When I originally decided to trek from Jiankou to Mutianyu, I was looking for a strenuous climb. You know, just to make sure my legs could still handle a big day out in the mountains. As it turns out, this 2 day trek along the Great Wall of China offered just that, with a bit of adrenaline and wobbly knees thrown in. All of the information I could find was written by tour companies; ‘a photographic hot-spot’ and ‘beautifully rugged and untouched’, they told me. They weren’t wrong about that, but they did fail to highlight just how dangerous this section is.
Should I have gone fully prepared with rope and a first aid kit? Probably definitely. Nevertheless, me and my friends survived to tell the tale after 2 stunning days, 1 nights camp and over 10km exploring Jiankou, aka Arrow Rock. The journey was exceptional; beginning at an ancient, dilapidated section and arriving at a restored, modern day tourist attraction (very sweaty and smelly, I might add).
It didn’t get off to a great start. Our trusty taxi man pointed us up the mountain with such confidence that we didn’t question it. One hour later we found ourselves back at the start point after being facially harassed by big, yellow spiders and bitten to death by mosquito’s.
Back on track, it was almost laughable how wrong we got it the first time. This new trail of ours had big signs telling us not to continue, it was dangerous and not accessible to the public. Not that a sign was going to stop us now. Or even the story of someone dying on this route. Before that tragedy, this particular route required paying a fee, but now they had left it open and free to those that dared.
After a rather interesting climb up we made it to the Jiankou section. Along the way large slabs of rock led us through the dense woodland, some of which had rope and wooden ladders. As for the views? Well, it was by far one of the best I had seen in China.
Late afternoon was upon us so we set our bags down and headed West for a little explore. Eastwards would be fully appreciated in the morning; for now it was time to find a camping spot. A small watch tower sat in a dip amongst the trees, and with an intact roof (and no tent in our possession), it posed the perfect place.
By now the sun was setting, the clouds had shifted and the Cicadas were quietening down.
Day two was upon us. It was no surprise that we all failed to see the sunrise; laying in a thin sleeping bag on small rocks isn’t a good recipe for solid sleeping. It was time to make our way to Mutianyu, a mere 10km walk. At 8am the sun was already sizzling hot, and some of us were low on water.
The Wall had mostly collapsed, either creating a brick path, or exposing heart-stopping drops either side of its defence. As we progressed slowly over, under and around watch towers, the Wall began to get steeper. When I say steeper, I mean vertical. And when I say vertical, I mean it was time to put the camera away and prepare for some rock climbing. At this point our group split; stubborn, (stupid?) thrill seekers continued, whilst those that knew their limits went down. I felt defeated that we couldn’t all do this together, but at least now our water shortage wasn’t so much of a worry.
There were a few ups and downs during the walk, but nothing we couldn’t handle. The best way to describe the adventurous three-some goes something like this: a guy terrified of heights, but wonderful at emanating ease and confidence. A girl experienced in trekking but too proud to voice fear and exhaustion. And that one that just seems to get on with it, no matter what life throws at you.
Sheer beauty and perplexity stopped us in our tracks numerous times. Every corner turned, each set of (broken) stairs conquered created a new vista. I found myself thinking back to childhood and wishing I had the power to freeze time, like Bernard used to do with his watch. Alas, we steadily arrived at Mutianyu – back to civilisation, surrounded by fresh-faced day trippers.
Quite literally the cracked rocks and rubble beneath our feet turned to smooth, ordered stones as we said goodbye to Jiankou, and made friends with Mutianyu. Before long vendors appeared in the renovated watch towers, selling absurdly expensive water and tacky memorabilia. Children cried as they were dragged up the steps. A hum of Chinese, Spanish, German and European languages masked the sound of the Cicadas. Behind us the ‘beautifully rugged and untouched’ Wall stood; up ahead a modern day Great Wall, accessed by a chair lift and descended by a toboggan.
I tried to resist the urge, but wobbly legs and a rumbling stomach had me giving in to the toboggan. It may not be in tune with the Great Wall of China, but it was jolly good fun nonetheless.
Useful info for those planning this trip
- Starting point: Wofo mountain villa. We got a mini van from Changping district, Beijing which cost us 500rmb for five people. Jiankou is also accessible from Xizhazi village on the north side (see picture below).
- I would NOT recommend walking the opposite direction from Mutianyu to Jiankou. The way we walked was very dangerous and we said numerous times how we were glad not to be walking the other way. Only undertake this route if you are a confident walker and rock climber.
- Carry plenty of food and water with you – you will not find vendors anywhere on the wild stretch of Wall.
- The trek from Jiankou to Mutianyu is approximately 10km and will take anywhere between 4 and 6 hrs.
- You can descend Mutianyu three ways; walk, cable car (60rmb) or toboggan (80rmb).