With my visit to the Great Wall of China I am able to check another item off the bucket list, the 2nd of the Wonders of the World I would visit on my voyage around the world. I walked, hiked, fell, but mostly climbed the Juyongguan Pass of The Great Wall China on Friday, November 13, 2009.
As we arrived we were quite excited about what we were about to embark upon, I along with about 30 students and two colleagues dismounted our bus in about 30 degree weather, and though there was snow on the ground we started straight away to the entry way of The Great Wall. We stopped only to take pictures as we started up the STEEP staircase, it was then that it occurred to me that I was in no Disney movie and this Great Wall hike was actually going to be more of a climb than a hike.
The steps were in no way uniform not one step was the same height as the next but the one thing they did have in common was that they were all very steep. Also due to the snow that had fallen just days before our arrival they were covered in snow and ice which made the hike up much more treacherous.
Though I started my climb with 4 layers (2 outer and 2 inner layers) I was down to my 2 inner layers as the first 20 minutes of the hike had me quite warm.
About an hour into the hike, I could hear some of our students yelling “Here comes Ana the LLC, Here comes Ana” I then realized it was our international student from the Basque region and he along with another student. They had commandeered one of the forts of the wall and were dropping snowballs, throwing them on all the passers-by yelling “in the name of the Basque country, go home you filthy Mongols”
It was a bit funny, he and his snowball throwing partner were throwing snowballs at everyone, even if they weren’t with our group; everyone enjoying this break from the serious climbing and joining in the impromptu snowball fight. I managed to keep walking by unscathed. Though how he and got ahead of me without my noticing is beyond me. But up on the next tower were my colleagues the Becker’s with some students who had commandeered another fort. They had an arsenal of snowballs and were just getting everyone as they came up the hill towards their tower. I was grazed once or twice. I entered the ground floor of their fort and I could hear them plotting. As I crept up the stairs and around corners. Then I heard a small commotion, it seems that LB lost control of a snowball and ended up pegging a Chinese man that was on the fort with them. He realized it was all in fun, then he and his friend joined the Becker’s and our students and engaged our students on the ground in an International snow ball fight on the Great Wall of China. The students on the ground were the International student from the Basque region joined by some French folk and other Semester at Sea students. It was so much fun. Later on the bus on the way back to our hotel I thanked the student from the Basque region, telling him the snowball fight indeed made my Great wall experience a different experience.
After the break we finished hiking the wall, it was steep everywhere, just as we thought the worst was over because we had reached the tallest part of our section of the wall and we would start our descend, it occurred to us, we have to climb down this thing, and the part that we descended on was not easy. On our descend we remarked just what a marvel of engineering this wall is, the angles and slopes on the side of these mountains literally made you feel as if you were about to fall off the mountain. We came to the realization that even climbing the stairs up you had to look down at your steps because they were uneven in nature, is it any wonder the Mongols were kept out of China, and if they tried to cross in the winter as we experienced, at times this would make them sitting ducks because the snow would only dampen their effort. Most of the time we were literally walking backwards as we held on to the hand rails, as if we were repelling off a mountain side, It was more snowy and icy on the climb down than it had been on the hike up. It was treacherous.
We descended for about an hour when we started to see that the end of our hike was nearing. As we arrived to the platform on the bottom we saw just how steep the Wall had been. Our Great Wall experience was over and it had been Great, it felt like an accomplishment.