After spending time with our friends in Seoul, we headed to the airport and flew to our first destination–Beijing China.It’s a bit expensive for a U.S. citizen to obtain a Chinese tourist visa, so we decided to go with the free 72 hour layover visa China offers to tourists passing through China to another country (or in our case, Hong Kong). Of course, when visiting China, one must see the Great Wall. Since I had already been to the Great Wall, we wanted to do something a little different this time. We decided it would be spectacular to hike a portion of the wall. After doing (very little) research, we found out that many people hire a guide to take them on a one-day hike from Jiankou to Mutianyu. The hike is supposed to be about 10 kilometers (7 miles), and it should only take about four hours. Hiring a guide sounded dull and expensive, so Jared and I decided to do the hike solo. I mean, how hard could following a huge wall be? We hopped on a bus, and then hired a taxi to take us the rest of the way to the Jiankou Park entrance gate. We had read that it took about an hour to hike to the great wall from the gate. What we didn’t know was that there was no marked trail leading to the wall. No signs, nothing. We had a general idea of the direction, and headed off in search for this big old wall. We would occasionally catch a glimpse of it in the distance, and take the trail that looked as if it were going in the same direction. At one point we came to a sign that read, “This section of the Great Wall is closed to the public.” What does that mean? We didn’t know, but because it indicated the wall was ahead, we bypassed the sign and kept going. We finally made it. And that was when we first realized we were in trouble. You see, we left our hotel when it was dark, and we had no idea the sun would never come out. It was so hazy that we couldn’t even tell which part of the sky was slightly brighter than another. Why would that matter? Well, we needed to hike east. But without the sun, we had no idea which direction was east. It was freezing cold, literally. After huddling together to avoid freezing to death, we put our thoughts together and decided that we thought the taxi driver had dropped us off on the south side of the wall. If that were the case, we needed to head right. Who knows, maybe we will see someone along the way, or see a sign, or something. We hiked/rock climbed for a few hours on the steep mountain ridge of Jiankou. There were many sections that were so steep, that we could face backwards and rock climb down. If we would have had on harasses, it would have been a breeze. However, free climbing in the freezing cold (with no gloves) was not as glamorous. After we had hiked for about 2.5 hours, we caught a glimpse of a group of people in the distance. We were thrilled. When we finally caught up to the group of 4 hikers, one of them introduced himself in broken English as a local guide. We asked if we were going in the right direction, and he affirmed that we were. Relieved, we passed them hiked on….And on…And on…And around this corner, down that cliff, over that mountain, around that curve… And continued on…(Yes, we had to climb down that!) And on…. After we had been hiking for about 6 hours with no sign of the tourist section of Mutainyu in the distance, we began to doubt our Chinese friends we met along the way. By this time, we had no choice to press on. (By the way, we were too worried for our lives to take any more pictures for the remainder of this so-called adventure.) With our food and water nearly gone, and sunset on it’s way we knew we were in trouble. We had been hiking for almost the whole day, and the entire time, we hadn’t even seen a village in any of the valleys. We came to a section where the wall split, and we took a left because it looked as if it were heading down, and we knew we needed to get off the freezing mountain ridge before dark. After another hour of rough climbing, we finally caught a glimpse of a trail that lead down from the wall and a small village in the distance. We had never been more relieved. With aching feet and knees, we finally reached the trail and followed it to the village. We only saw one car in the village, so we approached the home with the car and begged the owners to drive us back to Beijing (a 2.5 hour drive). After using some google translate on their computer, we were able to communicate our need, and they agreed to let us hire them to drive us back. Wow, after our first day on our “big trip,” we were already ready to go home! Hoping that the worst was behind us, we stuck to our plan and explored the city of Beijing the following day. When we finally made it back to our hotel, we researched the area we were hiking, and found that the taxi driver had dropped us off on the north side of the wall, meaning we were hiking west the whole time. We hiked for over 10 miles in the wrong direction. We also discovered that the section we were hiking is considered to be one of the most dangerous sections of the Great Wall. In fact, at the bottom of one of the “cliffs” we climbed down, we found a large spot of dried blood (where someone had evidently fallen) with a blood trail leading off the wall and down a hiking trail It wasn’t exactly comforting. Anyway, the moral of this story is this… If you are going to hike a deserted section of the Great Wall, bring one, or all of the following:
- A guide!
- A map
- A compass
- Warm clothes (for winter and early spring)
- Extra food and water… just in case!
Stay tuned as we slowly post the rest of our adventures. We didn’t bring a laptop with us, so we can only post when we have access to a computer and internet. Next Up: Exploring the City of Beijing!