Spanning a distance of 21 000 kilometers across Northern China, it’s no secret that The Great Wall forms one of Asia’s oldest wonders. Built more than 2300 years ago by a range of Emperors, its main purpose was to prevent invasion and protect trading along the Silk Road. Today, it forms one of the must visit sites of China challenging every man (and woman!) to prove their strength by hiking along this majestic divide.
Located just 60 km northwest to central Beijing, Badaling once served as the first line of defense between Beijing and Mongolia. Today, this section of the Great Wall forms one of most popular parts because it is the most restored and easiest of all to climb.
Getting to Badaling
It’s no secret that much of China still does not speak English and unless 1) you’re a mandarin native speaker, 2) you’re taking mandarin classes in your spare time, or 3) you can read mandarin, it’s going to be an interesting experience getting there! But hey, the fun is all about the journey, right?!
All over Beijing, there are tons of buses and trains heading to Badaling. You’ve just got to find the right one. There is also a range of Great Wall tours being offered that will transfer you directly to and from your hotel or hostel. These however, are usually quite expensive starting from $60 and can run up to the hundreds.
Climbing the Great Wall
Running for about 7.6 km, the Badaling section of the Great Wall is divided into two main sections: the north and south.
Along the wall you will also find watch towers and beacon towers. Watch towers form rectangular two storied structures built on the top of a particular section of the wall. The ground floor of the watch towers were used to store weapons and also had small windows overlooking the hills and valleys below. This is where the archers stood, ready to fire. At Badaling, you can see a watchtower at every few hundred meters.
Beacon towers formed independent blockhouses located at the peak of the surrounding mountains. From here the enemies were watched. Beacon towers can be found every 2 to 5 kilometers.
Badaling contains 12 watch towers in the North and 18 watch towers in the South. The North section however, is more popular among tourists as it holds the highest tower of the area, at watch tower no 8.
There are two main starting points on the north side. The first begins at the entrance to the Badaling area where you will begin climbing from watch tower 1 while the second point starts at watch tower 8, where you will first take the cable car up and begin climbing from there. Depending on your time, energy and personal preferences, you may choose either route.
The hike up, while challenging is more than rewarding and while you’ll be exhausted and need to potassium-overload yourself over the next few days, this experience will be one that you’ll never forget.
The wall itself is paved with granite slabs and lined with hand rails, making the climb a little easier.
Reaching each watch or beacon tower is a milestone in itself. Standing inside one is a somewhat hauntingly historic experience.
In the olden days, fire and smoke were used to signal when invaders were thought to be approaching. Fires were lit within the towers and the number of fires represented the number of enemies approaching. Later, cannons were used. One fire of the cannon and a smoke column represented approximately 100 soldiers approaching with increasing cannon shots representing an increasing number of enemy soldiers.
The further up you go, the steeper the steps and deeper the valleys. The wind howls and blows from all directions, making it easy to loose your balance. It’s easy to see why people stop at watch tower no. 8.
Don’t. Keep going. It will be worth it. I promise.
The path from watch tower no. 9 to no. 12 of the North side is not an easy climb so be careful as you maneuver through the hills and valleys. After reaching the furthest tower (no 12) instead of returning the way you came, exit through the Bear Garden.
It’s essential that you dress for walking and dress for the weather too. Choose comfortable footwear with a good grip. It should support your feet and keep you sturdy as you trek the slopes. Wear layers of clothes that can easily be taken off. This will help you maintain better temperature control and be comfortable as you move on.
It’s easy to spend a whole day hiking up the Badaling section, but be weary of the time you have available. Give yourself enough time to hike back or at least catch the cable car down before it closes.
The best times to visit are during April, May, September, or October when it is neither too cold nor too hot. Usually from mid to late October, the Great Wall is surrounded by beautiful autumn colors. Yellow mountains and red leaves all around will have you breathless in a completely different way. Many people choose to visit Badaling in the winter because of the snow. Usually at this time, the wall is empty, leaving you with some of the most beautiful pictures! Be careful though, this is one of the most dangerous times to visit the wall as there is ice everywhere and it’s very easy to slip.
More on our trek to the tenth watch tower at Badaling coming soon!
Have you been to The Great Wall of China? Which part have you visited? I would love to hear about your experience! Just leave me a comment below!