19 May 2016
Today I am ticking one of my much awaited bucket list items off the list: Hiking the Great Wall of China – my sixth of the Seven Great Wonders of the World.
I have booked a one day hiking tour from Simatai West to Jinshanling. This section of the wall is quite a long way out of Beijing so is very much less crowded and has some original as well as restored parts.I booked my tour with China Highlights online and they were extremely helpful and communicative. I needed to change hotels that day and they were happy to pick me and my bags up from one hotel and drop me back to my new hotel afterwards.
We had a relatively early start in the morning although the original 7.00am pick up was changed to 7.40 as they had to reorganise to allow for the streets that were still shut due to the increased security around the hotel. Our guide for the day was Peter and he met us in the hotel lobby. Denise and Daniel from Florida were also staying at my hotel and Jonas from Sweden was waiting for us in the mini-van with the driver at a parking area a few blocks away.
Morning rush hour in Beijing lasts from 7.00 till 10.00 so the first part of our journey is very slow but Peter tells us all sorts of stories (with accompanying photos) of history and other parts of the wall, including photos from Chinese holidays where the sites are just teeming with people. Thankfully it is not a public holiday today. The traffic is not too bad and we reach the outskirts of the city in just over half an hour. Then we travel for another 2 hours along an impressively engineered dual carriage express way with multiple tunnels and bridges through the steep jagged tree clad mountains.
At the entrance to the site we apply sunblock and hats and gather our water bottles ready for the climb up to the ridge. It is much hotter than anticipated and I am not feeling well but am not going to miss this for anything (Imodium is a great invention!). I am really struggling and my legs feel very weak but the others insist I am not holding them back so I carry on, getting ever more frustrated by the “hello” ladies that are hovering much too close in the hope that I will buy a souvenir from them – breathing heavily in my ears and spitting regularly. Eventually I convince them to leave me in peace and I am able to take my time and admire the view on the way. Once I reach the top, the going is much easier – for a while.
The Great Wall was built on the tops of the ridges on already towering mountains to keep out the marauding tribes from the north, and these ridges go up and down! The older sections of the Wall are easier to navigate but where it has been restored the stone steps are enormous and the height of the step would have been challenging even if I had been at my best. There are lots of steep ups and downs along the Wall as we head along the ridges between the Watchtowers and at points I feel like I am almost crawling up on my hands and knees. After several very steep bits I am wondering if I can go on and Peter says there is a place coming up where I could go down and wait for them to pick me up. But then it is easier for a while and I really don’t want to miss out. The others say that they are happy to wait for me as it means they can spend more time on the Wall. So I decide to push through (knowing there is still another exit I can take if necessary). I am so pleased I did – the views are absolutely spectacular and a photographer’s dream. We kept having to pinch ourselves that we were actually here. We walked between 22 watchtowers, a total of 10.5km and 14,500 steps (if electronic devices are to be believed, and I’m sure most of those steps must have counted as double).
Where we exit at Jinshanling there are some amazing statues commemorating the General who restored that part of the Wall. It is just a short drive now to our lunch spot where we are treated to a banquet of dishes from the local farming area. I can just watch enviously as the others enjoy while I eat my plain rice and bread.
It is a long drive back to Beijing, the first part very smooth but then we hit evening rush hour traffic and we negotiate various ring roads to drop people off. I make the most of trying to take photos of the city along the way and am rewarded with a good view of the CCTV building that I had walked past a couple of nights previously. I am not exactly sure where my hotel is (other than being close to Ring Road 2 South and near the Temple of Heaven) but the driver has it under control and I eventually get to the Dong Fang Hotel just before 7.00pm. This hotel is much more my style: smaller and with lots of history and interesting detail. I don’t have enough energy to even think about eating so I head to my room and have a very early night.
For this and other similar tours see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
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