a Most Amazing Day
(this comes after A Night in the Wood)
We woke up with the first light around 5am. The sun had shyly risen away from our face of the mountain. Each and every one of our muscles was terribly sore from the previous day’s climbing. The brisk morning didn’t help. We packed our very light camp and started walking down, determined to find the Wall. We were not going to give up that easily and we had a whole day ahead.
Our camp – Looks comfortable, doesn’t it?
View of the valley on the way down
We started to make our way down the mountain and soon found a first path on the right. I went on my own: wrong one, too much climbing. We started down again, devising alternate plans, until we were suddenly faced with a dozen arrows painted on the rocks and all pointing to one little path. How on earth could we have missed that one? We felt a bit stupid, but it wasn’t really our fault. The fog had been so thick the previous day when we had walked past this point missing path and arrows altogether…
But now… arrows! This had to be it! We were over excited again and instantly our muscles became a little less sore. We energetically marched on the path. We climbed. Then we reached the ladder mentioned in the documentation I had with me.
We’re closer than ever
We went up the ladder, climbed some more and finally… WE WERE ON THE WALL! Well, we had missed the sunset and sunrise and everything in between, but at that point we were just really happy to have found the bloody thing.
Our first view of the Wall
It wasn’t even 7 am yet. On top of the Wall sat several local men. We paid for the ladder we had just used. Some men were selling fresh Coke. We declined. If it showed something, it’s that we were not the only ones to be attempting the unrestored part of the wall. Jason started to chat with the men. Jiesu was listening and pretending not to speak any Chinese. We wanted to walk to the right to connect with Mutianyu, the less touristy of the three renovated sections in the Beijing area. The locals argued that we shouldn’t. The walk to Mutianyu was long and dangerous and we should walk to the left instead and walk down another ladder at the next junction. There would be a bus waiting there at noon that could take us back to the city. Were they concerned about our safety or trying to sell us the ride back with their partners? We walked away, sat down and had some breakfast, a breakfast with a magnificent view. The surroundings were astonishing. The Wall was creeping up and down the hill as far as we could see. We were not sure what to do, though, which way to start walking.
Breakfast, at last!
Jason goes exploring
We were just finished with our breakfast when a group of seven adventurers arrived – some that had actually spent the night up on the Wall. Their leader was a guy who had hiked that portion several times. Five of them, including the guide, were walking down the way we had just come up. But the remaining two, Jai, from Malaysia and Jozef,from Slovakia, wanted to keep walking to Mutianyu. That was lucky for us! Jiesu and Jason felt more confident about the hike if it was the five of us together, in case something happened. Plus the guide told us it was doable, although there were two really tricky bits ahead. Once one had overcome them, it was a stroll, the path getting better and better until you eventually get to the restored area, or so he said at least.
The five who were going down gave us the extra water they were not going to need – it came in very handy later on- and we started our walk on the Wall (it was, once again, more climbing than walking). After half an hour though, we got to the first very tricky bit: a part of the Wall that had crumbled down so much that only a cliff was left. It was indeed impressive. It looked very steep, a rather vertical rock wall, really.
Jiesu declared right away she was turning around. Her shoes were the least adapted of our three pairs and she wasn’t confident in her climbing abilities, especially with sore legs. The more I tried to convince her that she would be ok, the less she was willing to give it a go. Jason didn’t look too keen either, all the more so after he went closer to the cliff and failed to find a path up. It was too dangerous to let anyone climb down on their own, so I told Jiesu, trying to hide what a huge setback it was for me, that I would come with her and just turn around. This way Jason could go with the other two if he wanted and I wasn’t letting my friend down. While we were discussing what to do, one of guys had attempted the cliff already and found a way. He was already up there, so they were definitely going to Mutianyu!
I was really sad to have come this far and not be able to finish the whole adventure the way I wanted. I must not have been very good at hiding my disappointment, because Jason said “You know, I’d rather come back better equipped for this one… I’ll go down with Jiesu if you want, you go on with the guys and we’ll meet in town.” YES! Best option ever, that I had not dared think of. Perfect plan! Jiesu agreed to it. I was over-excited! I said good-bye to them, attentively watched how the Malaysian guy was climbing – it didn’t seem to be that bad. It just looked difficult from the bottom of the cliff, but there was indeed a way.
One last picture together on the Wall
I readily but carefully climbed the cliff. I got to the top and instantly felt on top of the world. I waved to Jiesu and Jason and we went our separate ways.
For what comes after this, I barely have the words. The sun was shining, when it had rained the day before and would rain the day after, as if it were all just for me. The views were absolutely unbelievable. This Wall is unfathomable. It’s a strange feeling being up there. Some parts are so narrow, some steps are so high that you wonder how a soldier with an armor could have walked up there or on the Wall. I kept thinking of all the poor villagers who must have died during the build. Why you would build such a thing, anyway? Megalomania? It’s just so out of measure that it’s hard to process. But it is splendid, awe-inspiring. The vegetation is claiming the wall back, which makes it even more beautiful.
Did I mention it was more like climbing?
The trees take over the Wall
Tower in the distance
The second tricky part was a very narrow gut upwards. There was many a dangerous spot – dangerous in the way that if you fall, you are instantly dead on the rocks many meters below. There was no being “only” injured. Some people actually do die there. I am very grateful my lucky start had not abandoned me (it still hasn’t ).
Tricky cliff #2
At the highest part of the Jiankou section stands a tower. That’s were many professional photographers go to take pictures of the Wall, National Geographic style. On the tower, there is another little ladder you have to pay for – unless the Chinese man likes you because you played trumpet out there and chatted with him. Or you can try climbing into the tower without using the ladder, in which case you also don’t have to pay. The Chinese man had a cooler with fresh drinks, and an insanely beautiful work-environment, although his workplace is hard to reach.
The Guard of the Ladder/Fresh Drinks Seller
It was really a fantastic hike. The sight of this Wall, running along the ridge of the mountain in a fantastic never-ending way, is unforgettable. My legs were getting sorer and sorer but the adrenaline rush and the beauty of the surroundings made up for it. The last two hours were excruciating though – it turns out, seeing the restored part after you’ve done the wild one is interesting for about two meters, then it’s just boring. That, and the fact that you can actually see how much of the way is left (you can’t in the wild part). Jay and I could barely walk any more by the end, our steps getting smaller and smaller. Somehow Jozef Slovak could still run and jump around, don’t ask me how or why. Maybe he was just a sporty one when we were not .
I’ve made it to the restored bit – photo by Jai (or Jozef?)
Exhausted, sunburnt and dirty from sliding on my bottom the previous evening, I took a last slide going back to the Valley, because the other two had insisted on coming down that way. I didn’t care. I was in a second-state. Coming back to the touristy world was just too much, too aggressive, and I shun it all.
My two Wall-mates and I walked for eight hours straight that day – plus the two hours it had taken Jiesu, Jason and I to reach the Wall. So, ten hours in total. Ten hours of complete bliss. After that I couldn’t walk for three days for my aching muscles, but it didn’t matter at all. I was high from the whole adventure, infinitely happy and exhilarated, endlessly happy to have had one last intense experience before going back to Europe. Most Amazing Day indeed!
The following day was a Monday.I dragged myself to the Forbidden City, but all I could see was the sky, the Wall and the landscapes I had seen the day before. I rested often on the benches of the Forbidden City, which was like blending in:
On Tuesday I said good-bye to Jiesu and dragged myself and my bags to the airport, still high on our Wall-adventure, and left China.
My backpacks and I, ready to go back to Europe
One last picture on the way to the airport