The Great Wall, All for Ourselves

40° 27′ 11.87″ N 116° 31′ 19.05″ E

Today we visited the great wall of China,  and I just want more! More wild wall. We got to experience the wild side of the wall (not restored) and also a completely restored part. But with a restored part of something ancient and spectacular comes also the tourist crowds. Especially in China I’d dare to say. This is hard to get around, unless you put your mind to it and choose to go for something a bit different. Just like us this morning… I’ll take it from there…

Before we came to China, Sarah and I decided we would go to the wall; it’s an absolute must when in North China and Beijing! But we didn’t just want to visit the crowded touristy areas like Badaling and Mutianyu, both restored. We wanted something more. And for us, a hike along the wall became the goal. Now after we’ve done it we know that a 1 day hike is not nearly enough,  but it was a good start!

The famous Great Wall of China stretches across mountain ridges,  through desserts and all the way to China’s East coast where it actually meets the ocean. Most of the wall as we can see it today was built during the Ming dynasty, and official length of the Ming wall is 8900 km (5500mi). Yet, there are some parts of the wall, that date back to 220bc. It’s not one continuous structure. It’s devided into different sections with actual built wall, trenches and also some natural defensive barriers such as rivers and hills. Apparently some people, based on studies, are saying that all parts of the wall that have ever been built could stretch over 20.000 kilometres! Well that’s a hike!

We hiked from Jiankou to Mutianyo. We did a bit of research, and learned that Jiankou was a completely wild section and Mutianyo completely restored. We thought it would be cool to experience the wall untouched, but also see how it would look back in its glory days, 600 years ago.

Apparently it’s hard to figure out when The Jiankou section (wild) was first built, but most of the construction took place under the Ming dynasty and it hasn’t been restored since the Qing conquest of China in 1644. It looks spectacular and did not disappoint us!
Jiankou is a steep section with magnificent views when reaching the top, stretching over 20 km from Mutianyu in the West to Huanghuacheng in the East.

When hiking up from the valley and towards the wall and our first watchtower, we could start to see what an incredible construction this really is. It literally follows the mountain range and up over all of the highest peaks, and even though the wall doesn’t look too tall in the wild section where the forest has gobbled it up, it sure is tall!

When we reached our first tower I kind of hoped we would be heading east towards Huanghuacheng, but that will have to be our next hike.

We were heading west towards Mutianyu and that was still quite a hike!

You might ask yourself if it was okay to find this place since it’s very outside the touristy area. (We didn’t meet anyone before reaching the Mutianyu part of the wall). We booked a self guided tour. It’s a bit cheaper than a guided tour, and all the guides were on New Years holiday anyway. We got a driver which took us to Jiankou and that was a good thing. There are a lot of little side roads up in the mountain from Beijing to get there. We used approximately 1h30m with not much traffic. When we got to where our hike was to start, our driver followed us up to the first watch tower. It was a very nice gesture even though I think he didn’t appreciate the steep hike as much as we did.

At the top, we took off on our own,  which was great. I’d dare to say you don’t really need a guide for this part at all. But that said, you should walk carefully some places, and watch where you are going. It is steep, and it is a long way down. Walking this part was easily the highlight of the hike. The views are just incredible, and again this Wall is just something. We can just wonder how they could build something like this, such a long time ago. People can be incredible when putting their mind to it! We didn’t even meet other tourists for the hour (ish) it took us to get to the highest part of the Mutianyu section. It was beautiful! One of the reasons for this will probably also be that this section is not officially open to the public. Something we saw when arriving there. We did check with the company we booked the trip through though, if it was okay to hike this section and they told us we were good to go. This was a company I found trough TripAdvisor.

It was easy to understand when we reached the Mutianyu section. It was completely restored, but didn’t necessarily make it less impressive. It was cool to see how it would look back in it’s glory days.
So, we were now on the highest part that people visiting Mutianyu could get to, (without going on to the wild section) and it was a long way down. We met a few people that had climbed their way to the top. At first I thought it was strange that there weren’t more people, but it didn’t take long before that changed. This is a beautiful part of the wall, especially if you want to see it restored, but it will be quite crowded; we’d know and yet it’s January and low season!

All in all we’re very happy we did this hike along maybe histories greatest construction built by men! The only time I’ve gotten the same feeling as I got along this hike was when I saw the temples of Angkor, both constructions extraordinary in their own way. Yet, we only hiked 10 kilometres along the wall, there’s still 8890 kilometres to go! I just want to explore more more more…!

Robin

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