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wicklore
2012-04-23 21:38:24
"The Simatai Gauntlet" from wicklore Contract pics
Picture: The Simatai Gauntlet (Contract pics)

Hiking the Great Wall
I spent a few days walking on the Great Wall of China recently. I stayed in a village about 2 hours north of Beijing. Here the Wall snakes along a ridge of hills at 500m altitude. There are original Watch Towers every 100m or so along its length. Nearby is an area called Simatai which has been closed to the public for two years for private development. Guards are posted there to ward off hikers who arrive from either direction. Simatai is appealing as the Wall descends steeply to a lake where a narrow and precarious footbridge takes you across the lake to the other side where the Wall reappears and ascends steeply back up the mountain. In order to experience this I knew I would have to get an early start to beat the guards.

I was dropped near the lake early one morning. I was told that the guards arrive on the Wall at 8am, which gave me a one hour head-start. The Guard Tower is the 10th Tower to the west of the lake, and I had to get beyond it before the guards arrived. It was a steep descent of 300 feet down the Wall to the lake. I stood gazing across the 200 foot long pedestrian bridge. While it appeared well-built, I wondered how sturdy and well-kept it was considering it has been off-limits to the public for 2 years! The underfoot boards creaked ominously as I stepped onto it, and the bridge swayed gently as I crossed. It is about 50 feet above the lake. I expected to plunge through it to the icy lake below at any stage! However thoughts of the soon-to-arrive guards made me scuttle carefully across with no incidents other than a loudly beating heart!

On the other side I was faced with a series of steep metal ladders/stairs. After these I arrived at the first Tower to the west of the lake. I then enjoyed hiking along the Wall in quiet solitude. I was eager to reach the distant safety of the Guard Tower, as I knew once I passed it I would be free from the threat of the guards. It seemed far away and I found myself nervously glancing over my shoulder as I panted along.

After an hour I finally reached the Tower. With no guards in sight I felt great relief. However as I took photos I heard a shout behind me. Looking back I could see the two guards running along the Wall gesturing and shouting. Adrenaline pumping, I ran away. I reached the next Tower and stopped to catch my breath. There were no further signs of the guards, which relieved me as I didn’t wish to get to know the inside of a Chinese prison! I kept going and left the Simatai section of the Wall and its guards behind.

Running the ‘Simatai Gauntlet’ was well worth the experience. It is a moral question for each individual whether they choose to enter this closed section of the Wall. However a developer has bought this section of the Wall and it is in private ownership. The Wall is not closed for repair or renovation, but rather for private enterprise. Imagine if the Mourne Wall suffered a similar fate and the public were denied access to it?!


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