I’d heard it was possible to camp on the Great Wall, in fact, one of my friends had photographic proof of this possibility. But did I ever expect to hear the words “are you free this weekend to help guide a camping tour?” No (unless you count in my dreams). This question did not come from a random on the street, instead from a warm-hearted Chinese lady named Sonia whom has been solely running her business, China Travellers, in Beijing for the past 6 years. Thanks to my vast ‘guiding’ experience in Italy, my interest in exploring and sharing the Great Wall with travellers was eagerly accepted. For my first camping tour of the season, we headed to Wangquanyu section – original, wild and off the beaten track.
What I still find quite amazing is just how difficult it is to reach the Great Wall. Unless you fancy joining the hoards of people at Badaling or Mutianyu, the wild sections with little crowds are surprisingly hidden away, and usually for good reason; these unrestored sections are loose underfoot and are far from civilisation. However, they offer the utmost beauty and a zero entrance fee, so all you need to do is find a local who knows how to get there: cue Sonia. As we headed north from Beijing central, I doubted our guests realised just how good of a decision they had made.
The sun didn’t have his hat on for us, but as we climbed the 400m from the valley with our camping gear, it was a blessing in disguise. Once at the top, heavy bags were placed in that evening’s camping spot – a well-preserved watch tower still with it’s roof intact. A small, steep stairwell ran up the middle of the building, leading to a flat area covered in newly leafed trees and a view that saw the Wall snaking off into the distance, resembling that of a cloud forest in a faded light. Home for the night.
Sonia introduced the afternoon with a short and informative introduction to the history of the Great Wall of China. Her evident humoured nature put some facts straight and we all giggled at the idea of being able to see such a narrow Wall from space.
Four watch towers encouraged us forward to the highest point in view, so we ventured off with cameras and water to explore. The moody weather continued to change, offering perfect photo opportunities that everyone took advantage of.
The inevitable came and suddenly we found ourselves upping the pace to get out of the rain. Knowing full well we would not make it back with a dry patch, the weather was embraced and became part of the experience. Back at the watch tower, nooks and crannies were covered in wet clothes as 2-man tents filled the available space under the roof. An evening of story swapping, book recommendations, games and giggles ensued as the rain died down and the wind picked up. Not another single soul was seen on the Wall that day and a sound nights sleep was had because of that. It was easy to believe that the only people who knew we were up there were Sonia, our driver and the friendly guest-house that provided us with a delicious home-grown lunch earlier that day.
Bags began to rustle at around 5am in hope to see the sunrise. As I lay there listening to the birds I wondered; had the gale force winds forced away they clouds in the night? All I can say is it was totally worth sliding back into soggy socks at that moment in time…