The notice at the entrance said it all: ‘This section of the Great Wall is not open to the public’. Not that this deterred our tour guides.
We were joined by a wizened, wiry and axe wielding Chinese man who forged a path for us through the dense bushes and overgrowth. When the climbing became too steep, he fashioned himself a walking stick from a sturdy branch and lead us to the section of the wall we would explore. No such luxury as sticks for us, humble trekkers… None of us had quite prepared for this kind of journey, only ever seeing pictures of the official Wall of China where throngs of tourists and locals jostle for a bit of space on the proper steps of the Wall… But we had signed up for a ‘Camping on The Great Wall’ adventure, and an adventure it was certainly promising to be…
We finally reached the Wall to start our ascent. Whereas the more touristy parts of the wall have been carefully restored to former glory, the part we visited had not yet benefited from a make-over and was showing definite signs of long periods of decline and neglect. We clambered over rocks and boulders, over roughly hewn steps disintegrating with passing time. Facing a sheer wall offering very narrow ledges to support our feet certainly gave some of us the jitters. ‘Where on earth was the rope to hold onto??’ grumbled the Germans in the group… ‘What about health and safety??’ crossed our minds… As there was no alternative on offer and no one wanted to chicken out, there was only one way to go: upwards and onwards.
This section of the Wall may not have been ‘open to the public’, but we met other hikers keen on avoiding the hordes of tourists. And even the locals got their penny’s worth as they had set up a stall midway to the turrets and sold bottled water and iced beer. Welcome refreshments during our arduous trek.
On reaching our final destination, we were awarded with spectacular views of the surrounding hills and a sumptuous BBQ courtesy of our tour guides and the local ‘sherpas’ who delivered our tents and supplies to the top of the wall. We drowned our walking aches and pains with local beers and warmed ourselves by the heat of the campfire whilst dancing the night away.. There was very little point in aiming for an early night as the flimsy mats underneath our sleeping bags were hardly covering the hard slabs and spiky rocks at the top of the wall and were certain to keep sleep at bay.
And the promise of a dazzling sunrise over the mountains?? The early morning fog blanketed the surrounding hills, adding a dash of mystery, but blocking out the early sun rays.
Luckily, our journey back to modern civilisation was a lot easier… it appeared that there was a much less challenging track leading to the wall, the one used by the locals and the porters who carried up our tents and food.. But I suppose, using that one on the way up would have detracted from the ‘adventure’ and the accomplishment we felt at reaching the top of wall…