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Great Wall hike

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I'm planning a trip to China (maybe in August... that's terrible?) and while at first I was thinking of a group tour, I may try going solo.

G Adventures has a trip where you hike the Great Wall for several days. I like hiking and it would be cool to spend some more time there. However, it's more time and money than I want to spend. This is their package:

I'm looking for something that's 2 - 4 days. I have found a couple other tours:

Anyone have any experiences or advice on hiking the Great Wall?

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    I did see a post here about camping on the Wall. While the idea of camping is cool, I don't have to do it.

    Would taking a bus to different sections and staying at hostel (or equivalent) be doable on my own? I don't speak the language so that's one part of the difficulty.

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    Beijing Hikers is well-run and convenient, and often takes you to sections of the Wall that are little visited and more atmospheric, and trickier to reach by public transport. Trips are at expat prices but for people on brief visits to Beijing for whom keeping to real-word local costs isn't particularly important, these trips are an excellent choice.

    But when it comes to local transport not speaking the language isn't really a difficulty unless you decide to make it one any more than it is anywhere else, and if you do want to walk by yourself not in remote and relatively unexplored areas, but in less visited sections, you can do that by taking public transport to a formally open site, and walking between that and the next. All of the formally open sites have modest accommodation available near their entrances.

    You might, for instance, take a Chengde-wards bus to Gubeikou, getting off before the tunnel entrance at the turning to Panlong Shan Great Wall. Here on mounting the Wall (very few people around indeed) you can turn left and walk to another site called Wuho Shan (yes, that's 'Crouching Tiger Mountain', like the film), and possibly then U-turn (I haven't done this), or turn right to walk to Jin Shan Ling, which takes about half a day, and where there's accommodation. The next day you can carry on to Simatai (closed when last seen, but you can still exit) and either flag down a minibus back to the main road or walk to it, and flag down a passing bus en route to Beijing.

    The Panlong Shan site may possible not officially be open and is the product of enterprising local farmers, who have done just enough repairs to make about 5km intact and safe to walk on. On the route to Jin Shan Ling you have to dismount to the outer side at one point to avoid a military base, which gives you an invading barbarian's eye view. When you've remounted onto a desolate section you then arrive at the completely refurbished and effectively rebuilt from the ground up Jin Shan Ling, which is the quality of all the major publicly open sections. Walking on to Simatai the refurbishment comes to a sudden end and you're back in decay again, with much of the wall crumbled away in sections. When Simatai was open pestering 'guides' and water sellers were a nuisance simply to be ignored on this section. I'm not sure at the moment. They dog you until you buy something to make them go away, and then carry on dogging you anyway.

    Although Beijing Hikers has been along the Panlong Shan to Jin Shan Ling section and marked the diversion from the military base it's possible to get lost. A full description can be posted here if wanted. The Jin Shan Ling to Simatai section doesn't involve leaving the Wall, and is fairly straightforward.

    It goes without saying that you won't find reliable information on Trip Advisor, but rather the opposite, and it is only linked to by those who don't have a clue themselves, so don't waste your time.

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    Thanks for your response, temppeternh!

    Since I am planning a longer trip which includes China, I am trying to keep costs low but am willing to spend on worthwhile experiences. I'll look over Beijing Hikers and compare costs and comfort to doing it on my own.

    In terms of difficulty, I was concern with accommodations near the Wall. If I could book online when I arrive in Beijing or reservations need to be done over the phone... which is where language issues come up. For public transportation, hopping on one bus versus multiple transfers is good to know.

    Another question, is there a safe place to store my luggage (backpack or carry on)? I figured I'd carry the essentials for the hike and pick up the rest of my stuff back in Beijing.

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    > If I could book online when I arrive in Beijing or reservations need to be done over the phone...

    Not unless you're desperate to pay more than you need to. You just walk up, and bargain down the posted price. You want a room; they want your money. There aren't language issues of any significance.

    > Another question, is there a safe place to store my luggage (backpack or carry on)?

    Any guesthouse you've stayed in will store your luggage for you for free or for a nominal fee.

