Lost on the Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China is amazing. But my visit turned into a nightmare experience after a guide had taken us to a totally special part of the Wall.

A friend and I were in Beijing. He organized our outing to the Wall together with one of the guides that hang around outside the Forbidden City. It felt great to travel in your own car, avoid having to fit in with a group and to be able to see a part of the Wall that wasn’t as touristy.

Our guide dropped us off at the edge of a forest. He pointed the way and said:
“OK. Go up there. You will reach the Wall in about an hour or so. Then, walk 2-3km along the Wall where I will meet you again and drive you back to Beijing.”

“Sounds good,” we said and looked forward to a couple of hours walking.

It was 36 degrees Celsius, which the humidity made it feel like 41 degrees, so we were dressed in beachwear in principle. Plus, we had 1.5 liters of water to share between us.

It started with a small path. That then became steeper and steeper. It happened gradually and as it was very thorny, we simply focused on where we were treading our feet. After an hour, we tried to make our way up a 70–80-degree incline. Rock climbing in other words. Without equipment, proper clothing or enough water. You may think I’m exaggerating but the most dangerous passages were the 2–3m sideways climbs with a 50–100m sheer drop behind you. A bit like edging your way between windows on the 55th floor of a skyscraper. One of the most dangerous things I’ve ever done.

The reason why we continued was because the guide had said it would be easier once we had reached the Wall. That was so not the case. After climbing for about 2.5 hours we reached the ruin that was the Great Wall of China. We read later that this particular part of the Wall has not been renovated and was for advanced climbers and mountaineers only. Not tourists in beachwear.

We struggled on as it wasn’t far to go to the place where the guide was supposed to wait for us. After another 1.5 hours, we started to realize that maybe there wouldn’t be any rendezvous with a guide. There was about three hours of daylight left and we were very dehydrated. So, we swallowed the last swig of water and decided to turn back. A wise decision. If we had continued, we would have had another 1.5 days climbing to do, for experienced climbers, to the next point where you could get off.

We came down at about the same time it became dark. After drinking the most delicious liters of water I’ve ever drunk and “discussed” the walk with our guide, he admitted he had dropped us off at completely the wrong place.

Nightmare climb or not. It was a fantastic opportunity to experience an entirely deserted part of the Great Wall. I would love to see this construction that dates back thousands of years, high up on a mountain top at sunset again. But in which case, with a mountain guide, tent and proper equipment.

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Sunset high up on a deserted part of the Great Wall of China. Hard to beat.

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Maybe this post says it all... But if you're looking for a serious guide in China: Don't pick one of those who lurks around outside the Forbidden City! 

Experience of the week:

When we got back to Beijing late in the evening, we had a foot massage in the Atmosphere on the 78th floor. Heartily recommended.

November 01, 2018

Secret Traveler

Age: 31
EuroBonus level: Diamond
No. of times around the world by air: 20
Total time in the air per year: 1,6 weeks (3%)
No. of countries visited: 34
Most frequent destinations: ARN, LHR/LCY, OSL, DPS
Favorite destination: The Ligurian coast
Never leaves home without: Noise Canceling Headphones (Bose QC35) and Passport

I’m an entrepreneur in Europe with the entire world as my workplace. It’s lucky I love traveling as I spend much of my working day on the move as well as my leisure time - there’s so much to see and new people to meet.

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