In the last few months I’ve noticed a growing phenomenon in Sharm; people are doing things, getting active, enjoying the great outdoors and generally getting fit. Sinai seems to becoming the next destination for extreme sport challenges.
We’ve hosted the Paris -Dakar, we’ve witnessed the deepest SCUBA dive and now we’ve got the ultimate endurance challenge, namely the ‘Three peaks Egypt Challenge’.
This is the brain-child of a group of St. Katherine’s local Bedouin, Egyptian and international hikers ‘whose aim is to develop a worldclass mountain route that showcases the best of Egypt’s beautiful wilderness’. St. Katherine’s protectorate and community are cleverly re-inventing themselves by putting the region’s rugged remote peaks on the map of adventure challenges with the aim to create a sustainable economy that helps mountain communities and preserves traditional knowledge and lifestyles.
It seems way out there, as most people would re-coil in fear if they were asked to climb Sinai’s three highest peaks and cover 38km of rugged landscape all within 24 hours – but for two Sharm residents it was like a red rag to a bull. On the 11th April at 5.00am Waleed Ali and Ezzat Draz set off to prove it’s doable. When they arrived Ben Hoffler one of the organizers suggested that they set a record, to show others that to complete the challenge in 24 hours is a reachable goal for most people – in order to prove this, our Sharmers decided to do it in 12 hours 52 minutes beating the previous record held by an Austrian Mountaineer of 16 hours.
I sat and had a chat with Waleed to see what makes him tick and how he felt about the challenge. Firstly it is normal to assume that you need to be super fit to even contemplate this kind of endurance but it really doesn’t take a lot of time to improve fitness levels, and Waleed is proof of this. Waleed has worked in the tourist industry in Sharm for almost 18 years; he started getting fit when he joined the Sharm Shark’s Rugby club in 2012– at the time most of the members joked that they were all too old with the average age being 35. When the Shark’s had a small break in training in 2013, Waleed started ‘Sharm Runners’ a facebook group to encourage people to run by organizing group runs.
The group had 6-7 regular runners and over 100 members on facebook. Waleed started with 5km runs but as he regularly trained saw a quick improvement which resulted in a 21km run from Naama to Nabq. He then joined the International Half Marathon in Ras Mohamed National Park where in came in 13th out of 80 runners and is also a regular at the annual fundraising ‘Pink run’ at Rixos resort. With this kind of mentality it is no surprise that Waleed nd his friend Azzat (a gymnastics coach for Waleed’s daughter) decided to take up Ben’s record busting challenge.
Although it was a major feat for the pair; Waleed is quick to point out that by accomplishing it within 12.52 just highlights that for the average fitness person it is highly achievable in 24 hours and the feeling of accomplishing it should encourage others to try it. Adventure Tourists travel to the very south of New Zealand to do the highest bungee jump, travel to Morocco to do ‘Marathon des Sables’, sign up to do base camp Everest, so why not put another tick to a box and do the ‘Three peak Egypt Challenge’ – it’s a must do for any adrenalin junkie.
So before you sign up what exactly is the challenge? The organizations website states ‘The THREE PEAKS EGYPT CHALLENGE is a new, community-founded hiking challenge in the Sinai. Stretching 38km, and tackling three of Egypt’s biggest, most iconic mountain peaks, the main aim of the challenge is to finish in 24 hours. This is the first Three Peaks Challenge in the Middle East and Egypt’s ultimate mountain hike. It’s a route that will push you to the max – and your personal peak – all the way.’ For most keen fitness people this will immediately ‘peak’ some interest so what where the highs and lows for our super Sharmers?
Waleed said the biggest problem was there was 100% humidity with 1°c temperature which meant they had a lot of moisture on their bodies which felt freezing with the low temperature. They kept an average pace with the help of the mobile app Endomondo which tracks the route, average pace, accent and descents. Ben accompanied them on the complete route as did the un-sung heroes the two Bedouin guides who shared the route between them. The first peak was 2383 metres above sea-level Jebel Abbas Basha, followed by Jebel Katherine – 2637 metres above sea-level and finally Jebel Musa 2285 metres above sealevel.
The hardest part was the last 300 metres of Jebel Katherine. Waleed said he could not have done it without the encouragement of his team mate Ezzat. Their moods also followed the highs and lows of the terrain, with almost silent accents turning into cheerful chats on the descents. What was the most amazing thing of all is the absolutely awesome scenery – “you literally feel on top of the world”. Incredibly this was the first time Waleed and Ezzat had ever climbed a mountain, the only accent before was the little MFO mountain opposite South Camp – but this fades away to a mere ‘hill’ in comparison to these mighty mountains.
To sum up the experience; I asked Waleed if he would do it again. Surprise surprise he said “Yes” but next time he wants to take it at a slower pace so he can appreciate the grandeur of the Sinai desert and what an amazing place we live in. Finally I asked “any regrets?” the answer “I wish I did it earlier” and his advice to others is “Everybody, don’t waste time and go and see this beautiful place.”
If you would like more information on this incredible initiative then the organization has a very informative website http://www.threepeaksegypt.org/ packed full of information, tips, maps and preparation guides.
They also have a facebook page https://www.facebook.com/threepeaksegyptchallenge
If you are considering taking this awesome challenge and becoming a ‘3 Peaker’ then the next scheduled trip will be in May. I’m tempted how about you?