Despite getting an early start, we didn’t get on the bus headed to the Great Wall until around 11. A couple of hours later, a man jumped on our bus and said to get off to go to Gubeikou, just like the Internet said he would. Once we’re off the bus, he goes on to tell us there’s no other bus, but that he’s got a friend who could take us there for a reasonable price, just like the Internet said he would. We went along with it, just like the Internet said not to. It’s like we never learn. We left a quarter-full yogurt container in the back of the van to curdle in revenge.
“This is your stop,” says the driver. “Wall’s over there.” He points off into the distance, in the wrong direction. An hour of asking strangers how to get to the Great Wall followed, and we were met with more questioning stares than I can recount–“What wall? Oh, that wall.” Plenty of people told us it was too far to walk, though distances ranged from 6 to 40 km. Colin’s GPS assured us it could not be more than about 10 km to our end point, so there was no way the nearest hopping on point was 40 km away.
Finally a man took us to a spot of road that met a wall-like structure, though it was hard to see through the brush.
Through the brush we went. Colin proposed powering through the part that looked like an easier ascent but was thick with chest-high bushes. Already smarting from the short bit we’d walked through, I figured it would be better to scramble up a steeper area that had less vegetation. We split up.
I realized too late how foolish this all seemed. By that time, I was a good eight feet above flat ground, clinging to rocks that had been baking in the sun for four hours, with one solid foot hold, trying to wretch my sleeve from the grip of some wicked thorns. There was no turning around at that point. It never got so bad or so high that I was afraid of serious bodily harm, but a fall would have hurt with only a cushion of thorn bushes to break it.
Colin made it up first, but his climb hadn’t been any easier, especially since his pack had all of our supplies.
“Oh my gosh I’m on the Great Wall of China.”
But not quite. The wall was too crumbled to walk on just yet, so we picked our way for over an hour along a faint trail beside the wall, bright green thorny plants the whole way. By the time we climbed up (steps, this time), blood seeped from cuts and puncture wounds on the back of my hands and all down my bare legs.
We passed a man herding goats; Colin assured me the rattle I’d heard was coming from cicadas, not rattle snakes; we ate apricots off trees to find maggots inside–in every single one! But our first good view of the wall stretching ahead and disappearing over the horizon struck us speechless.
It was easy going after that; there were a couple good ascents and a few loose bricks, but walking on the thorn-free pathway was infinitely better than that first hour.
We made camp inside a guard tower and watched the bats flit around in the dusk. It was even warm enough to sleep on top of our sleeping bags, which made the stone floor a little more forgiving.