My first visit to the Great Wall was when I was a wee little five year old lass. My mom, grandma, and I were in Beijing to get our visas/passports to move to Canada. Evidently, you had to personally go to Beijing to get these things, back then. My memories of that trip are extremely fuzzy, but I do remember desperately wanting to climb “to the top” of the Great Wall. Whatever that meant. And I remember being disappointed, when my mom, wearing incredibly impractical shoes, refused to go with me.
Fast forward to 2015 and I was in Beijing again, with my Dad and Mom, for medical reasons for mom, which I won’t go into here. Whilst my mom was recovering in hospital, I flew up from Singapore and spent some time providing moral support. When not providing moral support, I was playing tourist together with my Auntie, who had come up from Shanghai to help my Dad.
The Great Wall of China has been rebuilt and restored along many stretches, allowing for thousands of daily visitors to see and experience this incredible structure for themselves. My friend K, from Singapore, had recently been transferred to Beijing, and luckily had a car in Beijing. We decided to skip the hoards of tourists at the usual sanctioned Great Wall tourist sites, and instead hike up the mountains to reach the top instead. There were a few websites and a Beijing hikers group site that explained the details fairly clearly.
K picked me up and we drove to where we thought the hike started, near one of the ticketed Great Wall sites. Upon asking the ticket counter, we realised we weren’t going to get any information from them. These off-the-path hikes are not sanctioned, the trails are not maintained, and therefore they are forbidden. Guess we’ll just have to figure it out ourselves.
We eventually found our way to the town of Jian Kou, where the hike supposedly starts. Wandering around we eventually seemed to be on the right path. Just before we really started to walk away from civilisation, we passed by a villager, who kindly asked if we knew where we were going. He’d seen hikers like us all the time, and had even prepared a “map” to provide us some basic information. The “map” was a few lines sketched into the top of a styrofoam cooler box. Go straight up, then when you reach a junction, go left, he tells us. “Is it really difficult?” we ask. “You’ll be alright”, he says.
It’s not a walk in the park, at times I’m scrambling on all fours, and towards the top, there’s even some bamboo stairs to navigate carefully. Hike at your own risk, that’s for sure. Along the way, we see a few other hikers, and even an older Chinese couple who are coming down with gear. They brought camping gear with them so they could camp at the top!
Was it worth the effort? Abso-f***ing-lutely! We’re rewarded with truly jaw-dropping views, standing on the top of the world, the stones of the original Great Wall of China beneath our feet. 360 degree views of mountain tops, the Great Wall snaking it’s way across the horizon. I can’t fathom how the ancient Chinese built this, with their bare hands. We’ve hiked up wearing light daypacks, but to think that back in the day, men carried these giant stones up, on their backs, and laid each one by hand, is just mind blowing.
And guess what we’re treated to at the top? Hawkers, with styrofoam coolers of beverages. How can I resist buying an ice-cold bottle of Coca-Cola, at the top of the Great Wall? What a great advertisement for Coke.