    Should have read 'Wohu Shan' in the last post, by the way.

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    Haven't traveled much in Asia so this haggling for rooms is new.

    I'll look into Jin shan ling and Simatai route. Jiankou sections comes up a lot on tour groups and some blogs. The photos have been amazing. Can't wait to see for myself. :)

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    "Haven't traveled much in Asia so this haggling for rooms is new."

    Bargaining for a room was new to me, too, when I visited China in 2010 -- but I took Peter's advice and did so, and it worked remarkably well for me! I wrote about that in my trip report, which you can find by clicking on my name.

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    If remote Wall areas are what you want, suggest go to Lai Yuan in Hebei (on big hiway S10). Nearby is 'bai shi shan' White Rock Mt. Park, which includes a long section of the Wall, in original repair but not invaded by tourists, aliens or chinese. It's a bit of a challenge but buses go to the West Gate of the Park and you hike from there. Hotel nearby, or was 4 yrs ago. Carry own food, can find water off the wall. Hike/sleep on wall, possibly hike to Beijing. Now that would be a journey.

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    So I want to hike through two sections-- Jinshanling and Jiankou. These connect to other sections that are interesting as well. Of course it is easy to say at my computer that I would want to hike more. : ) For me to hike more than 2 days would depend on weather. I imagine the beginning of September to be quite warm.

    Other sections:
    Simatai-- Rough Guide 2014 says it is open but states it is still closed for renovations. I haven't come across an official site for the Wall to check this. Simatai is near Jinshanling if I want to extend my hike.

    Huanghau-- near Jiankou as another possible extension

    Mutianyu-- This is low priority as I know it can be very crowded. I wonder if I would be able to hike through Jiankou into Mutianyu in one day?

    More questions-- Are the sections (specifically the ones mentioned) actually connected or do you have to "exit" and walk/bus to enter the next section? Sometimes it sounds like there's a dead end where the Wall just stops (crumbled?).

    Guidebooks and some sites I have visited just list a general description of these sections. Can I find more detailed information before leaving or in Beijing?

    Most descriptions that I read say the sections are hiked in 4 hours. It's not clear to me whether it's one way or if the hiker is backtracking to their starting point.

    Would it be better to join a group for Jiankou instead of hiking solo?

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    > but states

    No Chinese tourism site offers reliable information, and especially not those with their hands as deeply in your pockets as China tour companies.

    Sometimes the Wall has crumbled away, sometimes it is too dangerous to walk on, sometimes it is too overgrown to walk on, sometimes it passes through closed areas (e.g. military camps), and almost none of it looks like the entirely rebuilt sections open to the public. (It's in a state of much more romantic Gothic decay.)

    Quite honestly you're really over-thinking all this, and should not expect to be able to plan in such great detail, but rather adapt as you go.

    Here, however, is a description of Panlong Shan to Jin Shan Ling to Simatai, which, whether you go this route or not, should give you some idea of the experience of following the Wall:

    Panlong Shan (to Jin Shan Ling)

    The claim is that there’s 5km of open Wall here, including 40 structures, one of which is the ‘24-eye tower’ visible to your left as you mount the Wall (indeed, one fork in the path takes you there. A further section called Wòhǔ Shān (卧虎山, Crouching Tiger Mountain—yes, the same characters as the film) in that direction is also open. But you can walk to Jīn Shān Lǐng by turning right. This walk is much less well-known and less travelled than the one from Jīn Shān Lǐng to Sīmǎtái, although also a little more complicated, as it involves descending to pass through tiny fields with farmers at work in order to avoid a large military base before remounting. This may be seen to add to the attraction, however.

    Beyond the Gǔ Běi Kǒu tunnel, or on the outside of the Wall as you walk along it, you are almost in Tartary, or Manchuria, an area the Chinese were prevented from entering during most of Qīng rule, and much of which, while part of the Qīng empire, became Chinese territory only after the 1912 abdication. It was the Manchu homeland to which the emperor might reasonably have been expected to return to rule.

