I’m excited to share this incredible experience with you. I’ve travelled all over the world and have had many incredible experiences, but this is easily one of the most beautiful, powerful, and spiritual moments I’ve experienced. I had the opportunity while here in Beijing, China to hike virtually alone (with some of my closest friends) along an unrestored portion of what is called the Great Stone Dragon- The Great Wall of China. The photos below cannot do justice to the exquisite beauty and the feeling of 500 year old stone beneath our feet that were somehow carried to the top of this mountain range. There are some photos where you will be able to see the scale of how massive the Wall is, and how long it stretches. I’ve now made it a goal one day to hike along the entire thing- which should take about six months to complete. I had the pleasure of sharing this with Shay Kostabi, Jesse DeYoung, Annalee Loeffler, and Robyn Wexler. We have Jesse to thank for capturing many of these moments, lugging his cameras in a bag up this mountain.
And, as the nerd that I am, before we begin, you should click HERE. Because this was playing in my head during the entire hike, and it’s apparent that Tolkien drew much of his inspiration from the Wonder of the World.
We began in a two hour car ride out of the heart of the capital city of China into the countryside. Robyn has a summer home out near the Wall, and knew of an unrestored portion we could access that would give us a unique experience on the Wall. We followed these signs all the way out into the middle of nowhere, catching glimpses of the wall on the tip of the mountain range:
It was raining when we arrived, so we waited for it to clear a bit before starting on our way. We had to hike through the woods up to a ladder made of tree branches to climb up on top of the wall.
I’ve heard many people comment that have hiked the Wall that they were surprised how steep some portions of it are. This could not be more true. At times it goes straight up the side of the mountain. When building the wall, the Chinese were mindful of the powers of Feng Shui- the system of harmonizing everything with the surrounding environment. This is the reason the Wall was built the way it was, and is probably why it is still standing 500 years later. It was a short scramble up jagged rock and brick to the first turret, where we got some the first of some incredible views.
It was here that the path ahead become more clear, more epic, and therefore more exciting. Keep in mind that every single brick had to be carried all the way up here. It has been said that many were tied to herds of goats that were led all the way up the mountain.
Soon we reached the second turret. This one was much more intact than the first and we took some incredible photos. The fact that it had been raining caused the clouds to skirt along the middle of the mountains, and blocked the light from the sun, allowing us to see and take in everything in vivid detail.
However, soon the rain returned, but rather than that being a bad thing, it made for an incredible moment. We all had to duck inside the turret that we had just reached. We huddled inside listening to nothing but the sound of rain outside and imagined that guards that walked the Wall 500 years ago must have had to do the same thing to escape storms powering through the mountain range.
Once the rain cleared, we had to make the difficult choice to turn around and go back, or scramble up a jagged piece of rock that had burst through the Wall in an earthquake hundreds of years ago. I couldn’t help myself and gave it a try. I love to climb. As it turns out, because it was so jagged, it provided for many foot and handholds, so all of us were able to get up higher safely. I’m so thankful we decided to go for it, because it allowed us to access a higher turret with some of the most exquisite views we had during the entire experience. Can you see how far along the top of the mountains the Wall continues?
These turrets were used to send smoke signals by day, and beacon fires by night to notify the next turret, and the next turret, and eventually a military base that the enemy was approaching. We took in the beauty at this one, and then kept going, down steep hills, through overgrown portions of the wall, through passageways, and up to the next turret.
We eventually reached a point where we decided it was a good idea to turn around. It had taken us two and a half hours of climbing to make it this far, and would likely take a similar amount of time getting back. We wanted to make sure we didn’t get too far out and then be too tired and hungry to return. So we began the homeward journey, listening to the sounds of livestock echoing up from the villages below.
Robyn, who owned the house not far away, knew a woman in the village who was willing to prepare some traditional Chinese food for us on our way out. So, exhausted, dirty, sweaty, hungry, and with sparkles in our eyes we drove into town and sat down to an incredible home cooked meal and beer together.
It’s difficult to put into words how powerful an effect this experience had on me and my life. I found myself reflecting, and realizing that every moment, every decision I have ever made had lead up to this one. I realized that even when I had to make tough decisions, or when things happened to me that were so painful in the moment, every one of them had led me here, to this experience, to this moment. I felt tremendous gratitude for that. I also feel grateful to have experienced this with people that are so special to me, and on such a beautiful day in China.
I want to encourage all of you reading this to remember that you must keep moving forward. Make the most of every situation and circumstance you find yourself in. Keep getting up and keep opening doors. Don’t stop. You will be lead somewhere you can’t possibly imagine now.