Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Great Wall Camping - Day 1

I'm still reeling from this weekend, arguably the most powerful weekend of my time in Beijing thus far. Lincoln and Aaron, a few close friends from Ultimate, recently started a very small business. Back Country Beijing offers full-service, guided, back country camping trips to a very wild section of the Great Wall. Ace and I were some of their first customers, along with Tao, Alicia, Claire, two Lilly's, and an Adrienne.

Jian Kou, also known as the "Beijing Knot", is an unrestored section of the wall where three separate parts intersect. The Great Wall is actually many separate walls, created a different times, intersecting at various locations. In fact, new sections of the wall are being discovered even now, thousands of years after it's construction.

As i said, Jian Kou is wild, meaning you must be very careful there. Touristy sections can be walked by anyone, young and old. They will get 10's of 1000's of visitors each day in peak season, while Jian Kou receives 10's of visitors. We were a group of exactly ten, and i saw about a dozen other hikers total. It's a fairly strenuous hike just to reach the wall, and the wall itself is extremely rugged. Exactly one week prior, two people died here when a lightning bolt struck the wall, and the disoriented hikers fell to their death, although they should not have been hiking the highest point during a thunderstorm.

There are sections that rise up at an 80 degree angle, with no remaining steps to climb. Some seemed impassable as you approach, yet we climbed them, very carefully, and one person at a time. Below you can see one such example.

Our private van took us to our departure point, where we enjoyed a vegetarian friendly meal in the small nearby town. Only about 20 families inhabit this town, and our restaurant of choice uses fresh veggies from their garden.

We set off on a 1 hour hike, burdened with heavy packs. It was all uphill, and was often technical, especially once you reach the wall. The vegetation is dense and the insects are bizarre: gnarly, bright colored flying insects that love to rest on your person, wasp-like creatures, both curious and fearless, numerous butterfly's, millipedes, spiders, beetles. I didn't mind them at all, on the contrary, i was so glad to be within nature again.

Arriving at our campsite, we set up our tents and claimed our guard tower for the evening. It was in the guard tower that we would later finish the six bottles of wine that accompanied our spaghetti, before roasting marshmallows in the open fire.

We received very few visitors in our guard tower, but most notable were Hatchet Man and Cooler Dude. Hatchet Man was a tour guide for another group. Hatchet Man was missing a few teeth. Hatchet Man carried a hatchet and nothing else. We did not like Hatchet Man and were glad when he took his group away. Cooler Dude, by comparison, was delightful. Cooler Dude carried a cooler-backpack-thing. This cooler was filled with cold beer. We bought everything he had.

Hiking the wall was incredible. Pictures can do justice, but obviously they fall short. Ace and I will make this a regular trip, hopefully several times a month. We're addicted to the outdoors, and a year in a big city has numbed my desire to get outside. Now it's been officially reawakened and i'm afraid it's going to be tough to quench, but i plan to try. These are pictures from Day 1... i've got a few more from the second day and will post them soon.



ktkates87 said...

I cannot wait to do this!! Such an inspiring post-- loved all your pictures! It looks pretty tough! Hopefully I don't collapse during the hike. Thanks for posting!

ktkates87 said...

Such a great post--thanks for all the great pictures! I cannot wait to do this. It looks pretty tough though, hopefully I wont collapse half-way through the trek.

Taylor said...

Holy crap...this is amazing!
You have no idea how much I want to do this! I'm going to China in a couple months and I'm thinking about making this a must for the trip :D

Thank you very much for this!


Ricky Wong said...

Thanks for this brilliant post and all the lovely pics--Your pictures are amazing. Just looking at those pictures make me want to climb the Great Wall of China now. I also found a great blog of Jiankou travel tips, I’d love to share it here with you and for future travelers.