The fog nestled tightly around the mountains above, giving off an eerie, surreal setting for undoubtedly China’s most spectacular man-made wonder.
I was perplexed and felt rather naive in my earlier belief that the Great Wall of China was built on flat land.
“You mean to tell me that the wall is way up there, built along the ridge of the mountains and lost somewhere in the clouds?” I asked Jackie, craning my neck upwards trying to find the hidden landmark.
Jackie, our 26-year-old Beijing guide (who seemed a little bit lost himself) just shook his head and said, “yes,” with a sigh.
I wasn’t sure whether or not he understood how far and difficult the hike would be. His clothing (i.e. dress slacks, button-down pink shirt, light blue sweater vest and sneakers) seemed to give him away. He was not a hiker. He was not even the least bit athletic. But he was knowledgeable and that was the most important thing of all. He knew his stuff like the back of his hand. Facts, figures and historical perspectives were easily given and recited to our thirsty ears.
Above is a picture of the second hill we had to cross in order to get to the main mountain leading up to the wall. I tried my best to take a good pictures of the steepness of the trail (it is in brown leading up the center of the “hill”), but I found it impossible to do in a short amount of time. We had a lot of work ahead of us so we had to keep moving. Plus, it was so steep that there weren’t many opportunities to safely stop.
We reached the base of the second “hill” and began climbing up. From this point on, it was no longer a hike at all.
Instead, it was going straight up using our fingers to grasp large rocks and tree branches to literally pull ourselves up. I could tell my dad was getting a little nervous at this point. Not at all for himself: He had already climbed more mountains than I can remember (and he is 69 years old!). He was worried about me and having to explain to my husband, children and mother how I fell and broke my back trying to climb up to the Great Wall. That wouldn’t do!
I could tell that Jackie was lagging behind yet he was desperately trying to be the good Chinese leader and guide that he aspired. His face was drenched in sweat, his pastel blue sweater vest was placed into his backpack after much convincing and he continually questioned our age. “You’re in your mid-twenties, right?” he asked, almost desperately. He seemed completely mystified that my father at his age was having no problem at all climbing up the side of a dirty mountain. Jackie believed most Chinese men at his age would be withering away in bed!
“Ah, you Americans are strong. So very strong!” he raved, encouragingly and slightly embarrassed by being passed by two people well over his age. “Us Chinese are not strong,” he said, convinced in his belief that Chinese people are not athletes.
I found Jackie’s viewpoint and ongoing compliments to be hilarious!
Weren’t it the Chinese people who made this very same wall by climbing up these very same steep paths over 2,000 years ago with stones on their back?! Perhaps it was just him who was out of shape!
Jackie in the lead, waiting up above as we pried our hands and fingers into the dirt and grabbed rocks to pull ourselves up the trail.
Looking down at my dad as he climbed up the trail. Now, who told us we were doing “rock” climbing? That definitely wasn’t in Lonely Planet’s description!
Picture above of last hill leading up to the Great Wall.
We finally made it to the top of the second hill, feeling tired and a bit weary. It was extremely steep at the top with sheer cliffs tumbling down below.
There was a wee bit of panic and emergency when I realized during our water break that we were surrounded by bees! I am somewhat fearful of bees because I am allergic and of course had no epi-pen with me. I had a brief dancing panic on the top of the mountain and my dad nearly had a heart attack that I would fall. We abruptly climbed down the peak and headed up the third, and last mountain to reach the wall. No wonder there was no one else on the trail! You would have to be crazy!
Here is my dad making it down a very steep part of the “trail.” Are we insane?
By the third hill, we were feeling relieved to be passed the worst, or so we’d hoped. We now had to climb down the valley between the two mountains and it was very steep. Even I was a little worried about breaking a leg. I’d broken my foot before and it was the pits. (I was in a boot for five months and had a baby and a toddler to care for!).
It was getting close to noon and there was still no sign of the wall. The smog had not lifted as we had hoped.
Jackie looked like he was going to pass out during the last 30 minutes of the hike. His face was the color of cotton candy and dripping with sweat while his breathing was like a smokers’. He was also still wearing that darn pink button-down shirt over a t-shirt! Why he didn’t take it off during one of his many breaks, I don’t understand.
Finally, my dad and I had to pass him by. We knew that the hike had taken a lot longer than we’d planned and if we wanted to have any time hiking on the wall itself, that there was no time to stop. Jackie haphazardly gave in to our pleas and followed slowly up behind us. The hike wasn’t really that challenging given other hikes we’d taken (such as our 100-mile hike last year in Nepal). But the conditions were prime for an accident.
We walked on for another ten minutes or so, feeling like we were on a path to nowhere, and then just like a dream, we finally saw it.
There, laying precariously atop of the ridge of the mountain, was one of the most spectacular things I’d ever seen: The mighty, impressive Great Wall of China.
The Great Wall of China at Jiankou, one of the relatively unknown sections of the wall that is not frequently visited by tourists, mainly due to its isolated location. The only way to get there is to hike.
At Jiankou, there are three routes up to the wall and we took the longest and hardest route. Yet, once we arrived I realized with joy and elation that the best part of seeing the wall was the journey itself, climbing up just like the Chinese did thousands of years ago.
For as Chairman Mao said: “He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man” (or woman in my case!).
View on top the wall. It was so startling and impressive that I could hardly breathe. I only wished the clouds would have been gone. To see the wall snake around the mountain ridge until the eye can no longer see would have been sensational.
We did it! My dad and me on top the Wall!
Stay tuned…part III of “Fall on the Wall” will be up soon. I will show you favorite pictures from the wall as well as provide some insight into what I learned about its magical creation. Plus you’ll get a sneak preview of what it was like to be a “movie star” surrounded by Chinese paparazzi for my moment of fame and attention as a thirdeyemom blond on top the wall.
Editor: Brianna Bemel