Qornet es-Sawda, the loftiest summit in Lebanon, ten
thousand feet, rising higher than the cedars! It is
called es-Sawda, the Black, because when it rises
above the clouds and the snows it appears strangely
Eighty-eight miles from Beirut, it is part of a mountain
chain that starts from the Taurus range in South Turkey,
follows the Syrian coast line and then rises into
a line of heights crowned with eternal snows, reaching
Jebel es-Sheikh, Mount Hermon, before sloping down
to the Negev Desert in Southern Palestine. Its name
derives from the way it emerges above the snow which
clothes it in a white mantle. It belongs to a range
of hills and summits that follow a north-south direction
and on an average reach up to nine thousand feet.
One has to start out on foot from the Cedars, which
stand already at six thousand feet, and walk for six
hours to reach the top, from where on a clear day
one may see the tips of the Trodos Mountains (over
six thousand feet) in Cyprus, lying on an axis from
east to west from the Turkish Taurus. One has to go
over ten miles along the central ridge nine thousand
feet high before reaching the Black Peak across hills,
hollows, swallow-holes and patches of packed and frozen
snow that exist all the year round. A veritable water
reservoir, the mountain nourishes rivers to the east
such as the Orontes and to the west such as Qadisha.
The actual summit is a very high plateau swept by
a strong wind in summer as in winter. The scene recalls
the first morning of creation, with banks of snow
and wild open spaces with only scrub vegetation, small
shrubs and tufts of a kind of juniper.
At this height the cedar does not grow, but three
thousand feet below at an altitude of six thousand
feet one sees the thousand-year old historic forest
of the Cedars in an immense arena. To the east, the
high plateau dominates the plain of the Beqaa valley
and on the other side one looks down on magnificent
ski runs. The sun is scorching in summer but the winds
are icy in winter. Here we are on the highest summit
in the Middle East, surrounded by an extraordinary
spectacle; we are taken by the beauty of the work
of the Creator, its wealth and its harmony.
Many sightseers come to visit this place. The bus
transport available to them can take them up to eight
thousand feet and for the remaining two thousand it
is a matter of foot-slogging.
When you look down on Qadisha, the Cedars and Bsharri,
they seem ever so tiny. The snow remains the year
round. Flocks of sheep and goats browse over the scant
vegetation. Everything is of a nature to impress profoundly.
Silence reigns supreme and is something to be savored.
For this kind of tourism one needs to be of a certain
intellectual level, something of a mystic perhaps.
Here one makes a religious pilgrimage in the paradise
of monks, hermits and anchorites. Here one does not
come for mere amusement, but rather to commune with
nature and to pray.