Jebel Abbas Pasha
A Walking Trail Guide
Saint Katherine Protectorate- How to use this guide
What will I see?
Site 1 Start of the Walk
Site 2 View of St. Katherine and the Plain of El-Raha
Site 3 Hajar Abu Geefa and Traditional Bedouin Marriage Proposal
Site 4 Leopard Trap
Site 5 Start of the Traditional Climb into the Mountains
Site 6 Ain Shkaiya Spring
Site 7 Ancient Mulberry Tree
Site 8 Saad Mahmuud Stopover
Site 9 Abbas Pasha Road
Site 10 Panorama
Site 11 The Palace
Jebel Abbas Pasha
Saint Katherine Protectorate
There is more to the Saint Katherine Protectorate than just the Monastery and Mount Sinai. A wealth of cultural, natural and religious history awaits discovery within the 4350 km2 of the Saint Katherine Protectorate. The unique high altitude desert ecosystem and the religious landscape surrounding the Saint Katherine Monastery are intertwined with treasures of Bedouin life and culture. This series of guidebooks cover half to full day walks in the areas around the Saint Katherine village and Montasery.
All visitors to the mountain region must be accompanied by a Bedouin guide. Your Bedouin guide will share his extraordinary knowledge of this areas rich environment, and help make your walk safe and easy.
How to use this guide
This booklet will complement your experience with your Bedouin guide whilst inside the Saint Katherine Protectorate.
The site numbers in this booklet correspond to the numbers on the engraved sandstone markers located along the path. At each site you will have the opportunity to read a little about what you see, hear and smell so as to discover more of the wildlife, history and culture of the area.
**You must be reasonably fit in order to hike any of these trails comfortably; some gradients are steep.
**Wear sturdy shoes and a hat and take sunscreen and matches or a lighter.
**Please leave no trace of your visit, carry out all your litter, bury your bodily waste and burn your toilet paper.
**In order to complete the Jebel Abbas Pasha walk in one day, you need to start early (8 am). However, if a guide can be organized for earlier it is advisable, as it makes the walk more enjoyable especially in the summer months June- September.
**It is advisable to take at least 4.5 liters of water (three bottles) per person as the walk is fairly arduous, with little shade in the higher section of the walk.
**It must be stressed that the walk is considerably longer and harder than that of Mount Sinai (Jebel Musa) and can take up to four hours to the summit however it is a very worthwhile walk incorporating history, wildlife and spectacular views from one of the highest mountains in Egypt.
Organize your guide at the El Milgah Tourist office, about 750 metres west of the shops in Saint Katherine village. The trail begins from the office then winds up over the steep pass of Abu Geefa. The walk takes approximately 8 hours to complete with some steep sections.
What will I see?
The walk centers around the palace built by Abba Hilmi I Pasha or Viceroy of Egypt between 1849-1854, and his quest for a high altitude mountain retreat, partly for health reasons and partly to allow him to lead a recluse life style. The panoramic view from the top of Jebel Abbas Pasha is one of the finest in the high mountain area. The walk also gives you a chance to see the beauty of the mountains, experience the natural history of the area and see aspects of the Jebeliya Bedouin culture.
Abbas Pasha I, the grandson and successor of the great reformist Mohamed Ali, was born in 1813. He is best remembered for the emancipation of the fellaheen and the construction of the Cairo-Alexandria railway line in 1851. However Abbas Pasha spent much of his life secluded in desert palaces surrounded by his body-guards. He died in his desert palace about 60 km outside Cairo on the Suez road. Abbas Pasha had a significant influence on the immediate area around St. Katherine. Besides the construction of the mountain top palace he commissioned the building of the camel path up Mount Sinai and the Askar barracks on the way to the monastery, which now lies in ruins.
Start of the Walk
The walk starts just beyond El Milgah, the main Bedouin village in Saint Katherine. Ayn Tufaha well is on the left, just after the first garden. From here you climb south out of town, passing a large kharuub tree, some massive boulders, a pretty decorated Bedouin house and a walled garden.
