I’ll tell you now, before I get into my post, that this post has a LOT of pictures. I hope you enjoy my journey along the top of the Great Wall of China!
To pick up where my last post left off, after we hung up with Kevin we wandered around the Beijing Olympic Stadium for a while. The tour company called us several times, asking if we wanted them to come get us, where we were, what had upset us (haha, that one was funny) and if we could work out a deal. We weren’t about to tell them where we were and we definitely didn’t want to attempt another ride with them, so we just kept waiting on Kevin to call us back. And goofing off. I mean, even if we’re somewhat stranded in the middle of Beijing and a bit stressed out from our day going so crazy, we can still have fun, right?
After about an hour Kevin called us and said he’d found someone who could take us to the Great Wall. The price would be 600RMB and there would be no superfluous stops along the way. We were ecstatic to have a ride to the Wall, regardless of the price increase, and quickly went to where he said his friend would meet us. He was there when we got there and within minutes we were on our way. I feel terrible that none of us remember his name, but I think part of it was that we were all so frazzled and stressed about the morning’s events. He was really nice, so I’m sure he will forgive us.
From this point on, though, almost everything went just the way we wanted it to. Kevin’s friend was really great. He drove us straight to the Great Wall and chatting with us along the way. He was very nice and very friendly and, most importantly, didn’t try to con us out of any money. After an hour of driving and feeling more relaxed than we had all day, we arrived at the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall.
While the Great Wall was first begun around 700 BC, the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall was built during the 6th century AD. After a few hundred years it began to crumble and in 1569 this section of the wall was repaired with some parts being entirely rebuilt. On the east lies the Gubeikou section and on the west is the Juyongguan Pass. Of all the sections of the Great Wall, the Mutianyu section is the best-preserved, most unique and had the largest scale of construction, though it is one of the lesser-visited areas.
After a quick lunch and figuring out a game plan, we took off to ascend the Great Wall. We’d considered climbing the stairs up to the top, but there are over 4,000 of them. As in-shape as we are, 4,000 steps in a row is a lot and we didn’t want to wear ourselves out before we’d seen anything. What’s the point of using all of our energy getting up the wall and then not having any left to explore it? So, up the chair lift we went and got to see our first view of the Wall.
The first thing I noticed about the wall when we got to the top is how level it is not. You’d think the Great Wall would be flat with gentle grades, but it’s really quite steep at some parts. Honestly, by the end of the day I was thinking they should change the name from The Great Wall of China to The Great Staircase of China. Seems more fitting, considering how many steps you have to climb.The entirety of the Great Wall, including branch-offs, spans roughly 13,171 miles. The Mutianyu section is the longest section of the Great Wall and runs about 14 miles in length. No, we did not walk the entire thing. lol. The section we visited is flanked by two “no-tourist” areas, so it is only 1.5 miles in length. But that’s a little misleading because if you take the chairlift up, it deposits you a little over a quarter of a mile from the end. If you want to walk the entire thing, you have to go all the way to the right for about .3 miles and then go the full 1.5 miles the way to the other end. If you choose to go down the tobaggan ride just past the end (the tower just before the wall cuts left and goes straight up), that’s another .06 miles, so in reality you end up doing 1.86 miles if you go from one end to the other. We decided to go back down where we came up, so including the 1.2 mile backtracking, we did about 3 miles overall. It wasn’t too bad. A bit hot, but we had hats and plenty of water, so we were fine. In addition to the main wall, there are various offshoot sections that have not been repaired and are off limits to tourists. Some you can walk down and others you can’t.
Someone wanted to make sure the world knew they were here. Vandalism? Or a 6th century version of writing your name in cement?Overall there are 23 watchtowers that dot the top of the Wall. They are spaced roughly 328 feet (100 meters) apart.
