Abu Dukhaan: Overview
Jebel Abu Dukhaan stands at the northerly end of the Red Sea Mountain Trail. Its name means the Mountain of Smoke - some say after the haze rising over its slopes in hot weather - and the massif counts as something of a geological anomaly on the Red Sea Mountain Trail, being black rock in a region where red granite dominates. The whole landscape feels different in this region. Jebel Abu Dukhaan rises opposite the towering northerly crags of Jebel Gattar and on a clear day the jagged summits of the Sinai can be seen from its summit. Dramatic gullies drop down the mountain on every side, with emerald pools of water forming in their shadowy depths after rain. The Bedouin say this region is one of the best places to see herds of ibex roaming the hillsides. Nevertheless, it's the history that brings most visitors. It is below Jebel Abu Dukhaan the famous Roman town of Mons Porphyrites has stood for some 2000 years and its forts, temples, quarries and watchtowers can still be visited today. It was established by the Romans as a mining colony, with a beautiful kind of purple rock known as porphyry cut out of the surrounding hillsides. Afterwards, it was hauled hundreds of kilometres over the desert on huge wagons and shipped up the Nile to the Mediterannean, before being carried onwards to different parts of the Roman Empire. Huge quantities of rock were cut away and the trade continued over five centuries. When it finally stopped, small groups of Christians moved into re-occupy parts of the abandoned town. Today, Jebel Abu Dukhaan's hiking hub reactivates old Roman paths, offering a beautiful mix of scenery, history and adventure.
Mons Porphyrites is the most northerly of two great Roman towns on the Red Sea Mountain Trail. The other is called Mons Claudianus and it stands at the southerly end of the circuit. Mons Porphyrites is the bigger, more spectacular of the two, and the dark purple rock cut out of its hillsides can still be seen all over the Mediterannean today, from the Burnt Column of Constantine in Istanbul to the Basilica of San Marco in Venice. A network of Roman footpaths connects the town with high quarries and outlying satellite settlements, all of which can be hiked today. An excellent day hike connects Mons Porphyrites with the satellite fort of Um Balad, via the high pass of Naqb Abu Maamil, which offers spectacular views to the north face of Jebel Gattar.
Wadi Billi runs through the southerly foothills of Jebel Abu Dukhaan, dividing it from Jebel Gattar. The Bedouin say it takes its name from an old Arab tribe - the Billi - who arrived in Egypt soon after the Islamic Conquest. It was partly along Wadi Billi that the rock quarried from the mountains aorund Mons Porphyrites was hauled on huge wagons to the Nile, and waymarkers and forts still dot the wadi today. Roman paths can be followed around the Wadi Billi region, connecting old forts such as Medina Badiya and the fort of Um Balad, which guarded another nearby quarry. An old footpath leads from Wadi Billi to Mons Porphyrites over the high pass of Naqb Abu Maamil, which offers a spectacular view to the north face of Jebel Gattar.
Jebel Abu Dukhaan
Jebel Abu Dukhaan is one of the most iconic summits of the Red Sea Mountains. The Red Sea Mountain Trail runs over the high summit the mountain, approaching through wide, sweeping wadis on its southerly side and descending its spectacular north ridge to the town of Mons Porphyrites. There are no trails here and climbing the peak involves a mix of tough hiking and sometimes exposed scrambling, best done over two days. An ascent can also be worked into a longer, multi day circuit of the entire Jebel Abu Dukhaan massif, beginning and ending at the town of Mons Porphyrites. Along the way, high mountain passes will be crossed on old Roman paths and outlying satellite forts such as Medina Badiya and Um Balad will be visited.
Wadi Sidra nestles deep in the Jebel Abu Dukhaan massif and was the main route along which rock quarried from Mons Porphyrites was dragged to the Nile. The wadi takes its name from a cluster of four trees in a walled enclosure, which the Bedouin say date back to Roman times. The Bedouin call this type of tree 'sidra' and they are not found anywhere else in these mountains. They are the same type of tree - Zizyphus Spina Cristi - which legend records were used to make Jesus Christ's Crown of Thorns. It produces a small, edible fruit called 'nabag' in season. Wadi Sidra is a rugged, black rock wadi that can be hiked as a part of an easy, multi day wadi circuit around Mons Porphyrites, offering more gentle hiking than other parts of the massif.