The Greatest of Walls (Day 4)

Wednesday, July 2 was a special day for the Hughes on the Loose crew. Our guide, John Jiang of China Adventure Ltd., and his driver picked us up at our hotel in a large van that we had all to ourselves. John studied English and Chinese history and provided an informative tour of a long section of the Great Wall of China.

After about an hour’s drive from Beijing, we began our hike with a steep ascent that included 1400 stair steps.
They can build a wall visible from near-Earth orbit but can't build a chairlift?
Two local women joined us at the entrance gate, led us on the ascent, pointed out several interesting details on and around the Wall and even helped make sure we didn’t slip on the steep parts. 

She has multiple layers, we were roasting.
John said they do this every single day in an effort to sell as many t-shirts, books and chopsticks to tourists as possible. Today we were their primary target and it was impossible to say no to these two incredibly fit and sweet women. 

I picked up this boastful beauty mostly because it was dry.
John probably has a couple dozen at home. 
We started at a more weathered part of the Wall than the most frequently-visited, renovated area to the west at Jin Shanling where we would make our descent about two hours later.

As you know, the Great Wall of China was built as a defensive fortification against nomadic invaders over the course of centuries beginning as early as the 7th century BC. It has been maintained and enhanced for thousands of years but the majority of the existing structure is from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The barrier stretches about 5,500 miles and includes man-made walls and trenches as well as natural defensive formations such as mountains and rivers. The earth, stones, wood and, later, bricks and tiles were quarried or gathered from the surrounding region and carried up by workers.

It was fascinating to imagine the life of the soldiers guarding the wall, ever watchful for approaching invaders. There was evidence of their activities such as ceilings charred black from fires and names carved into the stone. 

Either that or an ad for the new Transformers movie.
Still intact are the many archers' windows as well as holes near the base of the wall through which rocks or boiling liquids could be released. We also learned about the various signal towers, barracks, stables and armories we saw along the way. 

The views were simply breathtaking. The winding walkway rolls with the terrain into the clouds as far as the eye can see in either direction. We marched almost non-stop and only covered about a mile and a half but still felt like we saw a tremendous variety of construction and conditions. 

Your new desktop image.
As we neared Jin Shanling, the appearance of the Wall changed dramatically. This is the area where most tourists and visiting dignitaries climb up, walk a few hundred feet in either direction and then climb down. The pathway, gates and walls here have been completely renovated to provide a look at the Wall in its original form. 

After the descent, John took us to a local farmer’s clean and comfortable hostel, the "Yu Jie Hotel," where we had a very memorable meal. The farmer and his family built the rooms themselves to provide lodging and food to visitors. If you desire to spend more than just a day exploring the Great Wall, this would be an great place to stay overnight. But, at the very least, we’d recommend making a lunch stop here part of your journey. 

As I write this a week later, it is still the best food we’ve sampled so far thanks to the fresh, traditional home-cooked ingredients and, perhaps, by the appetite we’d built up on our long, hot hike. Email the hostel owner directly at and/or our guide at for more information.

Our new favorite Chinese restaurant.
All in all, it made for a perfect last day in Beijing. Tomorrow, we’re off to the airport for flight number three on our way to beautiful Guilin, where we’re looking forward to a cruise up the Li River on the 4th of July. Not a bad way to commemorate our 11th anniversary!

I may not be able to set up the typical celebratory
fireworks she's come to expect but this will do.