    Mounting the Wall here you are following 18th-century British envoy Lord Macartney:

    'These mountains, gradually approaching, almost close the passage, leaving only a narrow defile or ravine through which there is barely room for the road, and a small rivulet that runs in the bottom. Across the road is built a tower of eighteen feet wide (with the gate in the centre) and forty-five feet long. This pass had been formerly quite closed by the side walls of the tower continuing up the hills both on the east and west, but on the latter it was now open, for both the arch through which room had been left for the stream to flow and the wall raised upon the arch have been destroyed and there now appears a complete disruption of the whole from top to bottom. Through the lower gate we proceeded on for a considerable way, I suppose near 1,000 yards, through a large extent of ground with several houses built upon it enclosed by high walls connected with the great one, till we came to another gate and from thence to the town of Ku-pei-k’ou which is very populous and strongly enclosed by two or three rows of walls, which at a few miles distance converge together and unite with the main one. After breakfast we set out from Ku-pei-k’ou in order to visit this celebrated wall which we had heard such wonders of, and after our passing through the outermost gate of the Tartar side, we began our peregrination on foot, there being no other method of approach. In less than half an hour, after travelling over very rough ground, we at last arrived at a breach in the wall, by which we ascended to the top of it...'
    Lord Macartney, An Embassy to China, London, 1797

    The pass here fell easily to the Mongol invasion of 1211, the losers being the Jurchen Tartar Jīn dynasty (金, 1115–1234) who had themselves defeated the Khitan Mongol Liáo dynasty (辽, 907–1125), so it was perhaps unwise for the Jīn to have left a Khitan Mongol as guard commander. The Wall was only as strong as its garrison.

    Upon mounting the Wall, you can see it looping away to the right with a clear path through grasses on the now largely brick-free top, the odd bit of concrete keeping things together. It winds sinuously in wonderfully Gothic neglect from watchtower to watchtower, some of which can be walked through, the odd lightning conductor further evidence of local care, although other towers have collapsed.

    At some points little more than the earthen core of the Wall remains, but at other times it becomes quite broad, with balustrades still intact and loopholes for firing down still in place. The only other sign of life may be a goatherd and his charges.

    Eventually (about 1½ hours at a modest pace) the Wall turns sharply right at a tower that you cannot enter and so must go round it on the right (inner) side. The Wall drops steeply downhill to another tower with its entrance clearly boarded up, so instead of descending you cross the top of the Wall and take the dirt track down the other (outer) side of the tower. If instead you come downhill to a dead end with a sign and a fence coming up on the right-hand side, then below is a military camp it would be very unwise to enter—you need instead to go back uphill to the watchtower and scramble down the path described.

    The path leads through long grasses and assorted shrubs, giving you a Manchu’s-eye view of the Wall above it, but is well-worn and occasionally marked with ribbon by earlier trekkers. After about ten minutes there’s a thatched-roof cottage with an overgrown garden, its kàng (炕, heated brick bed) still visible through the window.

    Pocket-handkerchief-sized fields still in use are surrounded by dry-stone walls. After about 20 minutes the path reaches a section of the Wall that plunges steeply with a number of defensive interior walls clearly visible. Optionally turn right to look closer, but the red characters on the white signboard at the Wall tell you this is still a military area, so do not remount here but return to the main path and carry on.

    Past a large round stone-walled pond and more fields, stay on the path and nod politely to farmers. Although at this point the Wall disappears, don’t worry. Keep looking to the right and backwards where you see right turns, until you see a watchtower up one of them more or less back over your right shoulder. If after about half an hour you pass a rather richer looking farmhouse on the left you need to double back a short distance to look for the turning described. If you go even further on you’ll reach a T-junction, in which case you should turn round, pass the farmhouse on your right, and the turning you want is to the left shortly afterwards.

    This richer farmhouse is incidentally the dwelling of one of the insistent saleswomen from the Jīn Shān Lǐng to Sīmǎtái route, and is no doubt partly the product of cash extracted from tourists, as are the motorbikes parked outside.

