As we approached the village of Simatai, located 120 kilometres (75 miles) north east of Beijing, one’s eyes were drawn immediately to the mountain ahead. China’s Great Wall stretched along a dry and rugged mountain ridge, under a blue and cloudless sky. It was Day 9 of our 10 day Gecko’s China Express tour. 9 days across China including the modern Shanghai, old Suzhou, ancient Xi’an and the Terracotta Warriors, and finally, bustling Beijing. The day is April 6. The year is 2010.
The 6.25am departure, and two and a half hour drive was worth it. The Great Wall at Simatai was free from other tour groups, and tourist vendors. This remote section of the Wall is 5.4 kilometres long, with 35 watch towers in total. The Simatai Reservoir divides the wall into eastern and western sections, with only the eastern section available to tourists. Badly in need of repair, and dangerous, you have one of two options, hike the steep path up, or take the cable car to the 8th gate tower. As an outdoor enthusiast, of course I chose the hiking option.
The path was initially paved as it meandered along, with a reservoir on our left. But on reaching the Great Wall itself, it tested our commitment and resolve. To step onto the wall , one had to negotiate a large gap, with the valley dropping below on either side. Fear not! We began a steep ascent up the old and well-worn stones. At times the stones were jagged and uneven, sometimes smooth.
The path continued forward and upward, past stone tower blocks. Stopping to admire the view, the valley below was wild, the mountains rugged. The Great Wall stretched endlessly, towards a destination unknown to me. We reached the 13th watch tower. We could hike no further. Admiring the spectacular views of the Great Wall, surrounded by a wild and rugged valley, one really felt a sense of remoteness, and peace. We had made it.