Climbing to the Tenth Tower of the Great Wall: Badaling

The Chinese have a famous saying,  “You aren’t a man until you’ve climbed the Great Wall of China.” Being a strong independent woman, my first thought upon hearing this, was damn right, I sure as hell will be hiking up that Great Wall and not just up the wall, but to the tenth watch tower. Whatever it takes.

So that was how the idea to hike up the Great Wall was born.

My room mate and I had planned our hike out the night before in a Beijing hotel room. Excited as hell, we tried to get an early night because of course, this was China and we had to leave pretty early to try and figure out how to get to Badaling without being able to read the signs and speak the language. We switched our VPN’s on and hopped over that great Chinese firewall as fast as we could. Screenshots, digital notes and tons of webpages later, we finally had a plan of action in place.

Leave by 8 am. Head to Beijing North Railway Station. Find the ticket office. Buy the train tickets. Catch the 9.06 am train out to Badaling. Easy.

Well, sure. It always sounds easy the night before.

All night I wondered if I would be able to make that hike to the 10th tower. I had been raving about it to my roommate ever since I had heard that crazy Chinese saying. Truth be told, since stopping Kung Fu in 2012, I wasn’t as fit as I used to be but being a Gemini, meant that my ideas were sometimes (no, most of the time!) bigger than my abilities. But I was determined. I wanted to do it. I was going to do it. Not to prove I was a man but to prove I was a wo-man. Not to anybody else but to myself. To show myself that sure, perhaps I had become a tad unfit since obtaining my blue belt all those years ago but my mind was not unfit. My mind was what was driving my body and even if I may not be physically ready, I am more than mentally ready.

I went to sleep.

The next morning, I was up and ready to go at seven. We grabbed some Starbucks and found our way to the train station. From our online research through endless forums and blogs, we knew that there was a little window outside the train station selling tickets to Badaling. Easily enough, we found that window. The only thing was… that window was closed.

Closed!

You’ve got to be kidding me. Today of all days, that window is closed? How on earth are we supposed to get there? Are you telling me that we traveled across the whole of China from the Guangdong Province to Beijing to hike the to tenth tower of the Great Wall and the bloody window to buy tickets is closed?!

Yeah.

That was pretty much the conversation I had with my poor roommate. It was the other Gemini in me coming out. I had my mind set on that hike. I wanted this. I was going to have this. So we searched… and searched… and walked around looking for some form of help. We asked people in the best broken mandarin we knew and nobody seemed to know anything about this window. Eventually a nice old man pointed us in the direction of another ticket office inside the train station. Off we went and right he was.

We had bought two train tickets to Badaling!

We checked the time. We has missed the 9.06 am train. Great. The next one would leave at 11.06 am. We had nothing to do besides wait… and bond.

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My second Gemini was still out. I was in a mood. We got some breakfast and coffee and soon enough, my mood changed. Before long we had boarded the train and was off to Badaling!

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At approximately 12.13 pm we had arrived. The train stopped a few hundred meters away from the actual entrance to the Badaling area meaning our hike had begun long before we even knew it.

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After exploring the base of shops, we purchased our entrance tickets and were off.

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It was time to make that all famous decision – should we climb the north or south side of the Great Wall? After much deliberation, we had chosen. North it was and away we went.

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There’s an underlying majestic nature that surrounds the Great Wall as you hike along.

The entirety of it overwhelmed me a little as I walked along the giant granite stones knowing that this section of the wall was originally built in 1505 and here I was, standing on it at this very moment. Touching it. Hiking it.

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The initial hike up to the first tower was treacherous. Not only was it steep and my muscles had already begun to ache but I was also out of breath. There were so… many… people. Turns out, the odds of you losing your balance while trying to avoid bumping into someone was greater than actually misplacing your footing on the wall.

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We powered on to the second tower.

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The third tower.

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The fourth tower.

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Stumbling through each watch tower, it’s as if history was still alive inside those dark passageways.

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As the stones crumbled under my feet and dust rose up around me, it was haunting to know that these were the sites where cannons were shot and fires were lit in an attempt to warn against approaching enemies.

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We continued on.

Despite being restored in 1957 and one of the few sections with handrails attached for hikers, it still is a treacherous venture. Steep and slippery. It’s easy to fall… and me being me, I did. Trip. Slip and landed straight on my behind, all while recording. After a good old laugh, we were off.

Watch me fall on the Great Wall here.

Fifth Tower.

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Sixth Tower.

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Seventh Tower. The steps were getting steeper. The wind heavier. The valleys deeper.

My heart… stronger.

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The views around us were breathtakingly beautiful.

As far as the eye could see there were pieces of a narrow dusty wall winding its way into the distance and connected by beacons and towers running from hill top to hill top.

Eighth Tower.

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We had made it to the cable car area. Tired, dusty, cold and sweaty. We had two choices – take the cable car down or keep going.

We kept going.

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The wall had quietened along the way as it became more difficult to reach the towers. Many hikers had taken the cable car down. There were about three people that I could see clambering off in the distance. They didn’t give up.

Neither did we.

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Ninth Tower.

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Almost there. In the distance, we could see the tenth tower. It was a pretty steep incline, sliding back, grabbing the side rails in an attempt to pull ourselves up but we persevered and soon we had reached the tenth tower of the north side of the Great Wall of China.

We had done it.

Hours later and despite slipping up and sliding down we had reached the tenth tower of the Great Wall at Badaling. We were officially classified as real men in China.

I however, was a real woman in my head and heart.

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Never in a million years did I think that one day, I would find myself wandering through Asia, let alone in China. Never in a million years did I feel the need to put the Great Wall on my bucket list, let alone spend a day out of my life testing my mental strength as I hiked to the tenth tower of one of the worlds greatest wonders.

But I did. Here I was.

A twenty eight year old woman that had climbed to the tenth tower of the North side of the Great Wall of China.

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Posted by

Hi World! I'm Shal - an environmental microbiologist, writer, teacher and artist from Durban, South Africa. I've spent the last two years traveling and teaching Chemistry and English to young kids in Asia. Life of Shal was founded as a way to share travel experiences, tips and other worldly magic with you! Join me on my journey!

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