Fifteen minutes after the start of the climb you branch right, onto the Nagb Abu Geefa path which takes you up to the pass which for centuries has been the doorway into the mountains beyond. Geefa literally means "corpse", and probably refers to the odour of the accumulated camel droppings. The path on your left leads eventually to Jebel Katrin. The Abu Geefa path you take to the right was made by Abbas Pasha to help build his palace. Look out for drill marks on rocks. He used soldiers for its construction, positioning them in a line up the mountain along which building materials were passed. Islamic law states that Muslims should give a portion of their income to charity, or do something to benefit the community. Amongst the Jebeliya Bedouin charitable work often involved the repair of mountain paths such as the Abu Geefa path. Recent repairs have been done by the Protectorate in collaboration with local people.
View of St. Katherine and the Plain of El-Raha
From here the view of Saint Katherine is superb. The white house to your right with the terra-cotta roof is an old Monastic retreat at the foot of Jebel Raba. The modern complex in the foreground consists of the City Council, the High School and the Islamic School. Most of El Milgah is obscured to your left. The town center is spread out around the mosque. Beyond is the sandy Plain of El-Raha which is believed to be the site where the Israelites camped while waiting for Moses.
Continue to site 3 following the path which zigzags past a garden suspended in terraces in this steep, narrow wadi. Almonds, olives, pomegranate, apricots and grapes grow here.
Hajar Abu Geefa and Traditional Bedouin Marriage Proposal
Where the path begins to level out there are some large rocks; the hollow one with a wall is Hajar Abu Geefa and under it you can see the remains of a storeroom. Look out for the boulder with foot-shaped engravings. These represent an old Bedouin form of marriage proposal, no longer practiced. The man went to the rock and engraved the outline of his foot after which the girl would add hers beside it. If the father agreed to the marriage, a circle was drawn around the two footprints. Not every proposal had a happy outcome, as you may notice. Remember it is forbidden now for visitors to write on or deface rocks.
Continue 100 meters to the top of the pass.
Leopard Trap Nosret al-Nimr
As you reach the top look to the left of the marker stone at what first appears to be a heap of stones. This is an old burrow trap for catching leopards. It is typically situated in a narrow pass through which leopards frequently passed. The trap was baited with a tethered goat and a stone rigged at the entrance to fall when the bait was touched, entombing the leopard. The large flat entrance stone is still in place. Leopard traps were also used to catch wolves.
Leopards still do occur in the Sinai mountains but they are very rare and possibly always have been as in desert areas they require large territories for hunting. In 1996 a leopard was killed in the coastal mountains of Abu Galum south of Nuweiba and recently there have been several, unconfirmed sightings not far from Saint Katherine town.
Just beyond the leopard trap is a useful place to stop and rest in the early morning as the shade becomes less abundant the higher you climb. Here you are standing on part of the ring-dyke, a massive intrusion of volcanic rock which circles around St. Katherine. The dyke is distinguished by its dark colour against the surrounding red granite.
The Sinai leopard is very much smaller than the African leopard and has a preferred diet of birds, mice, and rock hyrax ( a rabbit-like creature). It will eat goats and other small livestock if available, and it was this and a fear for human safety which led to its persecution and demise; however it should not be considered as dangerous to people.
Continue down the raised path which takes you down into the beautiful Wadi Toboug with its trekkers stopover.
Start of the Traditional Pathway into the Mountains
This point marks where the Bedouin consider the start of the climb into the mountains to begin. Continue along Wadi Tabouq past three traditional walled gardens containing fig trees. The fig (teen in Arabic) is recognizable by its silvery grey bark and is the last of the fruit trees to come into leaf. Some of these trees are a product of grafting, where cuttings from a lowland variety of fig were transplanted onto the mountain fig in order to get a good yield of fruit. You can see the smaller leaves and fruits of the mountain fig below the graft mark. Various different species can be successfully grafted eg. pear onto hawthorn.
Ayn Shkaiya Spring
Ayn Shkaiya is a shallow water trough constructed on a rock shelf. Ayn means eye and is often used to refer to springs, as they have a likeness to an eye. Here water trickles down from a crevice above, marked by an overhanging clump of rushes. This has long been a water collection point for both people and animals; you should treat the water before drinking. Do not touch wild plants as they may contain compounds that can cause severe skin reaction.
Continue along Wadi Toboug, past gardens where mulberries (tute), walnuts (ain al gamal), olives (zituun), and pomegranates (rohman) are cultivated. After 400 metres turn into the right hand Wadi at the junction by the fig tree.
