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Climbing Great Wall of China: from Huanghuacheng to Mutianyu

Mindblowing. Incredible. Impossible. I stood on top of a collapsed watchtower built on a tip of a sharp rock. The contours and curves of the wall in distance were slowly fading away as the sun setted down. Cold breeze was washing my burning head. Burning from sun, burning from the experiences. I spent three days on the wall. As there is seldom information in English I tried to put together a description, map, GPS data, and tips in this blog post.

There is a number of ways how to enjoy the wall. Most of the people make their trip to one of the restored parts with all the conveniences like a cable car or cold drink on top(Badaling, Mutianyu). This involves bumping to other tourists and of course entrance fees. Other stay over night at one of the villages near by the wall and climb early up to see sunrise. That is perfect for families and it's for free. Some stay on the wall. Jiankou is very popular for this as there are no extremely hard passages while it is easily accessible. 

There is other extreme, those who walk hundreds of miles along the wall. A three-day hike is a good taste of such longer hikes.

The trail

First what you need to know is that the majority of the wall from Huanghuacheng to Mutianyu is closed to public. You are warned for that by huge blue signs pitched at roads. Indeed, each person climbing the ruined wall will cause in a single moment erosion that would take years for nature. Chinese tourists are even worse as they leave garbage everywhere they go. Yet, when you give it a deeper thought you realize that these distant parts of the wall will never be restored and nature will eventually consume it. Also, from locals no one really seemed to care. They were rather encouraging when they found out I walked that far.

I assure you that the hike will never get mundane. It is incredible how variable the trail is. Most of the times, you will climb and descend ruined stairs. But then, there is a huge hole in front of you and you must find your way around. Sometimes you walk at the very edge of the wall looking down hundreds of meters of rock. Often, you will be forced to get down off the wall and walk along; there is usually a path trodden by other hikers. Yet, at some parts, there is no other way than a climb. Additionally, the wall itself has defense features: once I had to climb 6 meters high vertical smooth wall designed to defend the wall when a part is overtaken. There was a temporary "staircase" built from rocks assembled on a pile. It was really fun.

The total distance was little under 38 kilometers with 4217 meters ascended and 4134 meters descended. If you check the elevation profile, the hardest part is in middle where you climb to the top and plunge back to the valley (I callled it "day of five valleys").

Elevation profile of the track

I recommend do it in the same direction. This way offers two advantages: you don't need to pay entrance fee at Mutianyu and you will have more motivation as you will see the "good" wall in distance. Also in some parts of the five valleys it might be even impossible to get in the opposite direction. One disadvantage is sun at your back when ascending and shadow when descending.

Download the GPX. Btw, it is not really necessary to take a GPS with you. It is hard to get lost; just follow the wall. There is only one point where the wall forks but there is a sign showing you the right way (in Chinese). Further, it was not easy to find the path to the wall after the first valley. Here the best way is to ask...

Clothes and sleeping

During summer months I recommend taking clothes which allow quick change from long sleeve to short and back as the vegetation can be quite dense. There is no need to have a tent. Watchtowers provide a good roof over head so a mat and a sleeping bag is just enough. For winter time though, beware that it can get very windy.

Food and water

Three days on the wall mean heavy backpack. I carried with me 5 liters of water and enough food for four days. As it was very hot I used almost all water in a day . I originally thought that it should suffice for over two days. Yet it wouldn't even be necessary to carry water for all the time. As you are forced to descend many times down to a valley with a path for five times it won't take you long to get to the nearest village where you can get water. In some there is even a grocery store. Also I found couple of water sources along the wall in the valleys. Take a look at the map.

If you are out of ideas about good food for hiking, try this can of bean porridge.

Transportation

It is not that hard to find your way there using public transport. Just be patient and don't get swayed by the touts convincing you that there is no bus where you can get.

Take a bus 916 from Dongzhimen to Huairou(RMB 12). From Huairou there is a plenty of buses to surrounding villages; refer to the map where to take bus. Again, it is best to ask at this point as there are no signs that such bus is supposed to stop here.

The cost of transportation was the only expense. It is not bad to spend just 40 kwai for such an amazing experince, right? 

Best place to find more information about hiking and climbing the wall in English is forum greatwallforum.com .

 

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