Wall Walking: Adventures on The Great Wall

On Friday the 2nd, the second day of our Beijing trip, our fearless guide Erik led us on a hike of the Great Wall.  We were in a bit of a rush as we had to hike up to, along, and down the Great Wall in less than two hours because we were racing the setting sun.  We had all seen the Wall from the bus as we drove in and were excited and ready to start the hike.  The trek up to the Great Wall was a hike in-and-of itself, but nothing compared to the actual wall.  I am sure that at one time the wall was pristine and beautiful, but after thousands of years of erosion, wear, and exposure to the elements, it was not so pretty anymore. Don’t get me wrong, the views were stunning and the sheer size of the wall took my breath away, but the immaculate pictures you find in books are not what the “real” wall looks like.

As Fuji said “we hiked the authentic wall.”  What he meant by that was that the wall was not in the best shape and had not been kept up well over the years. For example at times the stairs had been so worn away that we were climbing stairs that were 2-3 feet tall in one step.  At other points there were sections of the stairs that had been eroded so much so that the remaining stone resembled piano keys.   At times there simply were no stairs – just bare rock face.  Still other stones had turned into gravel so you clawed your way up.  In other spots there was no wall beside you, you were merely walking on a stone slab with nothing to stop you from slipping off the edge.  Needless to say we were all on edge during the walk (pun fully intended).

At the posts along the wall you generally had to either climb down or up steps to continue on out the other side, for some of them you even had to go down and then back up the other side.  A few of the double stair ones had narrow ledges of rock running along the edge of the outer wall that you could shimmy across if you felt brave enough.  In the beginning we all went down and back up the stairs, but towards the end we were all tired of the stairs and began to brave the ledges more often.  At points along the wall instead of creating stairs the builders simply made the path very steep and then at the last possible moment would introduce the steps.  We all decided that we actually preferred the stairs to the steep graded path.  After walking the Great Wall I will never look at stairs the same again.

As cold, tired, and exhausted as we were, we could not get enough of the view and just the mere fact that we were standing on the Great Wall.  A structure built thousands of years ago, by hand, reaching over 13,000 miles long.  It was an awe-inspiring journey.   When we first made it to the Wall we just stood and took photos for a solid five minutes. We were all overwhelmed by the view and the sheer history of the place.  Simply standing on the Wall and seeing the amount of work and time that must have gone into creating and building it was enough to take you feel very small in the big scope if things.

During a sunrise hike the next morning a few of us took the once in a lifetime chance to call loved ones to say hi from atop the Great Wall.  Everyone’s parents, grandparents, and siblings thought it was really cool to get a phone call not only from China but from the Great Wall.  Wall walking, if it happens to be on the Great Wall, is not only physically taxing but emotionally charged.  For countless reasons it took my breath away.  I know the term “journey” is typically reserved for trips that take more than two hours, but the emotional and personal strength needed to complete this hike counts as a journey to me, even if just a personal one.