Summits of Sinai

This article was published in 2010. It’s a great little reminder about how far rock climbing has come in Egypt – capturing the imagination of many young Egyptians and bringing them to Dahab and the Sinai.

Uncovering Εgypt’s best-kept sporting secret

by Eric Steir, Egypt Today, May 2010

The Sinai is known for many things – biblical history, world-class diving, posh resorts…. But just a few hours north of the perennially popular Sharm el Sheikh 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 freediving draw thrill seekers from around the globe, few are aware that the mountains of Sinai offer the potential for world-class rock climbing.

summits-of-sinai-egypt-today-p1That lack of 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…

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 valleys 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 (Qnai). Overlooking a lush oasis, the valley is home to over 35 bolted sport-climbing routes, with more being developed (today there are nearly 50 sport climbing routes!).  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/b.) It’s an easy place for climbers of any level to pass a few days, with enough challenging lines to keep people coming back…

rock-climbing-egypt-today-p2Tanis Newman (Canadian) and Said Khedr, a Sinai Bedouin, have more in mind than simply developing a sustainable climbing scene in the region. For them, climbing is a new 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.

“Bedouin hospitality is amazing and it’s a mentality that moves into tourism so easily,” says Newman…

Given the alluring coastlines and thriving tourism industry that supports Sinai, and the dedicated efforts to bring exposure to the sport in the region, it seems it’s only a matter of time before Sinai makes a name for itself in the climbing world.

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