I don’t remember watching much Sesame Street when I was younger, but I do remember having a recorded episode that I watched multiple times. Big Bird in China features Big Bird on a quest and walking on The Great Wall. For a long time, I think the only thing I knew about China (or Asia, for that matter) is that The Great Wall is there. So, about 25 years later, I decided that I would follow in Big Bird’s footsteps.
Ok, maybe not his exact footsteps. I do not recollect Big Bird panting from exertion or sliding on ice along the Great Wall. It had snowed two days before we hiked on the wall, which turned out to be just enough time for a few people to pack down the snow, and for it to become a solid sheet of ice.
We hired a tour company to help us with exploring the wall. They covered park entrance fees, the driver, and provided a guide. Our hike took us from Jiankou to Mutianyu. Jiankou is an older, unrestored section of the wall; it was originally built in 1368. The snow was so bad that our driver dropped us off on the road, and we had to walk on the icy road before we even made it to the icy trail. We had chosen this more strenuous outing on the wall, and I was a little nervous when I started seeing signs stating “This section of the Great Wall is closed to the public.” We walked right past those signs and start hiking up the mountain. I worked up the courage to ask our guide about it. “Oh yeah, well, you know, people still go.” Good enough for me.
We had to hike up through the woods before we even made it to the wall. We started out very bundled up, but started tearing off layers as the hike grew steeper and more intense. Halfway up the mountain, our guide was able to point out the watchtower that we were headed to. The view was already incredible; I could see half a dozen watchtower perched on top of ridge lines, but the guide promised the views were even better at the top.
We reached the watchtower, and I was delighted that we had to climb two wooden ladders and some broken stone to reach the top of the tower. As I stepped onto the roof, the cold and the view took my breath away. I had a 360 degree view of the mountains that surrounded us, and I could see the Great Wall snaking off in different directions. The morning haze had burned off, and snow glinted in the sunlight. The views rivaled our hiking in Nepal; it was simply amazing. We quickly bundled up since we had stopped hiking and began taking pictures. I was actually grateful for the recent snowfall; I much preferred the snow than a dead winter scene.
The remainder of our hike was along the wall. As we were on the older section, there were many saplings and brush growing on the wall, and parts of the structure had started to crumble, leaving only a small area to walk. There were several areas with steps or steep slopes which were especially treacherous. I had worn hiking boots and fared pretty well. I found it easier to sit and scoot on the steep steps and tried to walk where the snow was still fresh. Unfortunately, Jared had worn old tennis shoes that had very little tread left on them. He slid constantly, and a few times I made him walk in front of me because I didn’t want to be taken down if he fell. Even our guide struggled with the ice. At one point we were all clinging to the wall as we descended a long stretch of stairs.
People tie wishes to this tree at the entrance to the Mutianyu section of the wall. See the guy on the left? I bought postcards from him! Great Wall postcards from the Great Wall!
Finally, we made it to the Mutianyu section that was better traveled and restored. There were more people here and slightly clearer paths. The views were becoming a little more hazy as we descended, but I still loved how the wall stretched into the distance. I would try to count the watchtowers in the distance, but the wall always disappeared into the haze before I saw an end.
Although the hike was at times cold and dangerous, I think that added to the adventure of it. Our main goal for our China trip was to see the Great Wall, and I was very happy with our experience. I liked that we chose the longer hike and were able to see more of the wall than just the main tourist area. It was…great!