Serenity on the Great Wall

Our class trip to Beijing was an incredible introduction into the history and culture of China’s capital. We arrived in the city last Wednesday night. After listening to the weather forecast for the weekend, our tour guide, Erik, made a last minute change to our Beijing travel agenda. In order to avoid any chance of snow, our two-day excursion to the Great Wall of China was moved to the beginning of the schedule.

On Thursday morning, our class left the city of Beijing and made our way to Jinshanling, a quaint and quiet part of the Great Wall. The weather in Beijing was significantly colder than Shanghai, so we were all bundled up in winter coats, gloves, hats and scarfs. We arrived to Jinshanling around 2:30PM. The bus ride took a total of three hours. Upon arrival, we checked into our hotel and immediately left to start our hike on the Great Wall. Our hotel was located at the base of the Great Wall, so the trek to the nearest entrance was entirely up hill and up stairs. Erik told us that our hike toward Simatai would take two to three hours. When we reached our first Great Wall tower, my classmates and I were all out of breath and realized that this hike would be harder than we expected. Additionally, we knew we had to keep a steady pace in order to make it back to the hotel by sunset.

Although we did not keep count at the time, I estimate that our group hiked over fifteen towers. Each tower was located at the top of a hill, so we hiked down and up stairs between each tower. Even with cloudy weather, the view from the Great Wall was incredible. The section we hiked was empty and serene. We only passed a few other tourists during our hike. There were no loud vendors or crowds to distract us from the moment on the Great Wall. A few members of our group visited the Great Wall in the past, but this was the first time they ever saw the wall so calm. While hiking, I felt completely removed from my life in Shanghai and the chaos of Beijing. After spending over two months in a loud and overcrowded city, the time on the wall was even more relaxing and surreal.

Erik also planned a morning sunrise hike for the next morning. He was little unsure about the weather, so going or skipping the hike was to be decided at 6AM. Most of us wanted to get up early for sunrise on the wall. Although we college students would never wake up before sunrise on any given day, we did not want to miss out on this once in a lifetime experience. Luckily, the weather was clear at 6AM, so Rebecca came door to door to wake up each student. I tiredly crawled out of my bed, slipped on my hiking boots and shuffled out the door.

The morning hike was significantly shorter and easier than the previous hike. When we reached the top of the tower, we realized that the sky was even cloudier than the day before. According to Erik the sun was supposed to rise at 6:40AM. But, even at 6:50AM the sky remained gray and misty. Nonetheless, we all agreed to stay and wait for the sun to show. To pass the time we all took pictures of our group and the morning scenery. Some of my classmates even made “I’m on the Great Wall” phone calls to their parents and loved ones. It was not until 7:20AM that we finally saw the sun appear from the horizon. Though the sun was not big or bright, the moment was still breathtaking. We all leaned against the wall watching the sun rise slowly and disappear into the clouds.