theFreeClimber homepage
view photos
commissions, exhibitions, prints ...
read published work
climbing coaching by experts
slideshows and talks
legal expert opinion
how to contact us
other useful sites
read client feedback
what's new at
go to thefreeclimber homepage Visit our sponsor's site Visit our sponsor's site
Sinai Adventure Bouldering

Egypt may not yet be on the map of the world’s major bouldering venues, but ignoring the inevitable wisecracks about scaling pyramids it clearly has all the ingredients. Cheap charter flights from the UK, guaranteed winter sunshine, minimal living costs and sensational granite boulders set against a backdrop of towering desert mountains. Add to this the friendly Bedouin people, their colourful camels and the confused looks you get when you walk around with a crash pad, and you end up with a serious bouldering trip you certainly won’t forget in a hurry.

The old town of Sharm El Sheikh is now one of the world’s top destinations for diving and snorkelling; the colourful reefs hug the local shores within a stone’s throw of virtually any beach in the area and even in mid winter the red sea is warm enough to want to spend hours in swimming with the fish. Looking inland you’ll see impressive rocky peaks, though this far south they are sadly also crumbling rocky peaks, about which climbers have understandably failed to get excited. We took a closer look and found pockets of good rock just a taxi-ride from town, which would provide worthwhile sport for the more intrepid boulderer or those with only a day-pass from the family, but those in search of concentrated bouldering quality would be well advised to head north without delay to the biblical town of St. Catherine.

photo: John Arran

Problem B-5 (V3/4) at St. Catherine

Even those with a less than encyclopaedic knowledge of the Old Testament will have heard of Moses. You know, the chap who walked up a hill, had a chat with Him upstairs and came down with tablets of Commandments. Well his mountain is just around the corner from St. Catherine and this, along with a 6th century monastery and an allegedly once-burning bush, attract a huge number of visitors to the area each day. Thankfully though the town is amazingly quiet rather than the tourist nightmare you may expect, because virtually all the sightseers are day-trippers (or, in the case of those walking up Mount Sinai, night-trippers to see the sunrise from the summit). Obviously they don’t realise how good the bouldering is hereabouts or they would be much more keen to stay.

The town lies in the heart of South Sinai, a few hours drive from Sharm, and because it’s at an altitude of around 1500m it offers a choice between glorious warm sunshine (don’t forget your shades) and surprisingly cool winter shade (or your duvet!) The rock itself is an excellent granite, with boulderfields strewn around the valley floor beneath rock towers several hundred metres high.

photo: Anne Arran
  Problem S-13 (V1) at Sharm

It was Anne who spotted the bouldering potential when she was here with Ruth Jenkins last year. Not having chance at the time to explore more fully, she convinced me of the merits of returning with a bouldering mat and a sense of adventure. How pleased I was when her guarded enthusiasm turned out to be more than justified, and almost at once our mood changed from that of exploration and adventure to one of sheer childlike play.

The boulders are of a hard, compact granite, festooned with huecos and decorated with crimps and slopey edges. Problems vied for our attention, often many classic lines per boulder, and when we’d tried them all there would be another boulder right next door to further seduce us. Sometimes, when we were bouldering near the town, we would be joined by local children, who seemed just as excited by the bouldering as we were. It was quite a sight watching a nine year old Bedouin girl cruise a V3 friction slab in her bare feet.

Inevitably the time came far too soon for us to leave, vowing to return. We set about recording some of our findings to help those who may choose to follow, so here are a few topos to get you started. Once here though your eyes will surely be drawn to yet another promising boulderfield, and you would be foolish not to let the explorer within you have as much fun as we had.

Sharm El Sheikh Area

S. El Raha Boulders

Take a taxi from Sharm (EŁ15, including collection at specified time), until just after an S bend. The boulders are by a distinctive conical hill on the left behind the pylons.

