Great Wall Hike -- Jinshanling to Panlongshan

Gubeikou Travel Blog

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Setting Off
I set off from Beijing with two friends at 6am on the slow train from Xizhimen.  We arrived at Gubeikou station at 10:45, excited to start our trek and not realizing how challenging it would be.

I had organized transportation to the wall in advance, and a farmer met us at the train station and walked us down to her house in the town to eat lunch and discuss the plan.  After that, we hopped in a van and set off for the Jinshanling entrance to the Great Wall.  At noon, we were on the wall and hiking back in the direction of Gubeikou, planning to take a leisurely pace and reach the city by 6:00pm.

Jinshanling Section
Going this direction, there are almost no other people.  We saw one group of people ahead of us, but eventually they turned back.  When they reached us, they said, "Which way is Simatai?"  From the Jinshanling entrance, you can hike east or west.  Simatai is to the east, but these guys had hiked about 1 hour west.  They also asked us, "Where are you going?  The wall is closed ahead and there is a sign that says 'Military Zone. Keep out'"  We told them that we were going to Panlongshang and that it is possible to get around the military zone by following a trail.

They debated a while about whether to continue hiking to Panlongshan, or turn back and go to Simatai as they had originally planned.
Military Restricted Area
  Eventually, they decided not to follow us.  Probably a wise decision.

We kept hiking until we could see the sign for the military zone and then started looking for the way to get off the wall and onto the path.  We knew the path should be to the north, so we started looking on that side.   It turned out that the path went under an arch in the wall to the south side and  we eventually found the stais and door leading out the south side and onto the trail.

Detour Trail
At first, the trail was fine: flat and well-worn.  The trail split in a few places and we generally opted to take the trail closest to the wall, usually following right beside the wall.  

After about 20 minutes, we reached a clearing that looked like a picnic area.
Descent to the farm
  From there, it was hard to tell where the trail was.  Again, we decided to just follow along beside the wall.

At first, this path seemed promising.  It had trampled vegetation and litter, so we felt confident that it was the trail we wanted.  Little by little though, the trail narrowed, the vegetation thickened, and the litter disappeared until we were hiking through thick brush with thorns and steep slippery inclines.  

The Farm
At one particularly steep downward slope overlooking a farm, we heard someone shouting to us.  It was an elderly farmer working in the field.  Her Chinese was almost impossible for us to understand and it didn't seem like she was understanding us either.  We got the impression that she was telling us we should turn back, but couldn't determine whether it was because going back is the best way, or because she just wanted us to stay away from her farm.
The Farmer

We stood on that steep slope debating whether to turn back.  We estimated that we'd already hiked 1/3 of the wall and that if we turned back we'd have no chance of reaching the end before sunset.  We decided to continue down the hill and past theh farm.

At the bottom of the hill, we tried to talk with the farmer a bit more, but it was still hopeless.  She seemed to indicate that we should either go back the way we came or continue through another even steeper upward incline through thick brush alongside the wall.  We think she said something about giving her money, but she spoke so fast and with such an accent that we weren't sure.

I appologized for intruding on her farm and we continued up the next hill alongside the wall.  From this point, our route was even more difficult than before.
  I got two thorns stuck in my hand from slipping and grabbing the nearest plant for stability, and my friend got a long cut on his arm from a particularly large thorn.

Recovering the Path
At about 4:40, after having hiked through difficult terrain for about 2.5 hours, we saw the trail we were supposed to be on, snaking through a valley below us.  Unfortunately, it was at the bottom of the steepest drop we'd faced yet and the drop was covered with the thickest brush we'd encountred.

We spent some fruitless time searching for a clear way down to the path without success until suddenly, we saw a group of about 7 tourists come around a bend in the path, walking toward us.

We shouted down to them for advice on how to get down to the path from where we were, but although we could see them, they couldn't see us because of the thick brush.
  They seemed to think that we had just climbed to where we were from the path where they stood, not realizing that we had come from the opposite end of the wall.

Their local guide helped us find the way down to the path and then sold us a book with photos of the Great Wall.  It was 5:00 and he told us that it would take 2.5-3 hours to reach the end of the wall.  Sunset would be at 7:00.  He thought a bit more and then said, "Maybe you can make it in 2 hours."

Panlongshan Section
We had spent almost 5 hours to cover about 1/2 the distance of what was supposed to be a 6 hour hike.  We only had 2 hours of sunlight left, so we  basically ran.  We ran up and down the steep and seemingly neverending steps of the great wall, resting no more than 10 minutes for the next 2 hours until finally we could see Gubeikou city in the distance.

The Great Wall was much more destroyed at this point, consisting of just two thin mud walls.  From this, we knew we were close to the city and finally able to slow our pace and joke about how close we came to having to spend a dark cold night on the Great Wall.
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Military Restricted Area
Military Restricted Area
Descent to the farm
Descent to the farm
The Farmer
The Farmer
The trail gradually got rougher
The trail gradually got rougher
The trail disappeared
The trail disappeared
photo by: amanda576