Welcome to part 2 of my Great Wall Adventures! Part 1 covered 1983-2004. This post covers 2006-2013…
Mutianyu 慕田峪长城, July 2006
My next trip was with another visitor. My friends Amanda and Andrew were living in Beijing that year, and our friend Nick came to visit – a few years later he moved to Beijing, where he met his wife, so he’s still here! Anyway, I had heard about a cool section past the last tower on the eastern end of Mutianyu, so the boys and I went hardcore up to the top point, then kept going. It was a hot, muggy day and we were literally dripping sweat. The un-reconstructed section past the last tower was totally overgrown with trees, shrubs, and grasses. Often the side walls had missing chunks, so that we could stand on the edge overlooking the mountains without anything to stop us falling off. We were definitely careful about where we put our feet, especially with all the overgrowth to hide sudden gaps. We bush-bashed through to a small fort with an awesome view. It was an incredible experience – unforgettable.
Laolongtou 老龙头, May 2009
Laolongtou means “old dragon head” and is the name for the final fort on the section of the wall leading East from Shanhaiguan. Laolongtou actually goes out into the Bohai Sea – the name is given because it supposedly looks like a dragon drinking. I visited Laolongtou when some youth leaders and I took a group of grade 11 and 12 students to Qinhuangdao 秦皇岛 for a weekend near the end of the school year. (Qinhuangdao is a beach town about 300km northeast of Beijing). It was SUCH a fun time! One hilarious moment, though, was realising that one section of the reconstructed wall walking down toward the ocean was made of – get this – STYROFOAM. It had been painted grey to match the stone, but it was definitely styrofoam (in the photo below, the left two square show the styrofoam wall). A few of us got the giggles upon realising this, and I took away a small piece of painted styrofoam that had broken off as a souvenir. (The trip was mentioned in I post I wrote at the time – you can read it here).
Dunhuang 敦煌长城, October 2009
Dunhuang is in far western Gansu province, very close to the border with Xinjiang province. I have not been there, but my parents went after we had travelled together through Yunnan and Sichuan provinces. I include it because it shows such a different side of the Great Wall. In every place the wall was constructed from locally available materials. In the desert of western Gansu, that meant mud-brick strengthened with a reeds and other local plants. This also makes it the most fragile section of the wall. Experts believe that within 100 years many these sections may be almost completely eroded away. (I have now visited the wall near Dunhuang as well!)
Huanghuacheng 黄花成长城 , April 2011
For years the youth group at CCC had gone to the Great Wall for sunrise on Easter Morning for a simple worship service. Now on staff, I went for the first time. We went to Huanghuacheng, where the wall crosses a river (a dam stretches between the wall on either side) which meant a short climb from the road. The spot we chose was one of the last places to be touched by the rising sun, because of the mountains around us. Watching the light slip down the hill behind us as it rose in front of us was magical. (Read what I wrote about the trip here)
Huanghuacheng 黄花成长城 , April 2012
Another sunrise Easter service at Huanghuacheng – this time very windy but just as beautiful as the year before. Easter fell a little earlier in the year this time, and the hills were full of flowering trees – fluffy bunches of white and pale pink blossoms everywhere. It was also super windy, but still a great morning. (That’s me in the bottom right, by the way.)
Mutianyu 慕田峪长城, April 2012
Nick, the aforementioned friend I went to the wall with in 2006, got married in 2012. Lots of family members flew in for the wedding and I went with their group to Mutianyu. I’d been to Mutianyu at the same time of year, but never on a clear and sunny day – the landscape was much less monotone. This was probably the least remarkable trip for me scenery-wise, but so fun to be with such a great group. Three generations of each side of the family, all there together – amazing.
Badaling 八达岭长城, June 2012
It had been 8 years since my last vist to Badaling, and this one was very different. A friend from Australia was visiting and we took the train from Beijing to Badaling in the late afternoon. This meant there were very few tourists, so it was already a different experience for me! The day was cloudy and wet, and the late afternoon gloom gave a totally different atmosphere. It was peaceful, almost eerie – I enjoyed it.
Zhengbeilou 争北楼长城, July 2012
When my family visited for a belated 30th birthday celebration with me, I arranged a hiking trip on the wall for my sisters, brothers-in-law, and other friends (including Nick and Chloe). The van dropped them off at a small village down the hill from Zhengbeilou, and after two hours of bushbashing they hiked up onto the wall itself (I traveled with the van around to Mutianyu, where we would pick them up). West of Mutianyu, the stone used in this section is different – white, with a marble-like apperance. The hiked up Niujiaobian (nearly 1000m above sea level) and across to the western section of Mutianyu. They sheltered in towers during a rain shower, which had them back to the cable cars just after they closed, meaning another 30 minute hike back down. (I wrote about their visit here).
Mutianyu 慕田峪长城, March 2013
At the last minute I arranged to accompany a group visiting from the US to Mutianyu. Imagine my delight upon waking in the morning to discover 5 inches of wet snow coating every tree outside! Out at the wall the air was clean, the sky blue, and the snow made for picturesque vistas. It was glorious! Also of note, an awesome snowball war fought between some of our group and some teens visiting from Australia and Canada – classic.
Huanghuacheng 黄花成长城 , March 2013
Third sunrise service in a row at Huang Hua Cheng. With over 100 people it was the largest group I’ve ever gone to the Great Wall with. Although this year’s service was sunless. Add the clouded weather to it being earlier in the year, and the effect was a much greyer scene. Still, the combination of weather and the large group made it, yet again, a unique experience. And that’s why I still enjoy visiting the Wall. Every trip is special :)