Near death experience on the great wall!


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Asia » China » Beijing » Great Wall of China
July 5th 2015
Published: September 9th 2015
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2600ft above sea level. Clinging onto a rock with a steep drop below us and the worlds longest man-made structure right in front of us. Chris already with a badly swollen knee, P in survival mode and a Chinese lad (we should really know the name of) completely terrified. Anxiety levels sky high, adrenaline pumping and all wondering how in the world did we get ourselves in such a predicament. Visiting the Great Wall of China should be a joyous and momentous occasion for any visitor. To physically stand on history and be in awe of its enormity. Somehow in our pursuit for that we ended up almost at the complete opposite end of that spectrum.

However lets start at the beginning:

Beijing - home to 30million people and 6 UNESCO world heritage sites (Egypt has 7). With only 2 days here we needed to hit the ground running to be able to see the sites on our lists. Obviously we couldn't do everything so limited ourselves to a few of the must sees. Both excited and apprehensive about visiting Beijing.

Following a 9hr overnight train ride we arrived in Beijing at 5:10am. Wasting no time we found our hostel, checked in, freshened up and dumped our bags. We were out by 7am. Our first stop was The Great Wall not before a quick breakfast of dumplings, some twisted donut thing and a coffee (all we've drank since arriving in china).

Not wanting to be on the crowded sections of the wall and also willing to work for our views, we opted to hike up. After some research we found the perfect route albeit not an easy one to get to.

Challenge accepted.

Once we had climbed the 2 hour trail up. Our plan was to hike for 3-4 hours from the un-restored Jiankou side to the popular restored Mutianyu section and maybe even slide down the toboggan. First off we had to catch a bus to an area called Heirou. From here we could either wait 2 hours for another bus or negotiate a taxi to take us to the town of Jiankou. The second bus we intended to catch did not start running until 11:30.

Two hours before the first would arrive, taxi it was then. After asking many taxis and random mini bus drivers we managed to get a private taxi for ¥80 to Jiankou. For some reason the taxi driver decided not to take us to the easier Jiankou hike but to another entrance point directly on the other side of the mountain much more difficult.

We walked through a fish farm and restaurant and up some stairs before getting to the begining of the Jiankou hike. At the entrance around 10am there was a table where we were asked to put our details in a log book. No money was required to enter this part. On entrance we were greeted by a automated loud speaker - we'd read about this somewhere so at least we were on the right track. The path was quite rocky as we scrambled over boulders following parts of a well trodden path and little red or yellow ribbons tied around some branches that led the way. We passed a small number of families and tour groups on our way up, not wanting to stay stuck behind them we kept up our pace till we could no longer hear them. The sun was getting hotter, the skies were a clear blue and we were thankful of the shade provided by the forest surrounding us.

About half way through we bumped into a few more people, one of them a girl of Chinese decent currently living in the US. We briefly spoke, as she told us she was carrying on as the 2 older guys she was with had threw the towel in and were heading back down. She was like spider-man as she scrambled up the steep hill.

Not far behind we followed her up the steep slope...this is probably our 2nd error of the day. At this point we should have consulted our GPS app. The climb was getting us nervous and weary. Because of all the land slides that had happened here all the ground was lose and as the climb was steep every move was unnerving. Making sure we had a firm grip was nearly impossible. We followed her down a small slope and up another before she disappeared into the distance.

At one point P had placed her foot on a loose rock the size of a football and the rock tumbled downhill. Luckily she was able to still hold on.

The rock bounced down gathering momentum changing direction at the last minute slamming straight into Chris's knee. Chris shouted he was hurt and for a short while he could not move. Inside we both panicked. However after the pain slowly dissipated and with nothing broken, Chris said he felt good enough to carry on. We both definitely needed to be more careful with our steps.

The hike became steeper and steeper until it was just like a sandy slope. Instead of sand though it was stream of loose stones with a few stable rocks here and there and tree branches randomly located next to the side walls. All the rocks we tried to grip crumpled. There were times we just clung on using the tree branches to pull ourselves upwards trying not to set any stones tumbling behind us. We started to panic both of us. P admitted that we had made an error but was unsure on whether we should turn back as it was likely more unsafe going downwards than up to the top and down another route.

Further up the hill we could see small stones and dust falling. We knew it must have been the girl further up ahead. This turned into a huge landslide of falling rocks. Gripping the trees at the side of the trail for dear life P screamed seeing that Chris was right in the path of these falling rocks smashing tumbling down the mountain and adding more to its journey along the way.

Chris still trying to find suitable footing was unable to find a firm grip to move himself. Within seconds however he was able to move across to the side, stable himself and move our of the way of the huge falling rocks. Missing a hit by inches, we were both in shock. We wanted to head back down but it seemed just as dangerous. We sat there for about 10mins calming our breathing down trying to figure out what to do next. We were scared for our lives and panicked more than ever before. Looking back down the slope a group of 4 people below were coming up the same way. We looked at our offline map. It was only 170ft to the Great Wall. Not wanting to be behind them at the mercy of more falling lose rocks we decided we'll continue our climb being mindful not to set any loose stones rolling behind us.

We could see the wall in sight. The slope upwards was incredibly steep. We were climbing vertically by hands and feet on scree.

Chris now in front was able to pull himself to a sturdy area. P however was unable to pull herself up or find a suitable hand hold that would not crumple in her hands. Chris couldn't safely come back to help without putting himself in danger. Luckily one of the guys in the group behind us was able to give a little push helping P to get a decent hand hold as she was slipping. Thank god for this guy.

Finally we made it to the wall. It looked like a good few cannon balls had went straight through it. It was a relief to arrive but then it didn't even feel safe. A gentle touch to the side walls could have set it falling down so you certainly did not want to use the side walls to help navigate the uneven ground. A lot of it was just reduced to rubble only held up by the the granite bedrock.

Still shook up, P wanted to get to safer ground immediately and was certain she did not want to go down the same trail. No way whatsoever. We value our lives. Taking pictures became secondary. Don't get us wrong the view was stunning, the wall stretched on for miles and miles along the mountain ridge. How was it even possible for men to build this so high up?

We bumped into the Chinese american girl who was also shaken up by the climb and wanted to get to safe ground immediately.

After sitting down for a moment and drinking some water, Chris was able to calm P down a little. She was really panicked at first but managed to get her head together especially if we were to make it back down. We shuffled (on our bottoms at times) along the crumbling wall towards the path we should have taken and the path we initially wanted to take from Jiankou. We could not believe it! What made it worse was that our treacherous trek took us 2 hours whilst our intended trek only took 30mins, even though it was steep it was well paved for half of it. After we were a little more relaxed we did eventually manage to take some pictures on the wall and appreciate the views. We even enjoyed ourselves.

We were now faced with 3 options: Either proceed to Mutianyu for the toboggan, go down the 30min path and catch a taxi or go down the path we should have came up back to where we started and catch a bus.

Speaking to someone others who was intending to do the trek to Mutianyu we told ourselves to man up. After all we were shaken by following others up a wrong very dangerous path. Many people make this trek we hear even Children do. That's what we came for right? Plus we still had time. 3rd error.

Somehow we got talking to a young Chinese guy who was visiting the wall on his own. He too wanted to trek to Mutianyu but was scared to go by himself. We asked if he wanted to come with us and he agreed. First off we had to go back along the wall, the way we came. Up and down slightly steep I mean terrifyingly steep rubble, some parts cemented over to make safe other parts not. We shuffled carefully back to the opening where we came through. To get to Mutianyu we had to continue climbing the damaged stretch of the wall around with one ascent a vertical 20m high!! It was a straight climb and if that wasn't bad the rocks were not stable under your grip. Neither of us felt comfortable with this at all. Chris spotted a path along the right hand side of it as P recalled reading something about short-cut to avoid a steep climb. We followed this path for about 5 minutes along the side of the wall in hope that it would lead back onto it.

