When I first began to think about the places I wanted to visit this summer, the only thing I knew for sure was that I wasn’t going to spend 3 months in China and not see the Great Wall. Western students from the previous year highly recommended an overnight camping trip and that sounded like a lot of fun to us. Camping on the Great Wall is technically illegal but as long as you are well out the way of any major tourist areas it isn’t a big deal. So early on a Friday morning in Beijing, my friends and I met our tour guide, boarded a van, and set off for the wall.
The section of wall we had decided to camp is called Wangquanyu, accessible through the tiny village of Zhuanghu. This section was completed in 1580 during the Ming dynasty and has not been restored like the more popular section Balading. We chose this area both because it was unrestored and because it was quite remote; we saw only three other hikers. It was about a two hour drive from our hostel in Beijing and the transition from one of the world’s largest cities to wilderness was striking.
We stopped in the village just before noon to have lunch and then continued to the base of the hill in the photograph to the right. We would be camping in a watchtower just over the crest of the hill on the other side. Excitement was growing as we could now see pieces of one of the ancient wonders of the world.
In addition to the nine of us from Western, we would be camping with two Danish students (left), four American teachers, and one teacher from Britain (right). We really enjoyed the insight the teachers had on living and working in China, and I also enjoyed talking to the guys from Denmark (hopefully I’ll remember that Danish people speak Danish and not Dutch from now on...). The picture above was at the start of the trail; you can see the watchtower on top of the hill!
We started the climb up the wall early in the afternoon, right in the midday heat. It wasn’t an overly difficult hike, but it was steep and we had to carry all our gear up (my backpack: three person tent, sleeping bag and pad, and all my water). By the time we reached the halfway point, above photo, I was drenched in sweat. Well worth it as a little less than an hour later we were standing in a 500 year old watchtower on the Great Wall.
The main area of the tower
We had six tents in total - four inside the tower, one outside on the wall, and one on the roof. Ameen, Hunnid, and I volunteered for the roof, which seemed like a great idea at the time.
Once everyone was on the wall, we dropped off our bags started to hike along the wall.
We walked for a couple of hours on top of the wall - I think 4 or 5 watchtowers from our camp. They were in various states of disrepair and it was fun to climb on and explore each one.
Gotta get that selfie
Our turnaround point was the highest spot on the ridge we were climbing. Only when you see wall descending the hill you are on and then cresting the next hill (as in the picture below) do you really begin to realize that this wall continues like this across the whole country - almost 7000 km!
We attempted to get a nice group picture on top of the wall but failed miserably. The picture below shows the exact moment Quinn (bottom right) landed on his tailbone. After that we were all laughing too much to get any good pictures.
It had been really overcast all day but while we were at the highpoint the sun finally started to come out. God’s beautiful creation in full display!
The afternoon was spent marvelling at both the incredible sights and the extraordinary accomplishment that an ancient people group were able to construct such an impressive and long lasting wall.
That evening we saw an amazing sunset before going to bed. We could actually see Beijing from our point on the wall, 20 million people is hard to hide even from a two hour drive away. Thankfully the light pollution was minimal - the stars were awe-inspiring that night. Even caught a few shooting stars.
The winding snake at sunset
Unfortunately we got very little sleep during the night. Our spot on top of the tower on the ridge of the hill was very exposed to the extremely strong and loud wind. Our tent wasn’t staked into the ground because we were on stone so the sides kept whipping into us refusing to allow us to sleep. I had tied the fly on top to two little plants and I was sure at any moment that it would be swept away. Eventually 4 am rolled around and we decided that we might as well wait for the sunrise outside. Again, amazing.
We packed up and headed back around around 7am and were back in Beijing before noon. We got the chance to spend a night in a different world and it was truly awesome.