The interior of the watchtowers seems sparse now, but I imagine there were tables, wall hangings, cots, a warm fire, maybe a rug or two and other bits of comfort for those who had to live here.The neverending stairs of the Great Wall of China. Seriously. There were more stair sections than flat sections on the wall.When I see how dense the forest is around the Wall, it makes me wonder why anyone would want to attack through this area and how people on the wall could see the attackers in the forest. Maybe that’s why this section is the best preserved? It had the fewest number of attackers and therefore the least damage?Getting to the top of the watchtowers isn’t too hard. While it’s possible to walk across the slant to get up there, they’ve blocked that part off so you can only go up via the stairs inside the watchtower.This is Zheng Guan Tai Pass. This layout of three towers, as well as the interior connection of the towers, is something that is only seen at this section of the wall. For some reason, I didn’t get any shots of the actual pass itself, just shots with the pass off to the side. Oh well. It’s not a terrible shot.The hidden red door! We climbed down an area that I don’t think we were supposed to and found this red door. Not sure where it goes, but I thought it was kinda cool. Perhaps it’s a magical door that takes people to Narnia! Now I’m sad we didn’t try to open it. 🙁 One thing I found curious about the wall was the shift and tilt. It would be flat one moment and then sharply angled within a few steps. With as masterful as the Chinese are with their buildings, I’m sure this wasn’t an accident or the result of careless construction. Can’t find anything about it online, so I’m curious about why the level of the wall changes so much.Looking back at where we started. We began at a landing just to the right of where I took this picture and then climbed up to the watchtower at the top of the hill before turning around and coming back towards the opposite end. It’s about .3 miles from this point to the far tower.Far off remnants of fortification branches.One of the interesting facts I learned about the Great Wall is that the Mutianyu section was designed with defensive fortifications on both sides of the wall. The battlements have merlons (crenellated parapets) and arrow loops on both the interior and exterior of the watchtowers and the ramparts.Signal towers dot the mountains near the wall.Seeing the views from the watchtowers, I think I would have been okay with living there.The Mutianyu section of the Great Wall was built mainly with granite instead of the brick, tile, limestone and rammed earth that make up other parts of the wall. This is one of the reasons that it is the best-preserved section of the Wall.This is more of what I had imagined the top of the wall to be like: smooth and flat with sloping curves. Not the mountain of stairs we ended up climbing. Interestingly, the Wall varies between 23-26 feet high and 13-17 feet wide. I had expected it to be tall (which it is), but hadn’t expected it to be so wide. It’s wide enough that two small cars could drive past each other in some parts! Almost to the end! The tower in the upper left corner is where we turned around and went back. We could have gotten down off the wall by that watchtower, but we wanted to go back down by where our driver was waiting for us. Sometimes it felt like the Wall was never going to end. lol
The mountains in this area are just beautiful. I would love to go back in the fall and see how fiery the mountains become when the leaves change colors. So close! And this was the end. The last tower of our journey. If we pressed on and went through the tower, we would have ended up at an area where people could ride down to the bottom of the mountain. But that’s not what we wanted to do, so we turned around and trekked back to where we started. With all of our stops for pictures and such, it took us about two and a half hours from the time we got off the chair lifts until we reached this tower.
On the way back to the start, we came across this sign. It reads: Founded in 1404, number 14 tower was [a] border command post at that time. Though these tower[s] were in different shapes, such as a broad bedroom in the middle, its circumference was surrounded by corridors–. gyrus shaped is the common feature.” According to Miriam-Webster online, a gyrus is “a convoluted ridge between anatomical grooves”. Anyone want to take a guess at what the sign is trying to say? We also went down to explore this tower. It looked like all the rest of them. lol No clue what this sign means. Google has come up empty.Almost back to the beginning. In the cradle of the mountains you can see a valley with a small village in it. That is Mutianyu Village and before the Wall became a popular tourist destination, this village was struggling. Even though the Mutianyu section is one of the lesser-visited sections, there are enough tourists here each year to keep the village solvent. There’s even a resort there now. I can’t find anything out about this guy, but he is pretty cool. And, of course, while we were there we had to have photos of us at the Wall. This one was at the beginning when we walked to the end closest to where the chair lifts dropped us off. I’m only a little bit sweaty at this point. Gah. I am SOOOOOO glad Troy doesn’t have this awful goatee anymore. The one he has now is trimmed and well-kept. This was about halfway from the end where our first picture was taken to the far peak where we could go no further. As you can see, I’m very VERY sweaty. lol. It was August and very hot with high humidity. We were very happy we had lots of water in our backpacks.Getting up the Wall we rode a chair lift. We could have done that on the way down, but decided it would be so much more fun if we rode the tobagan!
I took this video of my ride down the slide. Towards the end you can hear me yell at someone to slow down. There were two Germans riding down behind me and they hadn’t heeded the instruction to wait a certain amount of time before going down after me and almost ran into me several times. I kept trying to go faster, but my brake was partway stuck and I couldn’t get it to disengage all the way, so I wasn’t going as fast as I would have liked, but I certainly wasn’t going super slow. You can see in the video at one point where I have it pushed all the way forward, but still was not going super fast.
Overall, the Great Wall was a wonderful trip. The heat and the craziness at the beginning of the day made it a bit less-than-perfect, but things turned around and we had a really good time there.
How to Get to Mutianyu Great Wall
- Bus 867
- Departs from Dongzhimen at 7:00am and 8:30am
- Departs Mutianyu Great Wall Parking Lot 3 at 2:00pm and 4:00pm for Dongzhimen
- Tour Company
- Don’t use the one we used. The card with their information is at the top of the other post.
- There are many people around Beijing that advertise Great Wall tours. I have no advice on how to pick a good one since we ended up with an awful one.
Peak Season 7:00am-6:30pm
Low Season 7:30am-5:30pm
Entrance fee: CNY 45
Cable Car One Way: CNY 60
Cable Car Round Trip: CNY 80
Toboggan One Way: CNY 60
Toboggan Round Trip: CNY 80
- We spent about four and a half hours at the Great Wall. Our pace was moderate, but we did stop and take a lot of pictures.
- Bring extra water with you. There are people who sell bottled water, alcohol and soft drinks on the Wall, but it’s at twice the price as in Beijing.
- Bring a hat and sensible shoes. During the summer it’s hot, the rocks are hot and the ground isn’t level.
- Bring snacks. There are snack vendors on top of the Wall, but they jack up the prices, too. There are only a few food vendors at the base of the Wall and they close early, so you may have to wait until you get back to Beijing for a real meal.
- An umbrella might be a good idea if being in the sun for extended periods is difficult for you.
- Don’t forget your camera!