Sleeping on the Great Wall of China

Travel Stories — By on 09/04/2011 12:05 pm
great wall 640 300x225 Sleeping on the Great Wall of China

Gubeikou section of the Great Wall of China

No matter how big or small, every one has a travel dream. That dream can range from sampling every brewery in your home state or climbing a local mountain to running with the bulls in Pamplona, joining the mile high club (the new Airbus does not count), getting wasted at the Rio Carnival or being romanced on the Eiffel tower. One of my most compelling travel dreams has been to sleep on the Great Wall of China.

The first time I walked the Great Wall was at Simatai a few years ago during China’s Spring festival with a tour group from a Beijing youth hostel. While admiring the view from an ancient gate house after a several hour walk on the wall, I was struck by the idea of just how cool it would be to sleep on the wall. From that moment on I’ve been slightly obsessed with the dream of sleeping on the wall.

This travel dream became reality when after two months planning with my friend and travel buddy K American girl, the sleep over trip to the Great Wall kicked off Sunday night. Would have started Saturday night but train tickets from Changchun to Beijing were sold out.

For background reading you can click on this link for An introduction to the Great Wall of China and click on this link for Visiting the Great Wall of China

Preparation – First plan was to go to Mutianyu because Simatai is closed for restoration and no serious traveller in their right mind would be seen on Badaling. Spoke to a friend who’d been to Gubeikou and after doing some research, decided that go for Gubeikou. More isolated and less crowded with a large unrestored section of the original wall.

Equipment – Sleeping bags (K2 rated for -18C and a Colombia rated for -20C), foam jigsaw mats for a mattress, sturdy hiking shoes, large back pack, camera and spare batteries, bag of Muesli (gods gift to campers), Chinese under armour thermals, Australian sunglasses and two liters of water

Day One

The trip

We caught the Z62 over night sleeper train from Chang Chun to Beijing and arrived at Beijing train station at 6:00am in the morning fired up and ready to go. Took the subway at the Beijing train station subway stop to Dongzhimen subway stop where we exited the subway at the B exit and headed east to Dongzhimen long distance bus station. The plan was to catch either a Luanping or Chengde bus and get off at the GubeiKou stop .

We ended up at an enormous bus stop just outside the Dongzhimen subway exit and caught a 980 quick bus to Miyun (密云) where we planned to change buses for Gubeikou. Our bus driver dropped us of in Miyun 70 minutes later amongst a very welcoming group of touts. The bus driver must have been on the touts payroll. Luckily the touts were busy harassing a bunch of Chinese tourist so K and I made a quick escape.

A really friendly shop keeper nearby gave us directions to a local bus that would take us to Gubeikou. His directions were solid and we arrived at the bus stop after a 10 minute walk. Caught the bus 30 minutes later and arrived in Gubeikou around 11am after a two hour bus trip. Yaaayyy, finally at the wall!

The wall

The Gubeikou wall is around 20 kilometers long and is divided in to four sections. Wohushan , Panlongshan, Jianshanling and Simatai. The Gubeikou township is located in a valley that runs from north to south between Wohushan and Panlongshan sections and splits the wall in two.

 

The Wohushan section to the west of Gubeikou township is shorter than the Panlongshan section to the east and is entirely unrestored. Most of the longer Panlongshan section has been partially or completely restored. K preferred to hike the unrestored part of the wall so we headed west to climb Wohushan (卧虎山). The official translation of Wohushan is crouching tiger mountain. It can also be translated as bed or bedroom tiger mountain. I prefer the second translation.

The Wohusha section of the wall has had no work done on it since 1567 and is in a completely unrestored and deteriorated condition. At the starting point of this section at the edge of the township, there is no wall at all. Only the crumbling remains of two watch towers. The condition of the wall generally improves as you travel west ward.

The wall is in such bad condition that much of the trail is on a path on the side of the wall because the actual wall itself is either in ruins or is a pile of bricks and rubble. The second last section of the wall that climbs to the peak of Wohushan is in reasonable condition and the guard tower near the summit that is almost complete with just the entrance part of roof caved in. From the rubble on the ground, the collapse of the roof was very recent.

In the last part of the trek after the summit, the wall all but disappears as it cross over a very narrow ridge is no more than roughly 60cm wide. The wall tail stops abruptly and finishes at a peak that leads to a precipitous drop. The wall starts again on another peak on the other side of the drop. There is no way to cross the drop so the only way to continue to follow the wall would be to back track most of the way down Wohushan mountain and take a several hour detour.

The views from this part of the wall were awesome with ridges and mountains on three sides and distant views of the wall straddling mountain peaks to both the west and east. K and I decided to camp there for the night where we had grandstand views of the sunset and sunrise over the surrounding mountains.

The sunset was not colourful but just sitting on the great wall with just K for company watching the sun sink behind the mountains was profound and incredibly satisfying.

