The Great Wall is an icon in China, one of those cultural legacies that is a symbol of national pride. And its on everyone’s list to visit when they come to China. (There are over 435 thousand photos on Flickr as of this posting of the Wall). There are photos of the wall packed with tourists on every step. I like experiencing the amazing and the popular but I really like avoiding the crowds. I’ve found with a little bit of research you can find ways to experience the popular without the populous. That is one of the things I love about my Dawn Patrol outings is that the early hour alone almost guarantees some solitude; solace from the crowds.
When I first started researching the Great Wall for my trip in 2007 I was told the place everyone visited was Badaling. I’ve visited the Wall 4 times but have yet to go to Badaling. For Kyle and Eric’s visit I planned on retracing my hike in 2007, from Jinshanling to Simatai, however a couple of people told me that the Simatai section was closed for repairs so I scrambled to come up with an alternative. Robert suggested we check out Gubeikou and so I did a bit of research and found there was a route we could hike from from Gubuikou (Ancient Northern Gate : 古北口) to Jinshanling (Golden Mountains : 金山岭).
The most useful site by far is the Great Wall Forum, they had a great set of directions for GuBeiKou. I made interactive route on Google Maps and here are my directions : take the first lane to the right after leaving the main part of town : 40.69861,117.15833 on Google Maps. Head up that lane, take the right fork and when the road ends (40.69847,117.16292) by a bunch of pig pens on the right you’ll see a path on your right hands side. These leads up to the ridge where you’ll find the “dirt stump” of the wall devoid of bricks.
This hike gives you an opportunity to experience the wall ravaged by time and man. Bricks have been borrowed by the local villages for use in building. Gradually the mud wall begins to take shape as the wall emerges and soon you pass the old stump of one of the watch towers that dot the wall. Before long your on the wall proper and the towers are more pronounced. As we walked along the ridge line of the Wall the sun came up and lit up the day. The sun warmed the yellow walls of an ancient tower. The crisp air numbed our fingers and felt good on the lungs.
The only other “tricky” part is after several kilometers you’ll come to a section of the wall is an off limits Military Section, you stay north of the wall at the obvious sign prohibiting continuing on the wall. Make your way down into the valley and follow the path through corn fields and along the valley contouring the wall (it will pretty much always be within sight) until you come to a ridge where you turn right (south) to get back up next to the north side of the Wall. The trail leads along the Wall until you can climb back on once your past the military section. When we hiked the trail someone had spray painted blue dots on the rocks pointing out the trail. Except for that final ridge where you head north back up to the wall. At this point the blue dots indicated we should go straight, when we turned right.
The Great Wall Forum has coordinates and more information about the Military Section. Thanks to the blue dots we had no trouble navigating the path, though we also went when there was no vegetation to speak of yet. With a full field of tall corn it might be a different experience. I really enjoyed the walk through the valley; it gave you a chance to see the farmland and you pass by an old abandoned traditional home that you can explore.
We saw no one the entire time on our hike until we reached JinShanLing where there were a few people spread out over the last few towers until the exit where we walked down to the parking lot where we met our driver and returned home. All in all we hiked 7 miles and it took us around 5 and half hours.