Ancient Mulberry Tree
This giant mulberry tree with its multiple trunks is one of only seven in the vicinity of Saint Katherine. It possibly dates back to Byzantine times (7th century AD) and is protected by Bedouin tribal law. The wadi narrows and the ground becomes mossy after rain a stream flows through here. Mint (habak) and thyme (zatar) grow here in profusion.
About 300 metres on Wadi Toboug turns into Wadi Zawatiin ( a derivative of zituun, meaning olives), turn right after about 15 minutes you reach a trekkers stopover.
Saad Mahmuud Stopover
This establishment is owned by Saad Mahmuud and is the last of such stopovers before the top, so it is a good idea to stock up on drinks here, as the ascent becomes much harder work as the gradient increases and the shade ceases. Looking back, the dark granite peak of Jebel Katrin, Egypts highest mountain, dominates the view.
Continue up the wadi on a reinforced path, beside tall garden walls for about 20 minutes.
Start of Abbas Pasha Road
Here you come to a massive stone construction, some of which was washed away be the floods which once surged down here. This was to be a road to take Abbas Pasha in his horse-drawn carriage to his palace, but was never completed as the ruler died a year after building commenced.
Although the rein of Abbas Pasha was short-lived, he constructed several roads within Sinai, a traditioanal resort for Egyptian khedives (rulers). One of these routes built by his army linked El-Tur with Mount Sinai and Jebel Abbas Pasha. This route passed through Abu Sila village in the Plain of El-Raha with one branch going on to Mount Sinai, the camel path which tourists now use, and another branch on which you now stand leads up to the summit of Jebel Abbas Pasha.
The path steepens and after 15 minutes you reach the pass.
Here you can catch your breath and enjoy superb views northwards into Wadi Tiinya and south to Jebel Katrin. To your left, on the west, rises Jebel Sumera, from the top of which were cut some of the red granite building blocks for the palace. To your right, the stone walls you see winding up the mountainside are in fact a reinforced road to the summit which was used by donkeys to transport materials. There are also remains of some of the workers houses.
Turn right and a climb of about half an hour brings you to the summit ridge, from where you bear left for the palace.
Abbas Pasha suffered from tuberculosis and planned to build a palace where he could recuperate in the healthy mountain air. He finally settled on this 2383m mountain then called Jebel Tiinya, apparently after placing meat on several summits and observing that it decayed slower on this mountain than on others. Another version of this story is that the monks told him that meat spoiled least here, in order to keep him away from Mount Sinai where he had originally intended to build his palace. Construction began in 1853, but in 1854 Abbas Pasha died. Work stopped, and the incomplete palace now stands abandoned on the summit, it is about 45 metres square and was to have been two stories high.
Unused granite blocks and fired bricks lie around and the unfinished doorways are framed by beautifully squared lintels. The red granite blocks were cut from Wadi Zawatiin and Jebel Sumera; the bricks were made on site from granite sand. The walls are 1-2m thick and contain the remains of wooden joists, many of which have been removed for firewood in the intervening years. Inside the palace you can see the layout of the cellars, and an area covered by white chalky material where mortar was prepared.
Abbas Pasha had a lasting distrust of foreigners. He strongly opposed many of the western inspired change introduced by his grandfather Mohammed Ali Pasha (1805-1848) and he is remembered as a traditionalist and reactionary who undid many of his grandfathers modernizing reforms. His secretive and suspicious nature has led to much speculation over his death; it is uncertain whether he was murdered or died of a stroke.
Had he lived, Abbas Pasha would have gazed out at a commanding panorama of the mountains: Mount Sinai, Jebel Baab, Jebel Serbal, Jebel Tarbuush, Jebel Em Ali, collectively described as the roof of Egypt. Below lies the town of Saint Katherine and the Plain of El-Raha modern concrete buildings contrasting with traditional Beouin houses which blend in to the background. Beyond you have a birds-eye view of Mt. Sinai, Raf Safsaafa (Mount Horeb), Jebel el-Deir, Wadi Arbaein and Wadi Shrayj.
Before cement was invented, mortar was made from chippings of the lime deposits found on rocks inundated with water, burning them in a kiln (tuun) and mixing the resulting powder with water to form a mortar paste. This ancient method produced a lasting mortar and was also used in Bedouin tombs to enable them to survive the centuries. Numerous lime kilns can be found in the surrounding wadis.
At this point you can retrace your path, or ask your guide to return by another route. Be aware that other routes may be steep.
Last Updated: June 14th, 2011
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