How a Nine Hour Full Moon Night Hike in Sinai Changed My Life
Updated: Nov 15, 2021
It was around 1:00 am as the light bounced off the full moon onto my path from the bottom of the craggy non-mountain.
The Bedouins call it a non-mountain because it's one of the smallest.
As I approached the earthen mound, it grew increasingly bigger – ahem, mountain-ish, mountain-like, or mountainous – you choose.
I've never climbed a mountain disguised as a non-mountain until now.
Real talk: if it's rocky and goes straight up – I hereby proclaim it a lil' mountain.
I wanted to face my fear of climbing & descending a mountainy thing for my birthday, and why not do it in the dark for some extra zing?
I once climbed a tree, and they had to call the fire department to get me down. It wasn't my proudest moment, but hey, nobody's perfect.
Some people want cake & ice cream for their birthday.
I want a massive psychological challenge in the Sinai desert on a non-mountain night hike where my untimely death is a real possibility.
Yalla beena! Let's go, let's do this, c'mon!
Step by Step focus
My Bedouin guide glided up the earthen mound as natural as wind blowing through the trees, and my friend, the same but with more vigor.
My breathing intensified as I gazed up at the sky and realized while I may be trekking with others, my journey is alone.
I felt immediate resistance to the unnatural ascension of my body.
My mind went into a panic with so many unknowns and I had a woman versus nature moment that sent me into another dimension.
Thank all the gods I had hiking sticks because my senses were in overdrive.
We moved swiftly up unsteady rock formations, both large & small. We snaked through semi laid paths and non-paths too.
Every moment was a choice to move beyond fear and into the unknown.
You're maybe going to die
Every step was a lesson in real-time mindfulness and demanded total focus.
Snapshot of my recurring thoughts:
You're going to die.
You're going to twist an ankle and won't be able to walk.
You're going to fall, slide down the non-mountain and cry like a baby in total defeat.
You're fu**ing crazy for doing this; what are you thinking?
Act natural, don't let them know you think you're going to die.
How are those fu**ers gliding up the non-mountain like that?
I'm so dizzy; I think I'm going to fall over.
If I do die on this non-mountain, it's a pretty cool ending to my life story.
I'm going to die on the way down if I don't die on the way up.
The biggest challenge wasn't the non-mountain
I'm good at diving into situations before I overthink them to death and back out.
This mentality helps reduce fear, but you need a healthy amount of detachment to do it.
Fear is a herculean emotion, and I was unprepared for its effects on my mental state as we climbed in the darkness.
I've never been hyper-focused on the present moment for 9 hours straight but if I hoped to reach the end, my journey required nothing less.
It made me understand that I can talk myself in or out of anything because my thoughts determine my experience.
The path I trekked was scary, but my inner dialogue was scarier.
The thoughts I fed myself shaped my experience. One minute I'd say, Wendy, what were you thinking? This is insane.
The next minute I'd say to myself, you chose this, so, yield to it.
Discovering a rhythm
We climbed in the darkness as the moon whispered, this way.
I had a headlamp, but I didn't need it because the moonlight was full and strong.
My night vision wasn't great, but soon I realized it didn't much matter.
This was about sensing the rhythm between me and the rocks on my path.
If I trust myself and focus on my connection with the ground, it will support me, I said to myself.
Every step was a lesson in sensing, trusting, and letting go because the other side of that is thinking I'm about to croak off the side of the lil' non-mountain.
I created an alliance with the Earth by trusting in our relationship with one another.
What planet are we on?
The dead calm of the Sinai desert calms my body and mind.
The vast night sky bathes us in moonlight as a canopy of stars & planets guides us.
I keep my focus on the ground to see where I'm going because I still don't trust my balance.
Looking up, I hear you are strong; you can do this! – encouragement from my friend.
I appreciate the vote, but I'm distracted because this place doesn't look like planet Earth.
I'm mesmerized by the colossal rock formations that must be thousands of years old.
Oh my god, I say out loud over and over again.
Oh my god.
I can't believe what I'm doing or what my eyes are seeing – it's thrilling and ethereal.
Going up Vs. going down
Going up wasn't as scary as going down. If you tumble to your death while going down, you see what's coming, and that's terrifying.
