In the Spring of 2004, after years of preparation, I took a two-week hiking trip to the Great Wall of China.
















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After learning quite a bit about the history and the construction of the Great Wall, it became apparent that going to see it for myself would be more than worthwhile. I had a lot of preparation to do, and planning was a major part of it. I planned to go for a long time. The plan developed as follows.

I was not sure how difficult the terrain would be or what kind of pace I could sustain. I wanted to be able to make my own choices. I decided to go by myself rather than as a part of a group. This made everything much more challenging, but it eliminates compromise. I am very glad I did it.

The reason for proceeding from east to west is because the two places I most wanted to see are in the far northeast of Beijing - Simatai and Jinshanling. I could not resist going there first. So I went directly from the airport to the Simatai Great Wall.

For a while, I had doubts about carrying everything in my pack and not having a "base camp". But after diligent work at reducing the weight of my pack, I decided to try it. Of course, using hotels instead of camping helps a lot.

Physical preparation:

I had to get into good physical shape to climb the Great Wall day after day. I regularly exercised for longer and longer times to condition my heart. I strengthened my legs by climbing up and down all of the stairs I could find and by exercising on a stepper machine. I also had to learn and practice eating with chopsticks.


I had to learn all about the Great Wall, not only its history, but logistics and accessibility. It's surprising how difficult this information is to come by in English. For example, try to find a map of the Jinshanling Great Wall, on the Internet or anywhere else. I later changed that by establishing The Great Wall Forum. I ended up with what may be the world's best Great Wall book collection. I studied spoken Mandarin Chinese so I could at least speak and understand enough to get by. I didn't make any serious attempt to learn to read and write, although I did learn a few characters. And I tried to learn enough about Chinese customs and culture in order to not offend anyone too greatly.

The Result:

A lot of planning is supposed to result in a minimum of surprises. What surprised me the most on my Great Wall Trek? The danger! It's hard to tell in pictures just how steep and slippery the Great Wall is. Some of my goals, such as walking from Mutianyu to Jiankou, were out of the question. Here is an example why. In fact, the correct term is not walking, but climbing. The Great Wall follows mountain ridges, but I did not realize just how high and steep these mountains really are. And the condition of the surface in many places is extremely rough. I was constantly questioning my own judgment and noticing I was becoming desensitized to the danger. Going down some of the long, steep, crumbling inclines, with nothing to hold onto, really got my attention. The steps are tall in some places and tiny in others, and the height and depth of each step varies. And since the wall itself is about 25 feet high, getting up and down from it can be very difficult. And vegetation atop the wall makes the going even more challenging. There is a big difference in the ease and safety of the restored sections of the Great Wall such as Badaling, but it's still steep and strenuous.


In search of the lightest possible load, it was necessary to find or prepare some equipment, including the following:

Golite / TNF modified hybrid rucksack (20 ounces)

Flexible water containers

Lightweight hiking shoes


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