Thank god for hiking poles. The section of wall we climbed had it all – slippery slopes of stone, rough and tumble bits of broken slab and long stairways of steps so tall that my knee touched my chin as I hauled my arse up them. I could see how it would be hard for a warrior’s horse to get through. Jen’s hiking poles from her Tongariro Crossing, one for each of us, probably meant I made the three hours unscathed.
Ah, but it was a great day for it. Snow in the weekend had cleared a cocktail of pollution and sand storm. Just a few piles of snow in the shade of the wall had survived a couple of hot days since.
Jenny and I booked a 400Y tour ($NZ80) to pick us up outside a subway at 8am, drive to Jinshanling for the walk, lunch, then return to Beijing by 6pm. Also included was a short stop to look around an odd but lovely riverside village of traditional stone buildings called WaterTown. It was empty of people except for tourists and guides. All the doors were locked and somehow Club Med was involved. Strange.
Ten minutes further we reached the entrance to Jinshanling.
It’s a beautiful area with peach and apricot trees in blossom and hazy mountains peeling off into the distance on either side of the wall. It’s much less crowded than the sections of wall closer to Beijing.
Our guide James Chen told us about the various Chinese dynasties’ fear of invading Mongolian hordes, the building of the wall to stop them and also to protect the Silk Road. Genghis Khan and Marco Polo were mentioned. He warned us to ask the price first before taking photos if we were approached by any sword bearing Mongolian warriors on horseback.
Our group elected to skip the walk from the entrance up to the wall in favour of the small cable cars. A fine decision in hindsight given the obstacle course we were going to have to conquer anyway. James met up with me and Jenny about halfway through the walk: “I can tell you’ll make it to the end so you should pay for the cablecar now” he said collecting 60Y off us as we wouldn’t need to pike and do the return trip.
Towards the end, a Mongolian stallkeeper, all four foot of her and half my weight, offered me a hand up the steep steps but I could only imagine flinging her over my shoulder as happened once when I got a fright walking my aunty’s chihuahua. So she just encouraged me with cheeky chirpiness for the last 100 metres till I reached her t-shirt and Coke stand in the ancient sentry point. Of course, I’m now the proud owner of an “I climbed the Great Wall” t-shirt actually bought in China on The Wall itself. I’ll wear it to the gym, eventually.