Leave only footprints

I had long been anticipating hiking the wall this fall.  We had debated going back in September, but were told by some co-workers to wait until the leaves start changing.

We  wanted to stray away from visiting  the more touristy section of the Great Wall which is called Badaling. Badaling can be accessed by a simple hour train ride outside of the city but that was simply too easy for us.  One of Billy’s co-workers recommended we head to the Jiankou section of the wall. This section is  a bit more remote, a little more challenging, and less populated by people so it was exactly what we were looking for.  After doing some research, we hopped on  the subway,  took one bus, then another bus and then one more bus to reach our destination. In total, we traveled two hours from our apartment.  At the end of this post are the exact directions of how to get there.

Our good friend Will joined us along the journey. We accessed the Jiankou wall through a village called xizhazi. This village is a perfect jumping off point for anyone wanting to access the wall through the south side. When we were on the last bus, a Chinese man asked if we were planning on hiking around the area and I told him we were. Then he pulled out his phone and stared speaking very quickly in Chinese, too quickly for me to understand anything except “three foreigners are coming”.

When we got off the bus it was freezing and  a little woman was standing  outside of the bus and she was motioning us to come with her.  I went with my gut and assumed it was the woman who the man on the bus had called. We followed her for a while, making small conversation in Chinese. We told her that we were there to climb Changcheng which is the Great Wall in Chinese.  We followed her for another ten or fifteen minutes and then she pointed to the right. There was a big red arrow painted along a wall. This was the way to the wall, or so we thought. Billy, Will and I hiked for about forty minutes until we reached the peak of this little mountain. We were sure that there would be a path that would lead us to the wall, but we were out of luck. We retraced our steps and went down the way we came.  We decided to head back into the village and see if we could find someone who could lead us in the right direction.

We were walking through a corn field and there smack dab in the middle of the field was a sight I didn’t expect. Two Chinese men, very professionally dressed, were standing there talking, holding leather bags and wearing shiny shoes.  And coming towards them were three Waigouren. We asked them if they knew of anyone in the village who could drive us to the correct base of the great wall. One man whipped out his phone and made a quick call. Once again, he was speaking too quickly to understand and all i heard was “car” and “ three people”. We followed him back into the village and lo and behold there was an open van with a man standing outside smoking a cigarette. We agreed on a price for the man to take us to the base of the Jiankou wall. We graciously thanked the man who had helped us and I’m still curious as  to what he was doing in that field…

Once we reached the base of the wall, it was clear we were in the right place because there was a sign that said ” leave only footprints”.  Before long we were climbing the stones which have existed for over six hundred years. The part of the wall we hiked hadn’t been restored very much, but that made the experience that much more authentic. Parts of this section are very steep and at times we were literally using our hands and feet to summit some towers. There was wild grass growing on some parts of the wall and the views were stunning. Below are a few pictures.

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It started to rain quite heavily so we decided to descend the wall. Soaked to the bone, we negotiated a price for the van driver to take us back to the suburbs of Beijing. In a span of one hour, our driver smoked no less than seven cigarettes. All in all, it was a great day!

Directions to the Jiankou Section of the Wall

Chinese name: 箭扣长城 (Jiankou Changcheng).
Location: lying in Badaohe Township in the north and Bohai Town in the south, Huairou County, Beijing City.
Ticket: CNY20.
Opening time: 07:00-17:00.
Best time for visit: June to October.
How to get there: take bus No.916 at Dongzhimen Coach Station (东直门长途汽车站) in Beijing and get off at Yangjiayuan (杨家园) of Huairou County (怀柔), then go to the Yujiayuan Coach Station (于家园车站) and take a bus to Xizhazi Village (西栅子村), which is the base of board and lodging for most travelers to Jiankou Great Wall. Please note that the buses from Huairou to Xizhazi leave at 11:30 and 16:30, and the buses from Xizhazi to Huairou leave at 06:30 and 13:00.

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