Monday, July 19, 2021

China - Part 4 - Hiking the Great Wall - Day 1

The real reason for my trip to Beijing was not to bicycle around the city - that was an artifact of scheduling constraints for what I really wanted to do: hike a remote section of the Great Wall of China.  

Note that I said "a remote section"; what I wanted to avoid was the Badaling section of the Great Wall that most tourists to Beijing visit.  That can look like this:

For more about this image see the TripAdvisor reviews of the Great Wall Badaling section:

Instead, I found Great Wall Hiking (, run by travel entrepreneur, Gary Lee, which offers a number of group and custom hiking experiences on a sections of the Great Wall about 85 miles north of Beijing.  Some of these experiences include camping overnight on one of the ancient watchtowers!

Many of the group hikes require a minimum number of hikers to sign up, or the hike won't happen.  Since my trip was a one-shot deal, I couldn't risk a cancellation, so I opted for one of the custom hikes that are guaranteed to happen.  In my case, I chose the "Small Group Iconic Great Wall Hiking" trip which includes 2 days of hiking on remote sections of the Great Wall and an overnight (with meals!) in a small hotel next to the Great Wall.

I was picked up at my hotel by Great Wall Hiking's friendly and professional driver, Jason (Liang):

Jason spirited me 85 miles north from Beijing in a pleasant 2-hour drive to the Great Wall Inn, just outside the village of Gubeikou.

One exterior wall, next to the stone ping-pong table, sports graffiti comments from previous guests from all over the world:

After a delicious lunch prepared by the inkeeper's wife, the innkeeper and Great Wall guide, Sun, and I embarked on the first day of hiking.  

Here is a photo of me at the "gateway" for this section of the Great Wall near Gobeikou:

We hiked up a moderately steep trail to the wall, where we checked in with the local official in charge of this section of the wall.  He checked our permit for hiking (obtained as we started the hike).  In this photo the guide, Sun, is on the right and the local wall official is on the left.

Remarkably, they pointed me toward the first watchtower and indicated that I could go there on my own!  Away I went.  Here are some photos from that first watchtower:

 (if you look carefully, you might be able to see Sun and the official standing outside the watchtower in the distance)

As I sat alone in that watchtower, I pondered where I was and the history of that place and was filled with wonder and gratitude that I should be there.  After a few minutes, I left the tower and hiked back to where I had left Sun, and we resumed our hike.

Here are some additional photos from that experience to give you an idea of the remoteness and the ruggedness of the terrain, both on and off the wall.

Here is a short video to give you a taste of what it's like to hike on the Great Wall:

Eventually, we hiked as far east as we were allowed.  To go further would be to enter the forbidden area of a Chinese military zone - which would be unwise.  

At this endpoint, there was a watchtower named "The 24-Eye Tower".  Here is a short video of the interior of that decayed watchtower:

From the 24-Eye Tower, we hiked back along the Great Wall to the Great Wall Inn.  Here is a short video of a Chinese Cicada we encountered along the way:

Here is a satellite map of the hike from my GPS log from that day:

You can see the full activity summary on Strava here: