Growing up, we learn the history of the world’s most powerful nations. We learn of their conquests, their successes, and the ancient masterpieces that they’ve left behind. Some of these remains of ancient kingdoms are so majestic, in fact, that they seem virtually unimaginable. So, consider how it must feel when you have the ability to get up close and personal with these wonders, in ways you never thought imaginable. This is what happened when Beijing Hikers gave me the opportunity not only to trek on the unrestored sections of the Great Wall of China, but to camp overnight on the wall itself!
Due to inclement weather, our hike got moved from the switchbacks of the Yanqing District to the Gubeikou Great Wall at the border between Miyun and Hebei section, in trying to avoid the storm. I’m not too sure what the wall of our original route looked like, but the Gubeikou (unrestored) Great Wall to Jinshanling (restored) Great Wall that we ended up hiking was truly phenomenal.
5 FT Note: I’d only suggest this route for those in shape. If you have knee issues, this will not be for you due to the numerous steps and tricky footing on the unrestored wall. If you have any breathing issues, this may not be for you either, as the exertion combined with the heavy pollution surrounding Beijing makes it a bit hard to breathe. I do applaud Beijing Hikers though for encouraging us to go at our own pace despite the fast-moving mentality of the group.
Our first day began at 10am when we were picked up from the Liangmaqiao subway station (if Hotel Lido was more convenient, we could have met there). The journey to the start of Gubeikou Great Wall usually takes about two and a half hours by car, but it took us close to four hours due to unforeseen traffic.
5 FT Tip: When packing for this overnight trip, be sure you leave ample space in your backpack for the required nine bottles of water, two days worth of snacks (a banana, an apple, a bag of nuts, and two granola bars), and lunch for the first day. Beijing Hikers provided all food. We reorganized our things at the entrance, were provided with trekking poles (which we declined), and were ready to go!
We began by climbing up a steep hill to reach the Gubeikou section of the Great Wall of China. With our first glimpse of the curving wall in the distance it was hard to believe that we were actually there; the sight was astounding!
About an hour later we made it to the most remarkable lunch spot someone could ask for. We climbed atop an unrestored watchtower. Look at the curves of this World Wonder!
We trekked on the Great Wall of China, taking in the views, for about four hours before setting up camp in a watchtower. Beijing Hikers provided all camping gear necessary —tents, sleeping pads, sleeping bags, and sleeping bag lines — and we were not required to carry those up the wall ourselves. 5 FT Tip: They did not, however, provide a pillow so I would highly suggest bringing a travel sized pillow with you. I love Sea to Summit’s Aeros Ultralight Pillow.
While our guides prepared quite a large and filling dinner, we had the opportunity to explore the surrounding areas of the wall. We were hoping for a sunset, but unfortunately our day was far too smoggy for any change of color in the sky.
As the sky started fading, our guides put out a spread of sausage, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, bread, cheese, pickles and instant noodles. While it sounds a bit random, it tasted fantastic considering it was cooked on the Great Wall of China and there was actually far too much food. Not only did they bring cookies and marshmallows to roast over the fire, but they even provided two bottles of wine as well!
By 8:30pm we were tucked into our tents and it started to downpour. Luckily, we had coverage from the rain since we were in a watchtower. While we didn’t expect there to be a sunrise due to the rain and smog, we decided to set our alarm for 4am anyway. As expected, there was nothing but gray and we missed what’s known to be an outstanding sunrise over the Great Wall of China. Oh well, next time!
On this wet morning, we walked through Spider Valley to access the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall of China.
The parts of the wall between Gubeikou and Jinshanling are military owned and cannot be accessed. After what felt like an incredibly long detour around the wall, we reached the restored section of the wall — what a difference from the unrestored areas!
While I did prefer the Gubeikou unrestored section overall, it was interesting to see a fully reconstructed Great Wall as a means of imagining what it must have looked like in it’s glory. We were alone on the Gubeikou section of the Great Wall; the Jinshanling section, however, was quite a bit more touristy. Luckily for us, we didn’t hit tourists until the last fifteen minutes or so of our entire journey.
And, with that, our two-day overnight exploration of the Great Wall of China came to an end. How’d we celebrate? With Chinese food and beer provided by Beijing Hikers of course! I absolutely cannot wait to return to Beijing solely to spend more time exploring Beijing’s natural beauty.
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**Special thanks to Beijing Hikers for sponsoring our incredible experience. As always, all opinions are my own.