BY ANDY CHENG
One valuable lesson I’ve learned in Beijing: avoid tourist attractions, for all there is to see are other tourists. Knowing that the popular sites of the Great Wall of China would have far too many people, seven friends and I chose to hike the undeveloped, “wild” section called Jiankou. Scarce amounts of people enter the area every month; many people have died from falling off the wall, suffering from exhaustion or dehydration, or getting struck by lightning. We accepted the challenge.
A van was rented for the whole-day excursion. Vehicles cannot directly access the wall, so we were dropped off in a northern village and started our hike at 9:30am. Each person carried 3 liters of water and an ample amount of food. Starting from ground level, we needed to climb through the jungle to reach the 3,300 feet high tower. Our only map was a man-made drawing that I found off the internet the night before. We inevitably took the wrong direction – if it wasn’t for the locals that were on their way back from gathering firewood, we would have been lost for hours; they kindly led us back towards the right direction.
We followed a thin and steep road, all the while getting threatened by spider webs, bugs, and all sorts of frightening noises. After 1.5 hours of intense hiking, we finally reached our destination: the Sharp North Tower of Jiankou! We ate lunch atop the highest mountain peak in sight, enjoyed the magnificent view, and started our hike on the Great Wall of China.
I soon found that the only benefit of hiking atop the wall versus through the jungle was the cooler breeze. Loose and slippery stepping stones, missing sections, the sun’s burning rays, large shrubs and trees, aggressive bugs, and steep inclinations up to 70 degrees all served as obstacles that prevented us from getting home. After 2.5 hours of inching along corners, ducking through shrubs and needles, and groping for safe stepping stones, we finally reached the renovated section called Mutianyu. Two hours thereafter, we reached the parking lot and left at 4:15pm.
In the six hour duration, we hiked about 12 kilometers or 7.5 miles. It was the toughest hike that I’ve ever been through, and I’m glad I partook in the adventure. The eight of us also fulfilled the Chinese custom, “You are not a man until you’ve walked the Great Wall.” Lastly, I learned another valuable lesson that day: the most rewarding experiences while traveling abroad are self-planned.