Needing a break from the crowds in Beijing, we chose to access the Great Wall from Jinshanling about 140km outside of Beijing. We signed up with a tour through our hostel, Chinese Box Courtyard Hostel, that would provide transportation (a van to a bus) for the four-hour trip each way. Our visit was worth the trip. Many times throughout the climb you could be by yourself on the Wall.
The hike was quite strenuous as the Wall rose and descended up and down the slope. And man, it had to be at least 100°F. But we kept pushing on as far as we could from one tower to the next so we could see as much of the Wall as we could before turning back to catch our ride home.
The one thing that would make the Great Wall even greater: less smog. Anyone who questions the necessity of an environmental policy in the U.S. would be well served with a trip to China where blue skies only appear in many of the eastern cities after days of heavy storms. Even on our train ride up the coast from Hong Kong to Beijing, beautiful countryside views were masked by a heavy gray haze which we first mistook for morning fog but lingered throughout the day. I’m sure the summer heat didn’t help the overwhelming feeling of smog, but it would have been nice to get a better look at the Great Wall snaking up through the hillside.