Wednesday, June 4, 2008

China Day 05: Wall Walking

Well, you know I couldn't leave it at that. Here are the details of our Great Wall Adventure!

After all that, we arrived where we had waited so long to be! We passed through the ticket gate and were herded over to a set of benches for our second (and last) Official Group Photo, after which we were turned loose.

Because of the delays, we were told we had about an hour and a half to enjoy the Wall. When you come up onto the Wall you have a choice of going left or right. The right section has the cable car and it's a little flatter right there at the beginning. (No section of the Great Wall is very flat for very long.) The left section lacked the cable car and was a little steeper, so it was a little less populated. Dad and I decided to take the Road Less Traveled.

We climbed up a set of stairs to wall-level, photographing each other in the process:
then turned left, whereupon it soon got steep:
Up and to the right you can see one of the archery towers that punctuate the wall at intervals. They are spaced two bowshots apart, so that the archers could keep every section of the Wall under covering fire if there was an attack. The view was amazing:
As everywhere, the graffiti artists have been busy:
By the time we got to the second watchtower, Dad was feeling pretty winded. He'd already done a lot of walking today, and he decided he'd have more fun watching me climb to the next tower than actually joining me. We got some friends to immortalize our achievement:
Note the attractive "One World One Dream" Olympic billboard on the far side of the valley. *Sigh*. I think I'll teach my next Photoshop class how to use the Healing Brush to eradicate the dumb thing.

I pushed on up the slope, pausing now and again to look around me:
There was a kind of quiet majesty to being up here, and it was oddly lonely, considering that I was hardly the only climber. The wind was the only sound other than my own puffing breath, and I was grateful that they'd put in a hand rail the last time they restored this section (in the late 80s.) As I climbed, I came to appreciate the way the Wall builders consistently took the hardest, highest path. The Great Wall always follows the spines of the hills,
never taking the easy way into the valleys. That's what made it a good defensive wall, but man, it's steep!

The gently sloping bits rise and fall,
and where it gets a bit steeper, they put gripper ridges - mini steps - in to give you better traction.

Other sections look like this!
That stair is considerably steeper than 45 degrees, and I was clinging to the handrail, hauling myself upwards. You'd stop for a breather and look at the people climbing next to you, and they looked like Batman and Robin in the old TV show climbing the walls of Gotham City!

I climbed for twenty more minutes or so, wanting to reach the next tower as a natural end point, but then I started looking at my watch. For fear of Fred, I decided I needed to turn back - I wasn't running out of "up" anytime soon, anyway. This:
China-0486is the highest point I reached.

Then I turned around and discovered two things:

1)The muscles on the front of my thighs were done holding me up. Totally, completely done. They were on strike. Trembling like aspen leaves.

2) I'm still afraid of heights!

On the way up, I'd been looking at my footing, or at the Wall above me (or straight in front of my nose, in the case of those crazy stairs) and I didn't really have a problem. Once I turned the other way, though, all there was to look at was DOWN. I was on the outside of this convex curve and the whole world was falling away in front of me. This gives you an idea of the vertiginous feel:
On these steep sections, the handrail I had loved so much before was now very little help to me; it dropped away so sharply I could only reach it by bending almost double. I started slowly and carefully clambering back down, actually going down the steepest stairs by sitting down and scooching!

Dad was observing from back at the Second Watchtower:
Halfway back down, I found an excuse to pause for a rest: two Chinese guys were taking each other's picture.
I stopped out of frame, but after a moment they noticed me and waved me through. I gestured that I wanted to just sit down for a second. Then they asked me if I'd take their photo for them - actually, they handed me their camera, by which I figured out the rest. Afterwards they said Thanks, and I tried to say You're Welcome, but I think I said I'm Sorry instead.

Soon I reached where Dad was waiting for me:
and we continued down until we arrived back at the first watchtower. I skipped describing this tower when we passed it going up, but it's worth a look.
It has been colonized by vendors selling an odd array of random merchandise: "I climbed the Great Wall" T-shirts at the exact minimum distance required to say that truthfully. Cashmere pashminas. Dan'l Boone hats! And this guy playing the gourd flute:
He is playing "Red River Valley" over and over. I don't know why that strikes me so funny, but it does.

No comments: