The real Great Wall, and how to get there

The girl in the photo is my girlfriend, in the process of slowly freezing to death on the Great Wall. We were stuck in a snowstorm with the nearest hikers miles away. And that path? Yep, it’s as narrow as it looks, and I’m not exaggerating here, but one slip, and you’ll be falling a few hundred meters down straight cliffs.

Yet that hike at Simatai has been one of the most fun adventures we’ve taken. Why? We got to experience the real wall (which is rapidly crumbling), avoided the masses of tourists (see this ridiculous shot at Badaling, the most over-touristed section of the wall), and the climb was actually strenuous in parts.

We had such a blast that we returned to the wall a few months later, this time to Jiankou (translated as the “arrowhead”), the steepest section of the 3,000 mile Great Wall. Here, we camped in one of the watch-towers for a night, which I’m sure is not exactly legal, and hiked an untouched part of the wall that has been almost covered with dense vegetation. Here’s some info about hiking to Simatai and Jiankou. Backpackers in Beijing and hostels will also have more info for you (it’s a bit strange that Westerners will actually know more about the “wild” Great Wall than the local Chinese).

This gallery has photos from both trips.