One of my first Beijing bucket list items that I ticked off was a visit to the Great Wall. The first time I walked on the wall felt so surreal given that I’d only seen the world-famous wonder in encyclopedias almost two decades ago. Now that I’ve visited three sections of the wall in Beijing (Badaling, Mutianyu, and Huanghuacheng), that bucket list became expanded with another thing about the Great Wall: camping.
In the past seven months, I’ve been traveling a lot to explore Beijing and nearby provinces but it’s not until July that I finally did camping on the Great Wall. I returned to Huanghuacheng (or the “Lake Side” part) but on the other side of the area, together with four friends-slash-hikers and a small dog!
The day that we climbed the wall was not so great (read: awful) because of the recent smog that enveloped much of the city and it was so hot. I wouldn’t lie but it somehow affected my expectations and hiking experience (as that was the first one I did during a bad air day). Okay, too much of whining!
Our hiking group arrived at a village near Huanghuacheng Reservoir in Huairou District by two Didi car (around RMB 200 per car, one way). We had lunch first at a restaurant then met with another group of hikers on the touristy side of Huanghuacheng. We returned to the reservoir an hour before sunset.
We took the rugged, ascending path towards the wall. Our target: the highest watch tower where we would stay the night. On the way up, wasps and sharp leaves welcomed us. By the time we reached the wall, we were sweating like water was flowing from our bodies.
The distance between our starting point (the entrance from the reservoir) and the watch tower was roughly two kilometers and we hiked at least 3 hours. And when we arrived at the tower, it was almost dark. The ascent was difficult since the way to the tower had full of steep climb and stairs, not to mention our group brought lots of water.
The smog (uh huh) did give a stunning view of the mountains and the night sky when we camped out. The crescent moon was blood red; the walls were silhouetted against the smoke that reflected moonlight and village lights. My phone camera couldn’t take a shot of those mystical moments, though I felt they shouldn’t be captured but remembered instead.
At the tower, we met three campers: a couple from Germany and a Chinese guy. We shared some stories as we set up our tents, then our group stayed till late to just talk about random things in life. At one point, my colleague Olesya spotted a small scorpion just below her tent.
I woke up early to catch the sunrise but mountains blocked the view. When the sun came up, it was bright and not that appealing anymore. The descent was much easier since we consumed much of our water and food. We took the other way to the reservoir itself back to our starting point.
As the smog blocked the night sky, I felt my Great Wall camping was incomplete as I didn’t see any stars (save from a bright speck I assumed was Venus). But that was another invitation to do more camping… as the experience was just amazing. Now I’m planning to do another trip to Huanghuacheng or Jiankou, anyone who wants to join? Let me know by leaving your message in the comments section below.
- Traveling with kids: The wall section where we hiked and camped out is wide though steep, making it challenging for young kids. If the weather is good, family hikers can camp out on the wall but we suggest to do it in a tower (see notes below).
- It would be wise to bring an insect repellent to get rid of those nasty wasps and mosquito on the trail and on the wall itself. Don’t forget your first aid kit too!
- Be prepared and don’t freak out in case you see wild animals, like scorpions and snakes.
- Drinking water is essential, but carry only what you can bring to the wall. It will be so hard to ascend with so much stuff in your backpack.
- If you’re camping on the wall, bring a yoga mat or a blanket that can cover the ground as small rocks can be a nuisance when you lie on the ground.
- If you want to conserve your phone battery, don’t use its built-in flashlight. Instead, buy an LCD light stick that you can plug in on your power packs.
- On the way to the wall, you’ll see a lot of rubbish and used water bottles. Please don’t add to the problem; bring your own trash bag and carry all of your rubbish once you descend the wall.
- It’s better to camp on a tower than a part of the wall. Night wind can be strong at times and it can blow away your tent (especially there are no hooking points on the ground; there are no big slabs either). Towers offer an extra protection against strong wind and rains.
How to go there?
- If you’re planning to do a personal hike, Didi is your best bet. Just type in “奎酦酒家” (Kuí pò jiǔjiā); that’s the restaurant directly in front of the reservoir. The cost for a one-way trip from Liangmaqiao is around RMB 200. It’s good to reserve another car for the following day or after the hike.
- The campers we met at the tower said they rode three public buses on the way to the reservoir. While it’s possible, it may not be the best option especially if you will bring tents and other hiking stuff.
- Tour groups like ChinaHiking and Foreigner China Network (WeChat ID: foreignerandchina) offer hikes and camping on different dates. See our Events page for a list of their tours.
Photos: Andy Penafuerte, courtesy of Matthew Couri Jacobs and Olesya Sedysheva