Posted by on Jun 20, 2011 | 3 comments

23 April 2011

So far we had been on the wall for less than an hour, and seen a lot that was memorable. The climbing continued to be very strenuous. Up and up for long, steep stretches, struggling for every foothold, then down and down the other side, stumbling and sliding over the loose gravel. Then up again, then down again. It was very draining. We soon found ourselves running out of water, but fortunately our tour guides supplied us with more. Along the way people were selling bottles of water as well. I fully expected them to be charging a small fortune, given the supply and demand situation, but to my surprise the price was quite reasonable. Of course, the water was not cold. The weather was so hot and dry, I would have given anything for an ice cold glass of water. Then I remembered that in China, people never drink cold water; they believe that hot water is always better for you. Even on the hottest of days. Even standing on the top of a mountain with the sun beating down on us. I thought, if someone offers me hot water today, I’m going to scream. Visions of ice cubes and frosty mugs of beer stayed with me for the rest of the day.

Wall Fortress Ruins

Inside Fortress

Crumbling Fortress

Wild Flowers

Navigating Loose Rocks

Wall With Crumbling Tower

Against The Wall

Steep Stairs

Looking Up Steep Stairs

Climbing Steep Stairs

Steps In Ruin

Steep Crumbling Stairs

Very Steep Crumbling Stairs

Crumbling Wall Continues

Outside Watchtower

Inside Watchtower

At first I was taking a lot of pictures, but as time went on I found myself using the camera less and less. The views were starting to all look the same (always spectacular), and I was just too tired to keep making the effort. The terrain was relentlessly challenging, with every imaginable combination of crumbling walkways, steep stairs and loose tiles.

I had no idea how long we were going to continue climbing. I was completely exhausted and drenched in sweat. At some point we came across an area that looked like it would be impossible to climb around. Instead we took a trail that went down the hill. I thought this was the end of the trek, and that now we would have some much-needed relief from the endless climbing. But hiking down the trail was almost as difficult as hiking up. After a while we reached a fork in the trail. We didn’t see any of our guides around, but some people were continuing down the hill, and we started to follow them. Then some other people told us that we were going the wrong way, and we needed to go up the other trail. That didn’t seem like it could be right to me, but I was in no position to argue. Why would we have come all this way down from the wall, and then turn around and go back up? We began to climb up the new trail. Things were getting really uncomfortable for me. My legs were starting to cramp up with every step. I was using exactly the same muscles over and over again. The sheer repetitiveness of the motion and the steepness of the angle were taking their toll on me. I didn’t know how long I would be able to keep this up.

At last we made it back to the top of the hill. But we were at the bottom of the wall now, and there was no way to get back onto the top. It wasn’t clear what we were supposed to do. After standing around for a while, someone figured out that we had taken a wrong turn and climbed all the way back up here for nothing! My worst nightmare was coming true. We had to turn around and go all the way down the hill again. When we got back to that fork in the road, we took the other path. Well, I thought, at least it will all be downhill from here. But no… we walked a little further down, then turned and started climbing back up again. It took all my strength and resolve to make it up that hill, with my legs constantly cramping as we climbed.

Eventually we made our way back to the wall, and resumed our journey. Looking over, I could see the spot where we had left the wall and started walking down the trail. It was only a couple of hundred meters away. And then someone pointed out that we were now only about halfway through the days’ hike. We still had another 7 kilometers to go! I wasn’t sure whether to believe them or not. I just wanted to sit down and weep from sheer exhaustion. But we had to keep going, lest we start falling behind.

More Hiking 1

More Hiking 2

More Hiking 3

More Hiking 4

Portal 1

Portal 2

Portal 3

Portal 4

We've Come A Long Way

Top of the World


Yan Relaxes

Clouds Over Mountains

Journey Ahead

Our fellow hikers continued to be in good spirits and full of energy. One of them came up behind me and started speaking to me in English. She asked me what you are supposed to say when talking on a walkie-talkie (as our guides were doing). I told her that you should say “over”, to signal to the other person that you are done talking, and “roger”, meaning that you have heard and understood what the other person said. She had never heard the term “roger”, and found the whole explanation fascinating. I was impressed with her curiosity and grasp of the English language.

After what seemeds like an eternity, we came to a spot that felt like the top of the world. We were at a dizzying height, and there were amazing views in every direction. We stopped to rest for a while and take in the scenery. But we still had a long way to go.

Off in the distance, another village started to come into view. That was our destination, and it still seemed very far away. I figured it must still be at least 7 more kilometers! We kept on climbing. Then at last we reached the point where it was time to start hiking down from the wall, and head towards the village. At this point the clouds started rolling in and the temperature dropped. Then it started raining. We made it to an area where the trail was paved with stones, and in the steepest sections there were steps. But for the most part the stones were rounded and very smooth, and the rain had made them exceedingly slippery.

Long Way Still To Go

Down Another Hill

Luckily my jacket had a hood, but with the rain soaking us and a cold wind blowing, I just wanted to get back as soon as possible. Moving quickly was a bad idea, though, since with every other step I kept slipping and struggling to keep from falling down. Trying to move forward while remaining upright had become a major challenge, and it went on and on like that for a very long time.

The rain gradually let up, and we found ourselves on an actual paved road. We had made it to the village, which looked empty, as if it had been deserted. We weren’t sure where we were supposed to go, and our bus was nowhere to be seen. After a while someone with a van started gathering people together, and they gave us a ride down the hill to where our bus was waiting. It was now around 5:30pm, so we had been hiking for more than 7 hours altogether.

The bus felt even more uncomfortable on the way back, with that wooden rod poking into my back, and it was a long ride. It was such a relief to be sitting down, though, and I felt really good about the trip overall.

Heading Down Another Hill

Sand in my Eyes

Village Below Wall

Village Post Office

Wall Village Gate

Beijing Science Area

Even with all the challenges and difficulties, it had been a unique and unforgettable experience. I was very thankful to have lived through it.

Yuan and I were both totally wiped out and sweaty from all those hours of hiking, but we had to find a place for dinner. I was still craving an ice cold beer. I remembered that we had passed by a German restaurant while walking around Beijing, and luckily Yuan remembered where it was. So after the bus finally stopped, we hopped into a taxi and headed over there.

The place turned out to be the real deal: a true German restaurant, complete with a full selection of German beers. I ordered a giant mug of dark beer, along with a glass of ice water. The beer was every bit as cold and refreshing as I could possibly have wished for, and seeing the ice in that glass of water brought tears of joy to my eyes. I also had a real German meal, including a delicious bowl of hot soup, and a plate of sausages, mashed potatoes and saurkraut. It had been years since I had eaten saurkraut, and it was really tasty, as was the rest of the meal. Unfortunately Yuan was so utterly exhausted that she really didn’t participate. She tried a bite of the soup, then she lay down on the bench and went right to sleep. The restaurant was almost empty, so no one even noticed. I didn’t want to disturb her, so I quietly finished eating, then woke her up and we took a taxi home and went straight to bed. Our heads barely hit the pillow before we were both sleeping soundly.

German Soup

Ice Cold German Beer

German Meal


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