The Great Wall of China is one of Beijing’s most popular tourist attractions and one of its most dangerous. Of all the sections of the Great Wall of China near Beijing, the Jiankou section is one of the most spectacular and rewarding sections to visit and the most dangerous. Every year dozens of tourists are stranded, injured or even killed at Jiankou because of rugged and difficult terrain or bad weather.
The Heroes of Jiankou
When ever a tourist at Jiankou is in need of help, it is fire fighters of the Huairou District Detachment of the Beijing Fire and Rescue Service who come to their aid. Huairou is a small city around 90 minutes north of Beijing and is the gateway to Jiankou and many other parts of the Great Wall of China. Roughly 66% of the rescue missions carried out by the Huairou detachment are at Jiankou and they even have a dedicated 6 man mountain rescue team for Jiankou.
With 35 rescue missions on Jiankou alone in 2010 and over 52 rescues in 2011, the fire fighters of Huairou are kept busy. Tourists to Jiankou are often unprepared with inappropriate footwear and clothing. Many tourists will often wear sandals where heavy hiking boots are a minimum and wearing shorts and t-shirts where temperatures can drop below zero in late Autumn and early Spring. Many tourists will also be ill prepared and carrying just water with no hiking equipment, food or emergency supplies.
When you are hiking through desolate and rugged mountainous terrain on steep slippery paths with long vertical drops, it is common sense to take precautions and be prepared. This common sense applies to the Jiankou section of the Great Wall which is in the mountains where hiking can be very dangerous especially when the weather quickly turns bad.
Not only are unprepared tourists putting themselves at risk and ruining what should be an incredible travel experience, they are also putting the lives of the Huairou fire fighters at risk. The men from Hauirou have a dangerous job and many of their rescue missions involve climbing up and down cliff faces and traversing parts of the wall that are very unstable and prone to collapse. Often they will put their lives at risk hauling or carrying injured tourists in these conditions while trying to keep their bodies steady without aggravating injuries.
The silly part is over 90% of these dangerous rescue missions could easily be avoided.
How to visit the Jiankou Section of the Great Wall of China?
Footwear and clothing – Make sure you are wearing hiking shoes or boots with proper ankle support. Twisting an ankle may not be life threatening but having to be carried down the mountain to the nearest vehicle access point which can be hours away is not fun. Check on the weather and dress appropriately. Keep in mind that weather conditions can change quickly. I love hiking and climbing the wall in just shorts and singlet but always pack warm clothing in my daypack if there is any chance of the weather turning bad.
Food and drink – One of the best meals you’ll have while in China is lunch perched on the Great Wall. The mountain views are incredible, the settings are unique and the wilderness is awesome. So make sure you pack plenty of food and water and enough so if you do get stuck on the wall over night, you will not go thirsty or hungry.
Be fit – You need to be fit to visit Jiankou. The hike from the drop off point to the wall is at least 45 minutes through thick scrub and steep hills. Once you reach the wall, you will be in for at least 3-4 hours of very intense and strenuous hiking and climbing. If you are not fit, you are not going to make the trip, you’ll have a horrible time and you may be placing your self and others in danger. Keep in mind that people die at Jiankou. This does not mean you cannot visit the Great Wall of China, just choose a more suitable section such as Mutianyu or Badaling.
Try not to go alone – I have to admit I am often on the wall alone which is not good because if something goes wrong, I have no one to help me. For example if I fell down on one of the steeper sections and broke a leg, the nearest road could be hours away and I may have to wait on the wall for over a day before being found by some one. Don’t let being alone stop you from visiting Jiankou but if possible, go with other people.
If you want to visit Jiankou, this article will tell you how Surviving Jiankou Great Wall of China