Climbing the Great Wall of China was never high on my list of things to see. Besides Tibet there are very few sights that I get excited about in China and even Tibet has been slipping. In fact, China as a whole has been slipping but more on that later. Anyway, in my mind the Great Wall of China was just a restored wall running along uninspiring dry mountains filled to the brim with thousands of Chinese tourists. Jonathan was quite excited about the wall and I had absolutely no idea why. My expectations of the wall were low. My expectations were on par with Karl Pilkington who called the wall the Alright Wall of China.
Originally the plan was to do a 7km starting at unrestored Jinshanling and ending at the restored and touristy Simatai. Unfortunately Simatai has been closed for a couple of years and has yet to be reopened. There are plans to turn the area into a high class resort area and charge 40 USD for a ticket. A surprising sum, since all other sections cost 20 RMB. There is also some controversy surrounding the restoration of Simatai as the builders are taking bricks from other parts of the wall at Jinshanling The practice of using the wall as a quarry that started under the benevolent Chairman Mao still continues today. Fuck history, right?
With the original plan foiled we opted for what we thought was a much shorter hike at Jiankou. Albeit shorter it promised to be “stupefyingly” beautiful. I was skeptical. The plan was to start the hike at Jiankou and end up at the second busiest section of the restored wall at Mutianyu. Thankfully we were doing the climb in the dead of winter. I was hoping that we would have some of the wall just to ourselves.
Getting to the trailhead at Jiankou appeared quite convoluted on paper but in the end it was quite easy We grabbed bus 916 from Dongzhimen bus station to Huairou, got off at Mingzhu Guangchang, negotiated a car for 150 RMB to Xizhazi Cun and were on our way up to the wall. Once we passed the sign that said Eingang Verboten we knew we were on the right path.
At the trail head we were greeted by the local guide who ran ahead of us on his short little legs and guided on the right path to a tower up above. He was the cutest and the best guide I have had in years. He didn’t talk much, he gave us a lot of room and really made me wish I took him home.
After a steep and steady climb up we were at a sentry tower gazing upon miles and miles of ancient unrestored wall. It was actually really beautiful. I was taken aback. Jonathan wanted to explore in the opposite direction of Mutianyu so we detoured down the opposite way to get closer look at a few guard towers.
Jiankou section of the wall is called a wild wall for legitimate reason. I don’t say this often but don’t even think about coming here if it is raining or has been raining in the past few days. There is a section of the wall that is almost vertical and completely smooth.
My expectation of the Great Wall were exceeded. I never expected it to be so breathtakingly beautiful. It wasn’t even 100 percent clear and the landscape was dry but still it was so beautiful. There were hardly any people and Jonathan only found one pile of excrement (not even on the main trail). For a Chinese mountain, that is a record!
After about an hour of trekking along the unrestored Jiankou we came upon the entrance of the restored section at Mutianyu. The contrast between the end of Jiankou and the start of Mutianyu was immense. There was no mistaking where exactly one finished and the other began.
The way down to the gondola at Mutianyu was smooth sailing. There was hardly anyone, in fact we saw more hawkers than visitors. We were about to leave until we saw “Speed Slidesway” on the map of the trail. We asked the hawker nearby what that may be and if it was open. Surely enough it was a toboggan track and it was definitely open. We raced through the remaining section of the Mutianyu to reach the awesome ” Speed Slidesway” and yes it was a toboggan down the Great Wall. It was one of the finest moments of being in China with the best disregard for safety.
It was the icing on the cake to a wonderful day of trekking along one of the wonders of the world. I haven’t yet experienced such an exceeding of expectations in China. It was my favorite day since I landed in Shanghai. There are no words to describe beauty I saw and the experience I felt. Just come to Beijing and climb Jiankou yourself. Look out for that guide, he will show you the way if you are lost.