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K enjoying the view from near the top of Wohushan mountain

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Most of the wall is this worn and deteriorated or worse

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The high quality of mortar and brick work in the wall is clearly visible here

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These two watch towers are all that remain of the wall in this part

Day Two

After a night spent huddling in the sleeping bags trying in vain to stay warm, we woke up to the alarm at 5am. The surrounding mountains were covered in mist and the distant sections of the wall were not visible. This provided an eerie and poignant backdrop for the sunrise.

We ate breakfast, rested than rolled up the sleeping bags, packed our bags and set of down the wall back towards the Gubeikou town ship. Like cats climbing up trees, we found the hike down much more difficult than the hike up.

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In bed on the Great Wall watching the sunrise

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Thinking hard about getting up

The trip back

There is a large police check point straddling the high way that runs north through the valley. All buses to Beijing stop at this check point so catching a bus directly to Beijing is easy. The first bus we tried had no seats and the driver basically swore in his mother’s grave that we should take his bus because all the buses would be as full due to the grave sweeping festival/holiday. Not convinced, we decided to wait for the next bus. Sure enough, this bus had plenty of empty seats. Unfortunately at this point I needed to go to the toilet so K and I lost our seats. The next 2-3 buses were full so K ran out of patience with the buses (and me) and took a car to Miyun where she then caught the 980 bus back to Beijing.

I stuck it out and took the next bus that had only standing room. Luckily I managed to get a seat after half an hour. The bus trip took two hours and we were dropped off right next to the Sanyuanqiao subway stop on line 10. From there it was just a 20-30 minute subway ride back to Beijing train station were I waited for 30 minutes for K to arrive.

Costs

460RMB Train fare from Changchun to Beijing and back
320RMB Colombia -20C rated sleeping bag
160RMB 1 night at the hotel
60RMB Fares from Beijing to Gubeikou and back
50RMB Food and water

1050RMB The total for an awesome night sleeping on the Great Wall

As you can see, sleeping on the wall is cheap and affordable, especially if you already have the necessary equipment.

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14 Comments

  1. germana says:

    Hi!! I’m an italian girl, and I envy you so much….
    I hope to do the same on my next travel in china…

    You’re site is very nice, and has a lot of nice tips.
    bye!

  2. Nastya says:

    Bo, that is SUPERABLE! I’d join you if i were in CC… or it must sound as i’d have joined you if i had been there…

  3. Lana Hilton says:

    Hi Brendon,
    I love love love this story! I love how you were up there when the idea came to you and you did your research and went through with it.
    I would love for you to guest post on my blog about your experience sometime – http://www.thefirsttimer.com – it would make a great ‘first time’ story!

  4. beetlejuice says:

    hi~
    I’ve read that, thanks to u!!

    I went to the course of ba da ling chang cheng 2 months ago!!!!
    It was hard because of lack of fitness..
    it is great. Yeah, I guess you sleep right?
    I would like to go your moving path someday!!
    bye-bye!!

  5. Great post – reminds me of when I walked a similar route to yours… didn’t sleep out though – wish I had.

    I did spend a night sleeping on top of one of the towers at the other end of the Great Wall – Jiayuguan in Gansu province way out west. You’ve just given me an idea for a new post – thanks!

    • Brendon says:

      Hi Jonathan, Wow, even just wallking the wall at Jiayuguan would be an experience. You’ve made me jealous :) Really need to go to the west, see Jiayuguan, the Silk Road and everything else there.

  6. Liz says:

    Hello,

    Just wondering how you avoided the authorities to sleep on the wall overnight? Since moving to Bejing, we have yet to sleep on the wall, and were wondering the details. Hoping to go next weekend so any advice you have would be much appreciated!

    • Brendon says:

      Hi Liz, To avoid authorites the trick is to go to one of the more isolated parts of the wall and go before or after the peak tourist season in summer. Email me at brendon@chinatravelgo.com if you’d like some more information.

  7. Andärin says:

    Absolutely stunning Great Wall pictures, Brendon!

    As you probably already know, this article is going to be included in the 7th Byteful Travel Blog Carnival! It goes live July 26th at Byteful.com, and I’ll be sure to mention @ChinaTravelGo in a tweet about it. If you could retweet and help spread the word, it would mean a lot. :)

    Thanks!

  8. Andärin says:

    Hello again, Brendon.

    I decided to go ahead and see what 1050 RMB (which I’m going to guess is Chinese Yuan Renminbi)

    If so 1050RMB = $162.865 USD in the current exchange rate. That’s an amazing deal for such an awesome experience!

  9. Angelina says:

    Hi Brendon! This sounds like an amazing experience, I admire your sense of adventure. Thank you so much for posting such a detailed review of your experience. I am planning to do this type of trip this weekend. Do you have any suggestions about the food to bring with you? Also, you didn’t require a tent?

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