The Great Wall is one of China’s most famous sights and what an impressive sight it is. The Great Wall is over 13,000 miles – that’s four times the span of the United States coast to coast. In addition to its impressive mileage, the Great Wall is also impressively old – with parts of the original wall dating back from 7 BCE. The wall has been destroyed and rebuilt several times since then, yet it still retains its magnificent awe factor.
I first visited the Great Wall when I was 16 years old on a high school exchange trip. We visited the Badaling section of the Great Wall which is the most popular section among tourists. Back then, we were all taken aback by how physically strenuous walking and climbing the Great Wall was. It was steep! This part of the Great Wall was also crowded with tourists, mostly because this section of the wall is in great shape considering its age.
Fast forward almost ten years later and finding myself in China yet again, I decide to visit the wild section of the Great Wall which is even more physically strenuous than the Badaling section. The Jiankou section is the wildest section of the Great Wall in the Beijing region. It’s wild, untouched, and can be dangerous if you’re not well prepared. Here are a few pointers if you’re planning on hiking the Jiankou section of the Great Wall.
Seriously get a guide. Without a guide, you risk the potential for getting lost and disoriented. The area around Jianku is very rural, with just a few small villages in the area. Guides are usually from the area and know the area very well. Since this area is less touristic than other parts of the Great Wall, it’s more difficult to find people to assist you if you get into a snafu.
This is a difficult hike with steep climbs and drops and some rock climbing is required. Our tour group even offered some rock climbing classes before the trip to get the inexperienced rock climbers some confidence. If you’re not physically fit, have little hiking experience, or pack the wrong gear then this hike is not going to be fun for you. Plenty of experienced hikers in our tour group did find the hike difficult, especially since we were planning to camp on the Great Wall and were carrying backpacks and gear. Personally, this was the most difficult hike I’ve ever done, but the views and being able to say I hiked and camped the wild Great Wall made it all so worth it in the end.
This is a no-brainer but you would be surprised how many people in our tour group were unprepared. One girl wore jeans, which was not the most appropriate gear for the sunny, warm physically strenuous hike. Research weather conditions before you go and pack the right type of gear and make sure to bring plenty of water and snacks. The local village does offer porters who can carry your gear and even bring you food from the village.
While camping on the Great Wall sounded romantic at the time, the actually experience was pretty uncomfortable. The wild part of the Great Wall is rocky, and there’s not a lot of smooth terrain to set up camp. Some in our tour group opted to stay at the hostel located in the small village nearby. Most of us who chose to camp on the wall woke up with back/neck pain from rocks jutting into us all night. If you decide to camp, bring a soft mat or even an air mattress to make it more comfortable.
On the last day of our hiking adventure, most of us had had reached our fill of the Great Wall and wanted to return to the village. There are shortcuts you can take that lead you back into the village without having to hike any more of the Great Wall, but there are “Great Wall Trolls” who often charge you for the privilege of using their ladder to climb down the Great Wall and take one of many shortcuts back to the village. This is technically illegal for them to do, so if you come across one and you want to use their shortcut you can do what we did – either distract the troll while members of your party use the ladder, or just climb down the wall to the ground using team work.