    If you encounter any of these women here they will try to persuade you that you can get nowhere without their help, that there are too many forks in the road (chāzi lùkǒu, 叉子路口), and that it’s far too late to get to Jīn Shān Lǐng—but for ¥150 they’ll take you on a motorbike. That they can’t be bothered to go for much less is a further indication of the rich pickings they make. But there’s no need for them.

    Follow the path mentioned through the fields and the Wall will appear again on the right and then cross almost directly in front of you in a pretty ruinous state. The path rises slightly and passes fields, and at the first fork take the left option, which involves a slight scramble up a bank, where the path becomes narrow and less well defined.

    It climbs towards, but doesn’t reach, the ruins of a beacon tower (烽火塔, fēnghuǒ tǎ), the Wall clearly visible on higher hills to the right. Eventually the Wall plunges down a small valley and has a breach with some new brick. The path will swing towards higher ruinous towers about four towers further on, paralleling the Wall en route and giving lovely views, including one of the top of the Wall, entirely overgrown and with no footpath. At one point the path briefly cuts across a rock face, but this is not tricky.

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    The next fork is at a saddle, and it’s obvious you should swing right towards the Wall and not left in the general direction of an aerial mast, and climb up towards a tower that looks particularly ill-supported and as though it may not stand much longer.

    When the Wall is reached it will be found that the military has kindly put up a notice about accommodation 550m back downhill again (t 133 1328 3209 for details). Turn left and follow the path along the base of the Wall. It’s the perfect invaders’ view, with close-ups of crumbling brick patchworked with lichens in greens, ochres, and greys. But it’s so quiet that a plump tawny fox or other wildlife may be spotted. Sometimes the path has been tidily cut into steps; at other places there are handy tree roots for drops and climbs, and sometimes you shuffle along the stone lip of the base of the Wall.

    Eventually the Wall can be seen zig-zagging impressively to and fro across the horizon ahead at the Jīn Shān Lǐng section, reached when you find broken floodlights. Follow the path as it drops down through saplings and small trees and then turns right through a gap in the Wall and right again along the inside face, up a small jumble of masonry to another hole where it re-enters the Wall and turns right again to climb back on to it. This is about 1½ hours from where you originally descended.

    There are great sweeping views of the Wall leaping about and freestanding beacon towers. After climbing to the next tower (which has a wheelie bin inside) turn around for fabulous views back downwards. Shortly afterwards you may encounter a man brandishing identification, who may demand you buy a Jīn Shān Lǐng ticket. Apparently he pays ¥50,000 a year for the right to catch people entering this way and sell them tickets, so if you’ve acquired one in advance he won’t be impressed and will insist you buy his anyway. This is the official ticket, and at the right price; so pay up.

    You now travel steeply down through interior defensive walls, but by the next tower everything is zhuāngxiū’d (rebuilt nearly from scratch) to perfection. There are often numerous photographers with tripods wanting to capture the afternoon light on the Wall back in the direction from which you’ve come.

    Finally, at a Y-shaped section, descend at the marked exit on the next tower unless continuing to Sīmǎtái (see Jīn Shān Lǐng, below), about 5½ hours altogether after setting off. The car park immediately below is only for the privileged and there’s a further ten-minute walk to the entrance. You can also spend the night here and carry on to Sīmǎtái next day (see below).

    Jin Shan Ling to Simatai

    There have in the past been one-day bus tours from Xuānwǔ Mén, and these might be reinstated (see p.XXX). There are no tour buses here, but several budget hostels offer overpriced minibus trips for around ¥180 (transport only), often with pick-up at Sīmǎtái if you wish to walk along the Wall between them. You can also walk to or from Pánlóng Shān: see above.

    From the turning it’s about about a 45-minute walk to the ticket office, with farm vehicles often waiting to carry you and hoping for outrageous fees. ¥5 or so is plenty. There’s a cableway to take you up to the base of the Wall to the left (east), or there’s a choice of three routes on foot from the ticket office, detailed on the back of the ticket.

