The Great Wall 9/05

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"He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man" - Mao Zedong

First Jinshanling tower view

Faced with another decade birthday, I chose not to try something idiotic to prove I'm younger than I am. Instead, I opted to accomplish something meaningful to reaffirm I'm still not too old to live life well. On the day I turned 50, I and a friend, Judy O'Dea, hiked the Great Wall of China for 6 steep miles from Jinshanling to Simatai, experiencing both unspoiled nature in all it's grandeur and one of the seven wonders of the medieval world.

The Jinshanling and Simatai sections of the Great Wall were built during the Ming dynasty in the 14th century and are largely unrestored. Because of the remoteness of the region, 3 hours northeast of Beijing, we endured just a couple of obnoxious "local guides" dogging our trail and saw only a handful of tourists the whole day. The weather was postcard perfect - clear bright blue sky, 77F with a light breeze.

Pathway close-up & the journey ahead

The driver we hired for the day (US$125) dropped us off in the parking lot at Jinshanling just before noon where we bought the first of three required tickets (US$3.75) and began our climb to the 1st tower (first picture above, viewed from the parking lot). This is the point of commitment, because the driver then departs to Simatai to meet up again 4 hours later. As we entered the wall at the first tower, we turned left (second picture above - counterintuitive and unmarked, but I had done my homework ahead of time) to begin our 25 tower, 6 mile journey to Simatai (map in third picture above). The first quarter mile or so is partly restored, relatively flat and in good shape, but a steep climb comes into view almost immediately (fourth picture above off in the distance and first picture below at its base). Right after the climb comes an equally steep descent (second picture below). At that point we knew we were in for a challenging hike.

At the tenth tower, the wall had crumbled to the point of being impassable, so there's a well-beaten path beside it (third picture above). Coming up to the halfway point, a ticket person checked and stamped our Jinshanling ticket and we entered the "no man's wall" section for a couple of towers, followed by the Simatai section ticket seller and the second of three required tickets for the trek (US$4.25). The terrain then leveled off for a while as the views remained wonderful (fourth and fifth pictures above, with the Simatai reservoir area first coming into view a couple of miles off in the distance). As we began to descend toward the Simatai reservoir, the hike became steep again and the Wall's pathway was more broken up (first two pictures below). This was the perfect time for an ice cold beer and the local vendors who hung out in the towers were more than ready to oblige for US$1.25 (third picture below). With about a mile left to go, there was another tower that we had to walk around on a well-beaten path (fourth picture below).

At the tower bypass, a poorly translated direction sign inadvertently offered some higher level good advice ("Go walking" - first picture below). Looking backward toward the Simatai descent we had just taken (second picture below) you get a sense of the magnitude of just this small section of the Great Wall. There's a break in the Wall at the Simatai reservoir (third picture below), which we crossed using a chain bridge, for which we bought the last of the three required tickets for US$0.75. One final steep, leg-muscle-numbing climb took us up to the pathway for the Simatai parking lot. The view looking backward from there across the reservoir shows more than a dozen of the towers we had hiked through (fourth picture below).


In all our hike covered 25 towers, 10 Kilometers and took us 3 hours and 40 minutes. It was a day neither of us will ever forget. While walking down the path toward the Simatai parking lot to meet our driver, we were asked by a German hiker passing by, "So, how was the Wall?" Our reply; "It was Great."


A footnote for GPS'ers out there: The coordinates for Jinshanling are N40.68526, E117.23893 and for Simatai are N40.65528, E117.21750

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