Tuesday, June 5, 2012

How To Hike the Great Wall of China

When you first set eyes on the Wall, you know it like you've been there a thousand times. There's no mistaking it... that's the Great Wall of China! It slinks down the ridgeline of the mountains like a dragon, shielding Beijing from northern enemies. Incredibly, this dragon is over 5,000 miles long! FIVE THOUSAND MILES of bricks and stones hauled up and up and up step after step after step after step.

Seeing it with my own eyes, climbing it alongside hundreds of others who came from all corners of the earth to marvel at the world's largest manmade relic, I no longer felt like a tourist. No matter where we came from, we all seemed to be speaking the same language at the Great Wall. The language of excitement and wonder. It was as if everyone had the look on their face, "I'm at the Great Wall of China... and I'm really excited... but I don't know why!" Climbing the Great Wall of China you are more than your nationality, your ethnicity, your language. You are a citizen of the world.

 Views during the ascent are stunning, even on a misty day.

But nothing beats the view from the top!

So how do you get there? To the top? We went to the section of the Great Wall that most people go - Badaling. My hunch is that's because it's the closest section to Beijing proper, and it's well set up for tourists. There's one stretch of stairs that takes about 45 minutes to climb up to a mini-summit. There are concessions and restrooms along the way. The ground level is full of gift shops and restaurants for those waiting on others to finish their climb. And on a clear day you can see Beijing in the distance to the South from the top of the mountain.

A clear drawback of going to the most popular spot is having to climb the wall with lots of other people, although I have to imagine that with the millions of people who visit each year, isolating the tourists helps to contain the wear and tear of this incredible structure to one manageable place. I have heard of other people hiking or camping the Great Wall. I've heard of others running the Great Wall marathon or half marathon (there was a marathon at the Wall earlier that week). After seeing it with my own eyes, I am even more impressed. Those stairs are no joke, even for this crossfitter!

So speaking of millions of people, I thought I would share with you some of the things I learned about what is acceptable and recommended etiquette and attire for climbing the Great Wall of China. Here goes!
Dress appropriately. As you can see, April and I are sporting athletic casualwear. I have a small bag to carry my water bottle, camera, passport and other essentials. April's rockin the fanny pack (oh yes she did!). Sunglasses or a hat are a must, as are comfy, lightweight hiking shoes. Wear a watch so you make it down in time to meet your tour group. Oh, and don't forget your sunscreen!


Forget all that! We are in China, people! Where's my expensive new purse, my harem pants and my ballet flats? The drape-pocket harem pants were everywhere we went. Look out America. And these fold-up multi-colored bolero hats were selling like crazy at the souvenir stands. Keepin it white.

OR... put on that ugly Christmas sweater. 
Wool is great for summer hiking...

Apparently so is velvet. Black lacy velvet dresses in May... believe it.

See what I mean? And pantyhose.
How bout those patent leather ballet flats? 
Those definitely scream hiking.

Now for those who think it would be crazy to dress this warmly on a sunny, 80-degree day hiking up the side of a mountain, here's an option for you:

Wear as little as possible. Bonus: You might get offered a job at a nightclub. 
(PS that is a dress, not a romper).
So I totally get the hats. It's sunny. What's up with hiking in ballet flats, world? 
Make no mistake, that's even a bit of a platform on the heel of Little Bo Peep.
(I actually love her hat... that's why I took this picture. If I could go back 20 years I would totally wear it. Or if I go to Japan one more time before I leave. Or Tumon.).

Forget the platforms. I'll just wear heels.
Maybe it doesn't matter what you wear. 
You're climbing the Great Wall of China! Who cares!
Now these guys had it together! I made it to the top of the Great Wall of China with Tanzania. They came prepared to proudly display their country's flag. I had a blast with these guys at the top. (Sidenote: It was amazing to see the correlation between people who wore athletic shoes and people who made it to the top. Weird! Equally amazing was that lacy velvet dress girl made it up in her rubber slippers!).

Make sure to read and obey all of the signs.

And here's my favorite.... oh Engrish, how I love thee.

Get a lock engraved with your name and put it on the chain. Tuck the key away and know that a piece of you will remain forever on the Great Wall of China.

Leave in awe and wonder about this amazing place, one small stretch of 5,000 miles that brings the world together. Maybe next time this ol' American will dress up for such an occasion as this. I might even put on my dancing shoes :)


  1. "Or Tumon.." - That made me laugh! One thing I think would have been fun in Guam was to dress up as a tourist and walk around Tumon...just to see if we got any funny looks. Or perhaps we'd get compliments? :) I love these pictures, very fun!!!

  2. I love that cellphone sign!

  3. awesome!!! and i love that i posted about the odd clothing choices on my great wall post too - there's just no getting around it!!! (I featured a guy wearing swim shorts, a girl in yellow platform heels & a girl with pantyhose and heels w/ bows on them! - http://texasgirlonatinyisland.blogspot.com/2010/09/beijing-day-3-jade-museum-great-wall.html lol!!!)

  4. I could totally see being there with you guys! I myself prefer a combination of April's fanny pack and the velvet dress. I love fanny packs and always want one hahaha. I love you guys- soooo glad you got to do this!!

  5. Wow, so amazing! I'm really enjoying this China series of posts!

    ...and cracking up at the fashion commentary. How bizarre!

  6. I love travelling international, such great exposure to the rest of the world fabulous experience..
    So glad you had a great time. brings back wonderful memories..as a flight attendant flying abroad for work..
    Mariea Antoinette


Hey there! This blog is no longer active. If you write a comment, I will receive it, but may not respond right away. Thanks for stopping by!