A Dangerous Trip to Great Wall of China

The Chance for a Trip to Great Wall of China

If you have not climbed the Great Wall, you have not seen China so goes the declaration of Chairman Mao Zedong . These were the words that kept reverberating in my mind when I was in Kunming City, Yunan Province, China for the period from November 10-11, 2012 participating not only in an ordinary study tour but attending the 2012 Asia and Pacific High Level Cooperative Leaders Round Table Discussion on Business Cooperation. Hence, on the last day of the Kunming activity, when the bulk of the 35 delegates from 16 cooperative federations in 12 Asia-Pacific countries were heading home, I took a 4-hour Kunming to Beijing flight together with the 5 delegates from Indonesia. Like me, the Indonesians were able to have a prior arrangement with the host, the All-China Federation of Supply and Marketing Cooperatives (ACFSMC), for a side trip to the capital city to make our China travel more colorful and worthwhile.

We were met by an amiable tour guide connected with the travel agency arranged for us by ACFSMC at the Beijing International Airport who ushered us to a 4-star hotel owned by a cooperative situated a few kilometers from the airport.

Actually, I aimed to hit two birds in one stone in Beijing. First of course was the trip to Great Wall of China and second was the possibility of experiencing what winter is all about. But my childhood dream to have a bout with snow seems to be elusive as my travel to Spain in 2009 was made at the end of winter while my Beijing trip came at a time when winter had just started. However, it was my first taste of cold weather that I jogged to a shop near the hotel to buy a winter jacket with matching gloves and bonnet, lest my jaw seemed to lock up amidst extremely low temperature unfamiliar to my body.

We left the hotel at exactly 8:00 o’clock in the morning and it took more than an hour for our chartered car to reach the Joyungguan, which literally means Joyung Pass, section of the Great Wall of China situated 60 kilometers from Beijing City. As I stepped out of the car, I went for a pose at the Northern Gate of the Joyung Pass situated at the foot of the Jingui Mountain.

great wall of china

A pose for posterity at the Joyung Pass of the Great Wall of China

After paying the RMB 40.00, roughly PhP 270.50, entrance fee, I together with the tour guide and 3 of my new-found Indonesians friends entered the Northern Gate of the Joyung Pass as the others chose to remain at the parking grounds.

trip to great wall of china

The outer portion of the Juyong Pass Northern Gate . . .

trip to great wall of china

The Juyong Pass Northern Gate inner portion. . .

While standing in front of the Pagoda atop the North Gate, the tour guide made us to choose between the harder climb on the west winding up the 350-meter high Jingui Mountain or the easier climb on the east snaking through the 150-meter high Cuiping Ridge. I was about to declare my preference for the harder climb but the Indonesians explained their choice for the easier one as they had still very important transactions at the capital city. Hence, I hesitantly obliged . . .

trip to great wall of china

In full hiking gear pointing to the Great Wall traversing through the Cuiping Ridge where I was about to climb...

It turned out that only me and one Indonesian about my age were decided to climb the great wall as the other 2 older Indonesians declared that they were not physically fit for a high altitude climb and the tour guide herself pronounced that she could not accompany us to the top. Hence, the two of us clasped our hands as we trained our sight to our next destination . . .

trip top great wall of china

The first Watch Tower from the North Gate of the Joyungguan Great Wall...

Slogging slowly amidst the biting coldness brought about by the -14 Degrees Celsius temperature, I reached the ground fronting the First Watch Tower and these words carved in stone had caught my attention. . .

trip to great wall of china

A European tourist reading the famous quote by Mao Zedong inscribed in stone: IF WE FAIL TO REACH THE GREAT WALL WE ARE NOT MEN.

In my walk towards the Second Watch tower, I noticed a number of locks lining up the side of the wall on a chain …

trip to great wall of china

A close-up photo of Locks of Love on the hand rail as seen towards the direction of Watch Tower 1...

trip to great wall of china

The Locks of Love chained on the hand rail as seen from Watch Tower 2 towards Watch Tower 1. . .

