Skipping the Potential Death of Day 2—Jiankou to Mutianyu:
So if at the end of Part 2 you were thinking to yourself, “You’d have to be nuts to do this,” but you still want to check out an unrestored section of The Great Wall, I have good news. Zhengbeilou to Mutianyu is a much easier section of the trail that, with a little caution, could be attempted by almost anyone and you can get here without following the extreme path that we took from Jiankou to Mutianyu.
There is a blue route on the map above that will take you up to the wall from Xizhazi Village just beyond Zhengbeilou Tower. With a slight jaunt back up the Wall to Zhengbeilou you will be able to experience the views there before continuing the journey towards Mutianyu. We obviously didn’t take the blue route, but from everything I have read it is a moderate climb up to the Wall.
From Zhengbeilou to Ox Horn Edge (sometimes called Ox Horn Bend)
Upon leaving Zhengbeilou Tower the terrain flattens out. It is still mountainous, but it rolls a bit instead of the rocky jagged peaks that we had taken thus far. The Great Wall snakes across this tree covered terrain, emerging from the branches like a snake. The next major tower is that of Ox Horn Edge. The Great Wall climbs up a ridge to the tower and then does a hairpin turn and heads back down the same hill.
There are several smaller towers along the way from Zhengbeilou Tower to Ox Horn Edge (I think four). They are small and the views aren’t spectacular which is why they don’t show up on most maps. There is a trail that basically leads from one of the towers (I think it is the 2nd one) across the side of the hill to a tower on the other side. This could save some time and you wouldn’t have to climb up to Ox Horn Edge, but you’re here so why not do it all. If you do want to take the shortcut just keep an eye out for a dirt path heading across. We saw it and didn’t even know it was there prior to going so it is pretty easy to spot.
We chose to go up to Ox Horn Edge and I find it to be one of the more memorable towers from our trip. Its dilapidation and viewpoints of both sides of the Wall coming up to it are stunning.
Once leaving Ox Horn Edge we made our way down what is a moderately steep section of the Wall. This section has very little to hold onto and the stones on top of the wall look like they are in descent shape, but have loose pebbles sitting on top of them. This is the one place where Jennifer actually lost her footing and slid a ways down the stone path. If you have to fall somewhere, this is one of the safer spots to do it, but she did have a nice bruise on her backside to show for it. If you decide to take on this section just make sure your shoes have good tread on them and take it slow.
The last of Jiankou
Once we reached the bottom we made our way through a few more smaller towers on our way up a small hill and then the Wall hooks to the left. This is all a fairly easily navigated area.
Once we made the turn and passed through several more towers, less memorable than those that came before, we arrived at Tower Number 23—the western most tower in the Mutianyu section of The Great Wall. Here we found an exorbitant amount of tourist who all looked as if they have sweated their way along the steep Mutianyu section. It does have a really steep area, but it has actual stairs so really they had it easy…
If you decide to make the trek, do take a moment here on the edge of civilization and take pride in the fact that you have survived Jiankou, but don’t rest too much as you still have several miles of hiking before you are done.
Mutianyu is an amazing restored area. I would highly recommend coming here even if you don’t attempt the Jiankou section. From Tower Number 23 it is a steep descent down through several towers before the Wall levels off in an undulating manner. At one point the terrain is so steep that steps on the Wall double back on themselves and you end up walking under the stairs you just came down. It is a very unique spot.
As we approached Tower Number 15 the crowds got thicker and what I refer to as the “Six Flags over The Great Wall” effect goes into full swing. There is a cableway at Number 15 that allows better accessibility to the young and old. Between Tower 10 and 6 there are several walking paths to exit the Wall. Also located at Tower 6 is the luge. We opted for the luge since we were hungry and wanted to get to some food… the granola we had been eating all day wasn’t cutting it anymore. We thought the luge would be the quickest way down and, lets be honest, who doesn’t love speeding down a concrete luge.
Sadly, the luge was a disappointment as the people who run it don’t regulate it in a way that keeps the terrified off of it. About a fourth of a mile down the track we got stuck behind a lady who would not let off the brake and so we SLOWLY made our way down. Seriously, by the time we finally got to the bottom there was a line of about 60 people lined up behind this lady. What a waste.
We stopped for lunch and then proceeded to try and figure out how to get back to Beijing. This part of our journey was flawed on my part and we ended up walking an unnecessary extra couple of miles so hopefully I can help you not make the same mistake.
Getting Back to Beijing
Apparently there is a shuttle bus that takes you from the base of The Great Wall to the entrance area. The entrance area has shops and you can get tickets to visit Mutianyu there, but if you come over from Jiankou you don’t need a ticket. The entrance area is about 3 miles away from the shuttle stop (we walked, which isn’t ideal). Once you are at the entrance area you will have to make your way past all the shops and then through the parking lot and across the street to the local bus stop. Hop on either the H23 or H24 local bus (5 RMB/person). It is about 18km back to the town of Huairou where you will catch the 916 Express bus back to the Dongzhimen Bus Station in Beijing. The last bus to leave Huairou is at 6:00PM so don’t miss it.
Jiankou to Mutianyu is a very hard hike with lots of complexity to get where you are going, but if you are able to do it, it will reward you with some of the most spectacular views of one of mankind’s greatest wonders. I look back on these two days as perhaps the craziest adventure of our lives and if I had to do it again I wouldn’t hesitate to give it another go, but I might plan for a 3 day trip so I could attempt the sections we missed.
Things to know should you choose to go:
From what I can tell, it is almost illegal for the locals to do the Jiankou section of the wall, but they have no problem with tourists risking their lives on this amazing dilapidated structure.
- Camping on the wall is illegal, but some do risk it. I have read that the Chinese police are cracking down on the camping though.
- Carry lots of water as there is obviously no access on the Wall.
- Carry a headlamp… always! This is for really anytime you do any hike, in my opinion.
- We left most of our luggage at the concierge desk of the hotel in Beijing. This saved us a lot of weight that would have otherwise made the expedition all but impossible.
- The Google Maps app doesn’t work in China, but Apple Maps does.
If you can find the Mandarin name for a place, print that out on a card and put the English translation on the backside of the card. This will allow you to show people on the street where you want to go. We printed both on the same side and people seemed to get confused by having the English on the same side. It was like they tried to read both, which confused them. When we just gave them the Mandarin, people seemed to be able to point us in the right direction. I would also suggest checking the Mandarin translations with someone fluent as Google’s translations don’t always get the sentence structure correct. See if the person at the front desk in your Beijing hotel can help you with this.
- While you are at the front desk grab the hotel’s business card. If all else fails you can hand a taxi driver the card and they will be able to get you back.
- Zhao’s Hostel phone number: +86-10-6161-1762
Pollution! Unfortunately, like most of the areas in and around China’s major cities, this area can be shrouded in dense pollution. I would suggest wearing a mask while visiting. Don’t worry, you’ll fit right in with the locals.
A few more photos from the last part of our adventure—Jiankou to Mutianyu.