As a kid, I’ve read and heard so much about the Great Wall of China (万里长城). Even though I know I want to see it some day, it was never a priority since I always thought it is in the “backyard” and I can visit whenever I want. So, the visit didn’t materialize until September this year when I FINALLY made it to Beijing.
I’m not a fan of crowds so I wanted to find the less touristy section to see the Great Wall of China. Most tours on the web would introduce and recommend the few most popular ones at (1) Badaling, (2) Mutianyu and even (3) Jinshanling. The first 2 are extremely touristy. But then again if I chose Jinshanling transportation would have been a major consideration.
One day, while chatting over dinner, my friends recommended Beijing Hikers to me. They hiked with the group previously and told me all the good things about them. I found out on their website that the Beijing Hikers originated from a pair of hikers who would go hiking around Beijing’s countryside in the 90’s. Soon their friends and colleagues joined them and their hobby turned into a hiking club. It appeared that the people who are running the business now are still genuine hikers who love what they do. Based on that, and of course with my friends’ recommendation, I signed up for one of their hikes at the Great Wall of China – the Middle Route of Switchback Great Wall in Yanqing District.
On the day of the hike, some of us gathered at the designated Starbucks, had coffee and chatted before the bus arrived from the first gathering point. There were about 30 people in the group including 3 guides. 1 of the guides would lead, another stay in the middle and one follow the group at the end to make sure no one gets left behind. Once on the bus, we were given a briefing and points to take note. They showed us a map that indicated the different points and routes. Our route start from Point No. 6 up to No. 3 then to the General’s Tower and back down to No. 7, finishing at No. 8. The total distance was about 7.5km.
Fortunately there was no traffic jam and we managed to reach the drop-off point about 2 hours later. It was a windy and overcast day, perfect for hiking although not so great for photographs.
Once everyone got off the bus and were ready, the hike started.
I read that the hike would be quite steep (difficulty level 3.5 out of 5) but I didn’t expect the steep portion to kick in right from the start. After just about 20 minutes of climbing my calf muscle started to hurt and burn. That’s when I realized my biggest mistake that day – no warm-up! I had to stop so many times to stretch my legs that very soon I was the last of the group. One of the guides, Victoria, was very understanding and stayed with me throughout the time until I actually reached the Great Wall (Point No. 3). It sucked to have to gone through that and I seriously felt bad.
At one point, I contemplated turning back so that I won’t hold back the rest of the group. I discussed the thought with Victoria but she assured me that as long as I could continue walking on my own, speed was not a problem. She even asked me to check out the rest of the Great Wall we will be walking on before making the decision.
I knew I will regret if I didn’t finish the hike so with Victoria’s assurance, I pushed on! Was glad that I continued the hike because after making the first descend on the Wall, my calf muscle miraculously stopped hurting. I mean it still hurt from the tightness but it wasn’t burning anymore. Not complaining!
Since my legs were not hurting as much, I managed to catch up with the rest of the group. From then on, nothing was going to stop me from finishing the hike! I could even pose for photos lol!
After taking a break at General’s Tower and gobbling down a banana, I felt so much better and could enjoy the scenery and the hike more. We continued walking on the un-restored portion of the Great Wall of China. Some parts were crumbling and some have already disappeared. Nature had taken over the Great Wall of China in most parts with grass and weeds growing on the wall and through the floor, weakening the incredibly strong structure built thousands of years ago. It’s a shame – but not as bad as laying plain concrete over it!
The un-restored parts could be perilous but the view from here was incredible. I could see miles and miles of the Great Wall of China, simply breathtaking.
When we eventually reached Point No. 7, we trekked back down along a slippery path full of small stones and sand to get back down to the village. We had our lunch at the village cooked by the villagers which marked the end of the hike.
Doing this hike with the professionals in an area where there’s no tourists (other than us) was a unique experience and definitely a great way of seeing the Great Wall of China. I absolutely love this off the beaten path hike and if I do go back to Beijing, you bet I’m going to join the Beijing Hikers again.
Have you been to the Great Wall of China? Tell me about your experience in the comments below!