Clambering over rocks again we got to a part where there was a steep narrow drop between the rocks. We successfully navigated over this gap and were faced with a steep rock climb upwards towards the wall. We knew this would be impossible for us. Behind was a steep drop, one wrong step and you could either die or seriously injure yourself. We had to turn back. This brings us to the beginning of our story which you can carry on in part 2...


Additional photos below
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9th September 2015
The part we were too scared to climb

Too scared!
I'm not surprised you were too scared to climb this, it's nearly vertical and looks really crumbly. I also wonder how the heck did they manage to build it?
9th September 2015
The part we were too scared to climb

Too Scared
Too scared. - I'm happy that you agree. Makes me feel more justified that I was a trembling mess. The way the rock crumbled was the scariest part as you had to quickly move your grip. I will also never forget the landslide of rocks... Saying all of this I would do it again but would either have a guide or pay far much more attention in following the right path and not others 😟 Ps. I also thought of the people building this as we climbed up. The danger the people must have been in is unthinkable.
9th September 2015

Most Unforgetable Travel Adventure
As i read through your article, I can imagine the excitement, the difficulties and the horrifying experience you have in China. But then you always have to consider that when you travel there's always a possibility of endangering yourself in any situation no matter how safe you think you are. Be prepared at all times and never take your safety for granted wherever you might want to be. Good thing is you were able to survive that experience and I'm sure that would leave a mark in you as long as you will hear the word Great Wall of China.
9th September 2015

Most unforgettable travel adventure
We certainly will have flashbacks when that term 'Great Wall' is ever used. When reading over this blog, I did question whether we were too careless in getting to the point we did. A little yes. Although after 7 months of travel we would completely agree with your comment when you say that while travelling we are always at risk of danger even when danger does not cross our minds. We would be tad safer in an all inclusive resort but that simply is not us. We like to see the world find our own adventure. Thanks for your thought provoking comment Amy.
9th September 2015
Breath taking views

Experts in the Wild China!
You two are the most amazing climbers and adventurers--I remember you on vertical, limestone karsts, so if you were scared here, then it was really dangerous. Amazing that the path wasn't better marked since families were going up there, and they probably didn't have GPS. And thank goodness the flying rock his Chris' knee and not his head--I imagine it would be difficult to get a Chinese rescue team up there. Sorry you had to turn back in the end, but glad you did--I want to read more of your blogs!
10th September 2015
Breath taking views

Experts in Wild China
Thanks Tara. Afterwards our minds were filled with what ifs as well. Luckily the worse did not materalise although when we were mid way up missing that landslide we were both panicked. Not wanting to move an inch but acknowledgong like you said that we had little chance of rescue. Our safety was in our own hands. We had to make it to the top to find the correct way down. Not an experience we ever want to repeat!! Tells a good story however. One will will never forget.
9th September 2015

Jiankou Great Wall
A harrowing story indeed. Really surprised the sections of the Great Wall you traversed were not closed but seeing one of the signs in your pics maybe it was. Gotta say accessing the wall from villages is the way to go but if you get a taxi driver who takes you to the wrong part your lives are then in your hands. A travel story that will remain with you always so having survived the memories are the bright side. Great yarn and pics to back it up.
9th September 2015
Are we crazy?

Awesome
Yep you were crazy
10th September 2015

A few close calls!
That sounds seriously scary. And in answer to your question on one of the photos - yes you two are crazy, but in a good way :) Hope Part 2 of this story isn't far off...
10th September 2015

A few close calls
I think we were. Lol. We do try to maintain some sensibility when travelling but I guess in search of the Great 'unrestored' wall all that sense got little lost. We should be able to upload the next one later. Not too much more to the story luckily 😅
10th September 2015

This is the most amazing story I've read about visiting the Great Wall...
You guys are nuts! I'm waiting for Part II.
10th September 2015

Craziest experience.
Got to say we was not prepared for such an adventure ourselves. Especially straight off the night train. One we will all remember I'm sure!

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