid Daud, Wadi Talla and Wadi Itlah
One of the main water courses connecting the higher wadis to lower wadis is the adventurous Sid Daud gully. There is an orthodox monastery in Wadi Talla which continues in Wadi Itlah, where there is the chapel dedicated to St. John Climacos who lived in a cave for decades. There are many Bedouin gardens along the way. A little canyon known as Ubugiya or the pass of Naqb Abu Tuweita lead back up to town.
Jebel Abbas Basha
Located in the centre of the high mountains with far-reaching views all around, to the high mountains, the lowlands and to the town of St.Catherine with Gebel Musa (Mt. Sinai) towering above it. The unfinished palace of Abbas Pasha is on top. Hidden down from the summit is the secluded, lush basin of Farsh Abu Mahshur.
Jebel el Bab and Bab el Donya
Bab el Dunya and Gebel Bab are two peaks of a longer range, on the perimeter of the high mountains. To the east there are spectacular views of lower ranges running towards the Gulf of Suez and in clear weather you can see the sea. The spring of Ein Najila is below the peaks. There are several look-out points atop the range, including Masba Abu Gharun.
Galt el Azraq
Another main water course between the higher and lower wadis is Wadi Talla Kibira, a long, steep and very green valley. Galt el Azraq, halfway down, is the biggest permanent pool in the region. After rainfall a creek runs along the wadi filling other pools as well. Sid Abu Hbeig is a lush area above boulders forming a natural dam, and the Berry Canyon, next to it, is another beautiful site. The name Galt el Azraq, despite azraq meaning blue in Arabic, actually means Black Pool in the Bedouin dialect. Aswad, black in Arabic, is not used, possibly for negative connotations associated with it.
Wadi Tinya, Abu Tuweita and Wadi Sagar
Wadi Tinya is a major wadi, wide at the beginning then getting narrower, which leads down from the pass below Jebel Abbas Pasha and ends before the pools of Kharazet el Shaq. Abu Tuweita can be reached via a pass from the upper part of Wadi Tinya, while the canyon of Wadi Sagar, a dramatic sight, connects the two via a crack in the mountain.
On the northern perimeter of the high mountains, Jebel Naja literally stands above the lowlands. Two major wadis connect at its foot – both coming from the high mountains but via different routes. It can beapproached from the end of Wadi Tinya – there are two ways, so a circuit can be made.
Wadi Shaq Tinya and Kharazet el Shaq
Wadi Shagg Tinya is a long and steep gully connecting high-mountain wadis to lower Wadi Itlah. The whole Wadi Tinya area, including part of Gebel Abbas Basha, drains through this single gully. There are overflowing granite pools at the very top, with one of them big enough for a dip. The gully itself is a good 1.5 hours steep descent or ascent.
Bustan el Birka
Bustan el Birka, forming one area with Wadi Freah and Wadi Abu Zaituna, is a large open basin surrounded by distant ranges. There are many Byzantine ruins in the area, which can be fairly easily approached either via the settlement of Abu Seila or Abu Zaituna.
Sidd al Nogra
The waterfall of Sid al Nugra is almost 40 meters high, although water only flows in it after the winter rains. Usually there is a little trickle of water and the granite pools at the top contain some water. It can be reached from the town of St. Katherine or the settlement of Sheikh Awad.
Jebel el Banat
Jebel Banat, standing on the northern perimeter of the High Mountains, offers superb views on the high mountain region on one side and the lowlands on the other. It is a red granite mountain with several peaks that enclose a basin.
Naqb el Hawa and Sheikh Awad
The settlement, named after the shrine of Sheikh Awad, is located where the plains and the high mountains massif meet. It is connected to higher ground and the town of St. Catherine via the Naqb el Hawa pass. This was the major pilgrims route in the past. The region’s first and most beautifully built ecolodge, El Karm, is also located here.