At least if you slide to your death while trekking upwards, you have a pleasant view of the heavens.
I'm trying to be positive.
Going up requires a different strategy, strength, and focus.
Going up is more intuitive and going down requires more control because of gravity – every muscle group is flexing and burning.
Destination: Umm Al-Saad's Garden
The hike to Umm Al-Saad's Garden took us up the non-mountain, down it, through various valleys, and up again to our final destination.
Around 5:00 am, I saw a stone house on the edge of a cliff, a place to rest, at last.
Amriyah's home is where many hikers stop to relax on her porch overlooking majestic Sinai mountains.
Our Bedouin guide took a nap while I kicked off my shoes and sat down in contemplation.
I didn't slip or break an ankle. My legs were tired but still working.
Most importantly, I didn't die.
The silence of the desert quiets your self-talk. It's not just quiet – it's a peacefulness that draws you into yourself and the Earth.
I watched the stars & planets suspended in the indigo night sky as I considered why I chose a self-challenge to celebrate my birthday.
As I grow older, I recognize the value of expanding my consciousness and releasing self-imposed limitations.
I grow hungrier for experiences that challenge my idea of what I can and can't do because it's a mindset based on my perspective, not reality.
Reality just is. It's different for everyone because your thoughts shape your world.
Sure, facts & figures exist the same for everyone, but how they affect you is relative to how you feel about them.
Sunrise and a cup of fragrant tea
Amriyah greeted us as the sun rose over her mountain paradise.
She lives alone here, with no electricity or plumbing, and my guess is she's around 87 years old. She travels to town once a week or so for a few essentials.
Amriyah is a strong independent woman leading an extraordinary life - insanely inspiring.
We relax and exchange pleasantries while sipping hot tea and taking in the view of a lifetime.
I doubt I'll see this porch again, with this mind-blowing view, but if I do, I won't be the same person.
I feel the magnitude of the moment, and it's etched in my heart and mind.
Trekking back to Saint Catherine
The hike back to the city was different because I gained significant confidence during the night hike.
Plus, it was daylight, so I could see where I was walking – a considerable advantage.
Crossing the valleys was fun as I began to add a little speed and grace to my steps.
We stopped for water breaks and plucked ripe, juicy purple figs off the trees for our enjoyment.
The last upwards trek nearly killed me. Not because I fell, but because my legs felt like jello, and I didn't want to slog uphill under the scorching sun for the next two hours.
But I marched on.
We reached the summit, and I figured it was all downhill from there – and it was, but the strength it required was unanticipated.
By far, this was the most physically demanding part of the hike.
We made it to our final water break and kicked off our shoes to have a celebratory rest. I'd been dripping sweat for 8 hours and covered in dirt and sand.
I felt amazing.
So, when I looked down at the ground, I thought to myself, the old Wendy wouldn't sit in a buggy dirt pile, but the new me said fu** it, looks good to me.
I always wanted to be an outdoorsy girl, and look at me now!
My friend dumped some water over me to cool me down, and we headed back to Saint Catherine.
A New Birthday Tradition
I've pushed myself further in the last three and a half years than perhaps ever before.
I was tired of telling myself why I couldn't do things, or that I would do them when the time was right.
When someone asks me what I like to do for fun, I reply, things that scare me.
I like to push the boundaries of what I think I'm capable of.
I plan to gift myself a birthday challenge from here forward.
So, yeah, my idea of fun has shifted.
Now my version of a good time is things that make me grow, not so much dinner and a movie.
Although I don't need birthday cake and balloons to celebrate my birthday, that's what I got in the middle of the Sinai desert.
Just after sunrise and before we headed back to the city, my friend excused himself for a moment.
He reappeared with a small cake and one balloon.
I was shocked and deeply moved—what a kindness.
When someone is a witness to your growth, it creates a bond.
He'd trekked this hike before, but for me, it was new, and it changed me.
I think he knew it would.
We sat on two large boulders and used the third one as a table.
As we nibbled on the cake and gazed out at the glorious desert morning, we were already nostalgic for the time when we'd look back on this moment.
The beauty of the desert and majesty of the mountains reminded us that the most challenging paths are worth taking because, in the end, they make us better.