Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Great Wall - Mutianyu

The Great Wall is actually broken up into a series of segments in northern China, some refurbished and some not, and several close enough to Beijing to be visited for a day trip. On Saturday I had my first encounter with "The Wall," along one of the unrefurbished areas close to the village of Mutianyu. Beijing Hikers organized a 15 kilometer hike along and on a part of the wall connecting fifteen guard towers, with many verticle ascents and descents of rock, mud, dry dirt and pebbles along the way. The hike had originally been planned for the previous weekend but wet weather conditions meant there were ice and snow on the wall. The hike was precarious enough in some places without those added dangers.

The day of our trip was one of the usual Beijing haze, and even though we were two hours outside of the city, in the mountains, our views were obscured. Still, the temperatures were in the 60s (Fahrenheit) and we could see the areas around us so we were glad to be out of the city and breathing the (relatively) clean air.

The ascent started out fairly steep, and within minutes my heart was working overtime and my eyes were stunned by the view of the town below us. We could look ahead and see dilapidated guard towers in the distance. Parts of the hike looked relatively flat but they were deceptive.

After two hours of heart-pumping careful stepping we stopped for lunch and sat along a narrow segment of the wall between Tower 11 and Tower 12, looking out over the valley beneath us while we caught our breath and enjoyed our sandwiches for half an hour. In another thirty or forty minutes we reached our goal, Tower 15, where the haze and cherry blossoms prevented a good view of the valley below. We paused briefly and then began our speedy descent. Looking back up at the peak it seemed unreal to think that we were able to descend so quickly from a place where it had taken so long to reach.

In areas along the trail we could see bits of green fighting to grow through the dry earth. Much of the trail was bordered by dry scrub bushes, with spring cherry blossoms providing the only hints of color from blooming trees. In the middle of the path along the descent back to the village there was a purple flower growing up out of the dirt, catching the attention of all who bothered to look down.

Many of the areas of the Great Wall, such as Badaling, have been refinished and are tourist friendly, with cable cars and rope rides to make the ascent and descent easier. I'm sure I'll visit those areas one day but I'm glad that my first experience on the wall was here.

General photos from my hikes in China, including many more of this hike, can be viewed here.

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