Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Great Wall Adventure

Yesterday, Sarah, Alison, and I went on 6k Great Wall hike from JinShanling to Simatai based out of a backpacker’s hostel. (Note, if you want to take full advantage of Alison's spectacular photography, just click on the pictures to get them in their full glory!)

During the 3 hour drive to get there, the air quality improved gradually until we arrived…and we seriously took our first deep breaths in 2 weeks! You don’t realize how bad the pollution is until you get out of it—it’s amazing what the human body can adjust to and how “pollution” has become our baseline.

The thing about the Great Wall is that your impressions of it change while you’re visiting it. When you first walk 30 minutes up a mini-mountain to arrive on the wall, with the Wall directly in your sights (this is what you see)...’re thinking, “Wow, it is much taller/bigger than I had pictured, “ or “Interesting. I didn’t realize that it’s built on the peaks of all the mountains.” To, “There’s absolutely nothing around here. And there are a million stones stacked on top of the mountains? How many Chinese peasants died building this thing?” You can’t help but reflect on the sheer amount of labor that went into the construction.

Then you get on the Wall itself and you’re just awestruck not only by the size where you’re standing... ...but by how far it stretches. Just look how far it goes in either direction!

(And look at the difference between Alison's camera and mine!) When you start the hike, the Great Wall remains the Great Wall for about an hour. There are definitely lots of steps up and down, but you're so enthralled by the scenery and so excited that you are actually walking on a structure that was built so long ago that you don't really notice the physicality of it. So it’s completely delightful. (Alison kept saying outloud, "I cannot believe I'm walking on the Great Wall of China!") You can see, however, that the hike is still difficult as I’m already starting to sweat!

Of course, Alison is having a grand ol' time sweat-free. Life's not fair sometimes. But, the Great Wall helped kick-start Alison's sweat production when out of nowhere, it turned into ... the Great Stairmaster.

You feel like you’re climbing 1000s of steps straight up a mountain side only to get to the top where a watch tower is located, have your mind blown by the view, take a few silly profile pictures, be bombarded by old Chinese people selling souvenirs or cold beer/water/tea/cookies and rest…before you take the Stairmaster down and start the process over.

This is particularly tame part of the Great Stairmaster. On a more difficult stretch, the steps are like 2 feet tall each! Here's Alison, 2 steps down, before we start our climb up that huge mountain in the distance.

By this point, I’ve sweat so much that my once-light gray shirt is now dark-gray, the backpack (which admittedly is very heavy since we packed a ton of water, food, and guidebooks) is SOPPING wet. Here's my "beautiful," schweddy self after the Stairmaster:Note the backpack strap lines, the backpack outline on my back, and my stomach sweat. Dead sexy. Lucky for you, the internet doesn't transmit smell with pictures...By this point, I stank almost as bad as Dad does after a round of golf in the summer. Never fear, though: we’re still having the time of our lives--even Sarah, who wasn’t feeling well.

After a while, the Great Stairmaster turns into the Great Treadmill. For some reason, in a few parts of the wall, there are no steps, so it slopes up the mountain. You can see that It’s the type of incline that would be fun to ski down…not take baby steps up. For me, this was the worst part of the hike because I hate treadmills.

The Great Treadmill then turns into the Great Crumble. One of the huge advantages of this tour is that there were very few other people on the Wall with us since the hike is in a more isolated, less touristy part. So it makes sense that not all of the wall is restored. And by not restored, I mean crumbling steps and steep inclines! Climbing up and down during this segment was actually my favorite part of the Wall because it just felt so much more…historically authentic?

Then, we finished the hike and took this picture of the wall that is currently off limits to tourists.

And then we started on the last leg of our journey, the Great Bonus, because we had another 30 minute hike down a huge mountain to get the car. We then napped and planned future trips on the way back and had a delicious dinner with Sarah at a Korean restaurant by the backpackers’ hostel! On our way back to the subway, there were 100 couples dancing in a parking lot (only in China, right?):

Long story short, yesterday was our favorite day in China thus far: yes it was not an easy hike but it was so worth it! We’re going to suggest the tour for anyone who come…and then we’ll meet you after the hike for Korean food in a cool area and take you back to our apt for foot massages!


  1. Adam, you are such a wonderful storyteller! The trip sounds amazing and so interesting. The pictures are beautiful, I think the camera was well worth it. They really allows us to see the differences in each part of the wall and the building of it. How in the world was it built? Some of these pictures have to be enlarged for a wall display. You both look great and so happy (even all sweaty)!

  2. Aaron and I did that hike. And I will mention what he said to me when I complained about the height of the steps. "Mom, you realize that the wall was designed for four horsemen across to patrol the wall against the infidels, right?"
    It really hurts when your kid is better versed in history than you are.

  3. Aunt Barbara--I had no idea about the patrol either...and I live here, so what does that make me? And Lindsay, carve out a time to visit, and we'll arrange the tour ;)

  4. Have you tried dumplings and roast ducks? They are the famous and traditional Beijing dieshes. And also bird's nest soup? Its a delicacy in China.

    Enjoy your days~~~