    Go straight on to Zhuānduǒ Kǒu (砖垛口), mount the Wall and turn left if you are proceeding to Sīmǎtái (to enjoy most of the length of the rebuilt wall en route) or even turn right to Hòuchuān Kǒu (后川口) and then double back. Alternatively ,if you intend to walk to Pánlóng Shān you may prefer to mount at the lefthandmost (eastern) point and turn right.

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    Going towards Sīmǎtái the Wall is of fairly solid brick construction, the base largely original but the upper portion rebuilt. Get on and turn left to find a left fork to a lookout point and note the two unusual circular freestanding towers. Fork right instead and there’s a steep climb up past internal defensive walls to the top. From here are spectacular views in both directions for several kilometres, the older brick seeming yellowy and the newer more grey, and the Wall looping gracefully higher for extended sections along high ridges. There are plenty of litter bins, precious little litter by Chinese standards, and not many visitors; the loudest sound is birdsong.

    Unrestored sections, reached fairly quickly, are just dilapidated enough to appeal to those with a taste for the Gothic, but not overgrown or dangerous enough to be impassable. Some unreconstructed towers have piles of neatly stacked bricks in them, which suggest that like so many building projects in Běijīng this is in suspension.

    The Chinese still call a broad, well-surfaced road a mǎlù (马路), or ‘horse road’, and this is also applied to broad sections of the Wall. Continuing towards Sīmǎtái, you pas through about 25 towers, depending on exactly where you mounted the Wall. After about 20 mins or so there’s a section where the inner part of the wall has fallen away, revealing how the interior was filled merely with earth and rubble, and you have to walk part way along this tightrope-like section.

    Further on there’s a section where the exterior has fallen away but is still easily passable. The remainder is ruinous but still easily walkable, and inside towers there are red arrows painted to point you in the right direction. There are various obvious short cuts to avoid some steep climbs where both hands and feet will be needed, but these often involve standing on wobbly piles of stones in order to remount the Wall. It’s altogether three hours to Sīmǎtái going fairly gently and including pauses for photography and snacks. You know when you are reaching Sīmǎtái because pestilential peasant souvenir-selling women will appear and dog you until you buy something, after which they will dog you all the more and start asking for fees for being guides.

    The Wall suddenly becomes well-repaired and as broad as an autobahn again, and a little later there’s a sign for Sīmǎtái that reminds you to ‘please pay consciously’, an indication that they’ll take a second entrance fee from you if they can. The last section of walk is along the interior face of the Wall—look for narrow paths to your right to avoid paying to cross the chain bridge unless you plan to continue eastwards, or cross it anyway for a final steep climb up to the Sīmǎtái entrance. NB: At the time of writing Sīmǎtái remains closed for assorted construction, but it is possible to dismount here.

    Near the ticket office at Jīn Shān Lǐng you pass the Jǐn Shān Bīnguǎn (0314 883 0222,, with assorted rooms from ¥260 to ¥400 (but will accept ¥180) in new sìhéyuàn, mock Mongolian yurt, and conventional hotel style.

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    Simatai has reopened, though the eastern section that one could formerly walk to several years ago, is not open. The entrance fee for Simatai Wall that is open is stil RMB 40 if you are just going to the Wall, but the catch is that you must make a reservation at least a day in advance. A quasi-commercial concern took over operation of the Simatai site (and built the "Gubei Water Town" money-snarfing attraction at the entrance of it) and to walk-up visitors without a reservation, they charge RMB 160 for both the Wall and the Water Town, with no option to forego the latter. A very sneaky setup, indeed.

    Also, the traditional Jinshanling to Simatai walk can no longer be accomplished. The operator zealously guards the approach coming from Jinshanling. You can walk most of the distance but will have to exit the wall west of Simatai. They also prevent walkers starting from Simatai from proceeding towards Jinshanling. Just keep this in mind when reading older descriptions/blogs from pre-2010.

    Parts of the Jiankou GW (including part of the Jiankou-Mutianyu hike) benefit by going with a small group or having a guide or fellow hiker or somebody along who knows where they are going....also for safety reasons since there are parts where a misstep could turn very ugly. Not recommended to go solo.

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