Wrongly convinced that the Great Wall of China is visible from the Moon I was expecting it to be just here, in front of the car which dropped us at the base of the Wall.
Overexcited and tired from the long flight, I was searching around looking for a glimpse of one of the top things to see before you die.
It was hidden among the bushes another half mile up the hill. Luckily, we used the chairlift to take us to the top and even then we had to climb high, uneven steps to get on it. Once I stepped on the Great Wall I couldn’t hide my surprise at how wide it was. So wide that I could see Top Gear organizing racing on the Great Wall Of China! The only problem would be the large number of watchtowers which I am sure Jeremy Clarkson would make disappear.
Once on the wall your mind starts wondering which way to go, left or right.
My local guide, a very pleasant and knowledgeable Chinese specialist in hiking on the Great Wall convinced me to go to the right, towards Simatai.
It was December, one week before Christmas and luckily there was no snow in China yet. It was cold but not unbearable. The Great Wall of China was empty except for me, my guide and for one very stubborn hawker whose sales skills were developed under Mao’s strict regime where the word ‘no’ didn’t mean anything. She didn’t speak English and followed us all the way to Simatai.
Occasionally, pushing one of the Great Wall of China books in front of me, usually when I sat down to relax. In the end, feeling sorry for her but also admiring her perseverance, I decided to buy a book from her. She took the money and before I could say good bye she was far behind me. Trotting in her high heels, her modern business suit and laptop bag bouncing to get back before it got dark.
I was wearing many layers, new trainers and had a new Sony camera. The weather was excellent for taking photos. The fact that I was on my own and didn’t have to wait for people to move out of shot was an added bonus!
At the beginning, the trek was easy but the further along we went from Jinshanling towards Simatai the Wall gradually diminished from wide to almost non-existent with very steep steps and with loose stones and bricks. At some point, my guide and I were discussing the possibility to leave the wall and walk alongside it until we reached Simatai.
It was a good idea but the fact that you wouldn’t be able to get back up, made me instead get on my knees and hands and crawl up to the highest point of this part of the Wall – the Wangjinglou Tower. All my tiredness disappeared once we reached the Tower and saw beautiful views almost up to the outskirts of Beijing.
According to my guide the main function of Wangjinglou Tower was to observe enemies in the far distance. If the enemy was on the move, the soldiers would light a fire to alert the next tower who would relay the message along.
Once you pass Wangjinglou Tower hiking gets easier. You are almost descending towards the Simatai section of the Great Wall of China and once you are there, you have the option to get a zip line over the river and get of of Simatai, or if you are wimp like I am then you can continue walking.
The hiking route from Jinshanling to Simatai is about 10 km and it took me about 4 hours to complete. I didn’t have any training or any exercise before taking this hike. Bear in mind that I had lots of photo stops as the opportunity to be on your own up, there was too good to miss!
We passed 43 watchtowers and they are great places to relax and have a picnic or, as some people do, have a sleepover. If you are young at heart, I would always recommend you to stay an extra night in Beijing and do the hike on this portion of the Great Wall of China.
Most tour operators take you to the Badaling section which is the closest to Beijing and the most commercialized! You don’t have a quiet moment on your own and most of your photos would be full of strangers jumping in front of the camera like flies!
The second option would be the section at Mutiyunu which is very well-renovated and not as commercialized as Badaling.
For the ultimate experience, book yourself a private tour with guide and driver and do the hike from Jinshanling to Simatai - it’s closed for renovation until next year but if that fits in with your plans, all the better!
Written and contributed by Tara