Climbing 1)Mt, Sinai, Chasing 2)Moses in the Dark 夜登西奈山追赶摩西
One of the few 3)landlubber excursions to Mt. Sinai (2,285 meters above sea level) is a 4)nocturnal three-hour hike, timed perfectly to observe the sunrise from the 5)pinnacle. After a two-hour drive, we arrived at the base of the mountain. As soon as I left the bus, I headed for the bathroom to put on a pair of long pants and a sweater. The temperature had dropped at least 10 from the daytime high. It was only going to get colder and windier during the climb. By the time I double-checked my gear and clothing, there were only six people left at the base. So there I was: all alone, at 2:15 a.m., lost at the base of Mt. Sinai.
I was not going to be the last one to the top, so I began power walking. This was the mistake. I began racing, competing with a pack of world-class hikers who burst out of the vans and sped up the mountain, leaving a flurry of dust behind them that settled by the time I crossed the same area. They had scaled past so many turns up the mountain that I could no longer hear their 6)stampeding or see the glow of their flashlights. Moses had a 7)pillar of fire guiding him at night. A sympathetic firefly would have been enough for me.
I made out the shapes of two camels and three 8)Bedouins. They were presumably headed for the main camel camp, where the animals could be hired as an alternative to hiking. The camp had to fall on the main path, I thought, so I followed them.
We came upon the 9)silhouette of the monastery. I paused to orient myself. “There are two trails,” I recalled the man at the tourist office saying, “Both begin just past these two pillars. The one that turns to the right is much faster, but steeper Steps of Repentance. Straight past the pillars is the easier but longer Camel Path.”
I saw the pillars, gained my 10)bearings, and also managed to lose sight of the camels and Bedouins. But I saw a faint, stationary glow in the distance. That had to be the camp.
I reached the camp by climbing over rocks and entering the wrong side. I saw dozens of resting camels. As I walked gingerly around them, I approached the men, 11)huddled around burning lanterns. They were wearing 12)turbans and long, 13)draping gowns. With gestures, I asked for the path and the men pointed.
After a half hour of power walking, I stopped to remove my sweater and to tighten my large 14)fanny pack that had begun to slide down, 15)hampering my stride. I found a flat rock and sat down for a few moments. The moon, while only an eighth full, was bright enough to cast my shadow. I left my flashlight turned off. The moonlight shone through a perfectly clear sky and illuminated the rugged, 16)arid 17)terrain with a faint blueness. It 18)bleached away the colors, transforming a presumably ruddy 19)palette to a desolate monotony; the color of steel, of the moon itself. Newly visible stars formed 20)constellations I had never seen.
Suddenly, I noticed a flickering army of flashlights. There they were. But they were below me, behind me. As I would later find out, all the other hikers had 21)prepped themselves in the courtyard of a small cafe. They were obstructed from my view by a wall of minivans. I did not lose them-I ran past them. I had been racing no one. I pointed my light at them. One of the hikers 22)reciprocated. There I was, having a Moses moment. I had been utterly convinced of my failure as a pathfinder, when I suddenly found myself as a leader.
An hour and a half later I was at the final 350 steps. A Bedouin merchant said it was too early, nobody was up there yet, and that I should buy some of his overpriced chips and tea. Halfway up, it seemed the Bedouin had a point. I refused to rest throughout the entire way, and my body began to shake. Moses had a walking stick. My trembling knees were begging for one. But I reminded myself that if an 80-year-old man with slippery sandals walked up this mountain and came down carrying two stone 23)tablets, I had nothing to complain about. So I just kept walking.
I was not the first to the top. Three guys had taken the Steps of Repentance. Three others had camped out from the previous day. Another merchant approached me, offering to lend me his blanket for $ 1.50. I asked him where the sun was going to rise. I situated myself near the edge, wrapped myself in the blanket, took out a juice box and waited.
It began sometime after 5 a.m. A thin white thread appeared over the horizon, in competing 24)luminescence with the bright fingernail clipping of the moon. The light was elegant, 25)demure in the company of stars and the faint dusting of the 26)Milky Way 27)galaxy. Somewhere east, the white thread quickly unraveled, expanding in a 28)spectrum that 29)leaked orange over the landscape, over everything. And then a fierce orange disc rose and set the lunar desolation, the silent 30)eloquence of blues on fire. In its 31)unyielding march westward, the disc claimed territories under this orange glow, increasing its dominion with every passing moment.
We witnessed the vast, beautiful dance between night and day, a process that determines our concept of time but is timeless itself, which gives rhythm to seen and unseen occurrences that repeat over days, years, 32)eons.