What I saw was a concrete proof that the ancient Locks of Love Chinese tradition for newly-wed couples to place a lock on the chain and throw the key over the wall representing everlasting love that cannot be broken, is still very much alive.

The Danger of Climbing the Great Wall of China

While I was pondering on the purity of the love of those who adhered to the Locks of Love tradition, my Indonesian buddy hurriedly walked past me and jogged upstairs towards the 2nd Watch Tower…

trip to great wall of china

My Indonesian buddy in black back pack at the center jogging upstairs. . .

trip to great wall of china

My Indonesian friend running at full speed while climbing the stairway. . .

I was thinking that my Indonesian buddy was an athlete back home, hence, his agility to speedily conquer the great wall summit. However, as I stepped on the ground fronting Watch Tower 2, I saw him at the edge of the wall vomiting profusely with a loud, hoarse voice in an effort to clear throat clogs and pounding his chest while catching breath.What surprised me most was the fact that despite a number of tourists around, nobody cared about him. Hence, I snapped the bottled water tucked in my backpack, offered him a drink and performed calculated compression on his chest. When his breath returned to normal, he decided to discontinue on his quest to reach the summit. Before his descent, I requested him to take this shot . . .

trip to great wall of china

A thumbs-up pose both for the upcoming climb and the aborted cardiac arrest of my Indonesian buddy. . .

On my way up, I passed by two more watch towers until I reached the junction towards the Beacon Tower . . .

trip to great wall of china

A Beacon Tower used in ancient times where smokes were used to warn the people against impending enemy attacks.

I kept trudging on and on until I reached the summit where the last tower is situated . . .

trip to great wall of china

The tower at the summit of the Joyungguan Great Wall . . .

But the sense of excitement and fulfillment in reaching the top of the Cuiping Ridge turned out to be temporary as I started to gasp for air and found difficulty in breathing. My throat had dried up and the low temperature and high altitude combined had sent my lips on the verge of cracking. The bottled water that I tucked on my backpack was really meant for the situation but I gave it up to my Indonesian friend who needed it most. Feeling solitary to fend for myself, I sat motionless at the foot of the tower, closed my eyes in prayer and implored God to take charge of the rest.

Moments later, my body systems functioned normally and I started to walk again. I shouted, I conquered the Great Wall of China in victory as I reached the dead end …

trip to great wall of china

The dead-end of the Joyunguan Great Wall on the Cuiping Ridge. . .

Trip to Great Wall of China- Final Thoughts

My ascent and descent of the Joyunguan Great Wall was really one of the most, if not the only, fulfilling trips of my lifetime. As I stepped on every inch of the wall top and on every step of the stairway, I felt sorry for the more than two million dead bodies of the workers buried within the walls in more than a hundred years of building the greatest construction ever made by man. The experience itself was extremely great…Great Wall…Great Staircase… and almost Great Cardiac Arrest of China for my Indonesian buddy and me.

Modesty aside, I can beam with pride and shout to the whole world that I was able to have a trip to Great Wall of China, hence, I had been to the Land of Dragons and Emperors.

9 comments

  1. congratulations sir for making it. it was really good of you to share that bottle of water despite the chance of putting yourself at risk also. great wall brings great unforgettable experience.

    • Thanks very much for the kind words. Yes, no matter how I planned carefully my ascent to the great wall and that bottled water is an integral part of it, but my instinct to help really prevailed without knowing that I was exposing myself to risk in the process. At any rate, I didn’t regret it and if exposed to the same situation, I will do it again.

  2. I love the photo by photo of your trip up the wall….it really made me feel like I was climbing right next to you!

  3. Great photos. I climbed the Great Wall in really hot weather in heavy rain. It looked very different in the summer, but I definitely prefer the views you had, despite the freezing cold…

  4. Thanks for dropping by and for the kind words.

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