And there we were – half way through the trek. We had a gentle breaking- in trek on Monday and a bit of an adventure of getting lost on Tuesday. It turned out the the following few days would test us to the limits…we would face the longest trek, the wettest and the steepest one and we would finish it off with the highest climb of the week.
Day 3 – Gubeikou
Today we stayed at the “Impression Lodge” which was a family run place. The lodged definitely made an impression on its guests as it served chips for tea and bacon for breakfast. I know it sounds like nothing but after 3 days of eating Chinese food and rice we were ready for some old staples. We even had a bonfire at night so we could relive the day and get to know each other better.
We were waved off by the staff early in the morning ready for what was going to be the longest trek of the week. Today we were going to walk 16.5 km on the Gubeikou section of the wall and it was going to take 8 hours to complete it. The temperature had definitely dropped that morning and we all had to dig out our hats, gloves and warmer jackets. However, the extra layers did not stay on for long as the steady climb and the sun making its appearance soon warmed us up.
We had 27 towers to go through on today’s trek. The path was nearly non existent and there were lots of high-rope-walking like sections and no rails in sight. I think the locals had realised how precarious this section was for the tourists as from the start we were accompanied by a very helpful Mongolian lady who was always one step ahead to give us a helping hand when climbing up or down the steep steps. Our lunch spot was the 24 window watchtower which was also the end of the Gubeikou section of the Wall. At this point we had to come off the Wall and make a detour as the Wall in front of us was the start of the military base.
On our descent we found ourselves surrounded by more hills which had interesting patterns on them. These were rows and rows of young trees which were planted there on the Arbor Day (12th March) which is also a national holiday in China. The main reason for planting trees on the slopes of the mountains is to protect Beijing from seasonal sand storms from the Gobi Dessert.
Before we climbed up back to the Wall, we had a nice surprise where a local farmer’s house offered cold drinks and ice cream. Oh simple things… Our trek for today finished at the Jinshanling section of the Wall. We were actually going to start our trek from this point the next day but for now we were ready to settle in another lodge and had a promise of an actual pub!
Day 4 – Jinchanling
We woke up to grey skies and I think a few of us suffered from a hangover. After a small breakfast and with a packed lunch in our day bags we set off for the penultimate day of our trek. The distance for today was only 8 km and we only had to climb 22 towers. We soon realised it was going to be the trickiest day ever. It also started to rain which made the surface really slippy and dangerous. This section felt really short in comparison to previous days but it must have been the steepest one so far. We were back on a restored section of the Wall with actual sides but some areas did not even have any steps so we had to climb up or down at 30 degree gradient, clinging for dear life onto the walls and trying not to skid down. The levels of concentrations were definitely high that day! We also had an amazing (this reads painful!) quad and glute workout as the steps we had to constantly climb up were really high and steep. I can honestly say this was the least favourite day of the trek but I think it was more to do with the weather. Winter was definitely coming to Beijing…
Day 5 – Jiankou to Mutianyu
Friday – the last day of the trek. Emotions were running high that day as we were so close to completing our hard but amazing challenge. I think we also realised that it would be the last day of trekking with such an amazing group of people.
We all wore our charity Tshirts to keep us motivated and to remind us why were all doing this challenge. We all had personal reasons why we were there and why we were raising money for a particular charity. There were so many amazing and sad stories that were shared over a bonfire or sticky rice.
The plan for today for to trek 8.8 km over two sections of the Wall. We were going to start at Jiankou which was not widely accessible to the tourist as it was part of the National Park and finish at Mutianyu which was the section that most tourist puts their foot on.
We started our ascent to reach the Wall which we could clearly see in the distance. We were steadily climbing up to the watchtower which was situated over 500 m above the sea level. We kept going as we were promised stunning views from the top. And then we reached the famous ladder which was the entrance to the Wall.
A few steps up and there it was… a stunning view over the Yanshan mountains. It felt so surreal… we were standing on the roof of the watch tower, at the highest point of our trek, surrounded by amazing views and we truly felt like we were on top of the world. It was a very special and poignant moment to all of us.
We continued with our walk but we could feel the end was near. After a couple of hours we had reached Tower 23 of the Mutianyu section and we could definitely see and hear that we were entering the touristy section of the Wall. Tower 23 is the last tower of this section but it was the first one for us as we started our final descent. We tied our ribbons to a stunning “wish tree” for good luck and joined throngs of tourists experiencing the never-ending steps of this renovated section of the Wall. And then came the best bit..when we reached the final tower we got a choice of getting down to the bus either by some more steps, a cable car or a toboggan… well, it did not take long to persuade me which way I was coming down! By the way, it had to be quick as we had a Subway lunch promised by our guide.
And that was it. The end of the trek, the end of our tough challenge and also the end of our amazing adventure. We walked over 70km over those 5 days, we had a laugh, we had a cry and we made some amazing memories to last us a lifetime.
We also felt a tremendous sense of achievement and we knew we made ourselves and whoever sponsored our charities proud.
Tired but happy we boarded the plane back home thinking where shall we go next for out trekking adventure?