1     V3   thin crack
2   * V1   small face slab mantle
3     V3/4   r/w diagonal face above blocks
4   *** V5   sloper r/w traverse from horn
5   * V3   l/w traverse between blocks in alcove
6   * V2   matterhorn slabby wall
7   * V6   arête from low holds
8     V3   high crack, crux at top
9   ** V6   short arête & mantle from sit start
10   * project   hand crack in right-facing wall
11   ** V2   roof prow, mantle from jump start
12   ** V4/5   from right onto footrail & up slab leftwards
13   * V1   diagonal crack and up
photo: John Arran
Problem S-4 (V5)

St. Catherine Area

photo: John Arran
Problem A-10 on the Safsafa Boulders

A. Safsafa Boulders

1   ** V2   prow
2   *** project   dyno
3   *** V5   arête from low holds
4   * V2   undercut start from ground
5   * project   groove/arête
6   **** V6   triangular face
7   * V4   layback crack
8   * V5   arête, sit start in cave
9   ** V4   thin crack
10   ** V1   arête on right side
11   ** V3   slim groove
12   * V3   slab from ground
13   ** V4   crimpy wall from ground
14   ** V4   roof
15     V0-   arête
16   * V0   face right of 15
17     V0   arête
18   ** V1   mantle
19   * V0-   arête
20   *** V6   mono to slopey mantle, no block
21   * V7   prow above window to block for feet
22   *** project   direct finish to 21
23   ** V3   pockets above wall
24   ** V4   scoops from block
25   *** V6   undercut wall
26   ** V3   arête
27   * V1   wall from spike
28   ** V3   layback and pocket
29   *** V4/5   smooth wall from either side
30   * V0+   wall above ledge
31   ** V2   bulbous nose
photo: Anne Arran
Problem A-8 (V5)
photo: John Arran
Problem A-1 (V2)

B. Rabba Boulders

1   ** project   scooped wall (V5) to scary finish
2   * V5   sit start pockets to ledge
3   ** V6   from undercut flake over nose
4   ** V1   slab
5   ** V3/4   sit start, ledge to shelf and over
6   ** V7   from slopers up right to shelf
7   * V3   jump onto arête
8   * V3   groove rightwards
9     V2   left of nose
10   ** V1   arête
11   ** V2   hanging arête
12   ** V4   long slabby arête
13   ** project   slopers from ground
14   *** V7   crimp-assisted mantle
15     V3   crack
16   * V2   nose just right
17   ** V4   arête from ground
18   *** V5   flaky slab (V3 from boulder)
19   ** V5   undercut arête

photo: Anne Arran
Problem B-12 (V4)

C. El Raha Boulders

1   ** V0   stepped arête
2   * V4   wall just left
3   *** project   hard crimp dyno
4   * V2   rounded arête
5   *** V6   thin crimpy wall
6   *** V5   slopers up left of wall
7   *** V7   thin slabby wall
8   ** V4/5   balancy wall
photo: Anne Arran
the locals climb V3 barefoot!

D. A-Dir Boulders

Unexplored but promising blocks by the road into town. Worth checking out.

photo: Anne Arran
Problem B-6 (V7)

When to go?

For bouldering conditions winter is definitely best, though for those seeking an easy life spring and autumn should be fine too, especially in the shade.

How to get there?

Package tours fly from many UK airports to Sharm-El-Sheikh. We had two weeks in January including breakfast at a good resort for £220 each. There is a bus each morning from Sharm to St. Catherine (£4.50, 4 hours), which may require a change in Dahab. Taxi is possible from around £50. There are also scheduled flights to Cairo from which a direct bus is possible.

Where to stay?

Hotels charge near-Western prices. Much better value are the ‘camps’ (Moonland or Fox – see map) with basic bedrooms and cooking facilities for around £3 per night each.

photo: John Arran
Unrecorded problem at Sharm. The conical hill in the background is the roadside landmark to look out for.

What to eat?

Restaurants are very good and very cheap in Egypt, though the options are limited in St. Catherine. Small grocery shops are well stocked, so buying food there and cooking it yourself may be the best plan for most people.

What to bring?

A warm sleeping bag and plenty of sunscreen. Tents and stoves shouldn’t be necessary. Bring beer from Sharm if you want to drink, as it’s only available at some hotels and at silly prices.

This article, by John Arran, first appeared in the February 2004 issue of On The Edge magazine.