A few hours north of Beijing, the Great Wall snakes unobtrusively along mountain ridges, the grey and tan of the stones blending into the brown mountains. If you aren’t looking for it, you might never know that it was there. But from atop the wall, it appears to go on forever, dipping out of sight on the far side of the mountain only to reappear on the next peak. Without any obvious landmarks, the only way to test your progress is by counting the watchtowers as you pass them. The dilapidated towers are also a good place to rest, if the constant up and down of the hike is taking a toll on your quads. Even this relatively remote section of Ming-dynasty wall is partially restored, but it is still a sometimes-slippery hike up and down the crumbling bricks.
The eight-kilometer Great Wall hike between Jinshanling to Simatai was one of the main reasons — aside from a friend’s visit — that I returned to Beijing over the Tomb Sweeping holiday. I’d visited other sections of the Wall on three earlier occasions — two trips to Badaling and one to Mutianyu. Badaling gets a bad rap as the most touristy section of the Wall, as it is the closest to Beijing and thus the most crowded. (But the views are stunning.) As for Mutianyu, I visited on a hot, humid and overcast/smoggy July day — blech! I hoped the Jinshanling-Simatai hike would redeem the Great Wall in my mind, and it definitely did.
Admittedly, one of the nicest things about the hike was the weather, purely a stroke of luck. All day long, it was comfortable to hike in a T-shirt, but not hot at all. Although the hike has definitely been “discovered” — mainly by non-Chinese tourists — it is not nearly as crowded as Badaling and Mutianyu. On a holiday weekend, stretches of the wall between Jinshanling and Simatai were virtually empty. A few locals had backpacks of drinks and snacks to sell, but they were scarce and their prices were high. I was too cheap to pay 10 RMB for a bottle of water, and got severely dehydrated as a result.
We did the hike through a tour organized by the Beijing Downtown Backpacker’s Accommodation, where we were staying. For 260 RMB, the tour included transportation to and from the Wall (about 3 hours each way) and all of the admissions tickets for the different sections of the wall (a total value of 85 RMB). There was also a guide, but we didn’t see him after we left the bus — the group dispersed almost immediately, so we were never hiking as a pack of 50. This section of the Wall is not accessible by public transportation, making the tour a good deal for individuals and those in small groups.