Great Wall Trek Diary for Monday 5th November 2001

This is my diary for Monday 5th November 2001. I was on a trip to China to walk on the Great Wall, fundraising for the National Star College. I kept a diary but I never published it, so here it is, 10 years on. I’ll do this for every day there’s a diary entry. [Text written like this is commentary added by me now.]

The photos for this day are here.

Index of all relevant blog entries is here.

Monday 5th November – flying to China, driving to Huangyaguan

Frozen wasteland

0820 Beijing time. Slept a little, then woke to see daylight through gap @ bottom of vistor. Lift it. HOLY SHIT. Hills, can’t tell how high but I think rolling like Dartmoor (?), some with jagged tops, like mountains, and it’s all black like ash, or white with snow. The black’s weird – is it trees? Frozen rivers, frozen lakes, and just this as far as the eye can see. Welcome to Siberia, I guess.

Some of them are definitely trees. Er, I think.

That is the most incredible place I’ve ever seen with my own eyes. Now obscured by clouds. Damn. Who lives here? Those have to be houses. Insanity. I have to come here again.

OK, some of the black may be trees, but I think most is, er, rock. The light… Ooh… big brown bit. God, I couldn’t imagine this and now I don’t know how to describe it. So I’ll cheat and take some photos! I can’t believe long I stared dumbly out before remembering my camera!

Mongolian river

The sports news is on – and they’re playing Go! But they call it Weiqi.

Ground now browner and less hilly/desolate. Following a railway line (trans-Sibera?), so a few more settlements. It’s vast and empty.

The map’s back – we just entered China recently, and that was Mongolia! Woo hoo! 168 miles to go. We went right past Ulan Bator & I missed it – grrr. OK, so that was/this is the Gobi Desert. Cool.

Can now see serious mountains in distance – think we cross ‘em before Beijing (on a plain?). Passing Xuanhua soon.

1024: I just saw the wall!

The wall from thirty thousand feet

1100: Crazy shit: I’m in Beijing. Party congregating… everyone v nice. What a journey!

1230. Joy to the world! I’ve lost my tripod! If I’m lucky will be able to pick it up on way back through Beijing. [I did get it back on the way back (though with broken bag) and actually it was probably for the best, as it was too bulky/heavy to carry on the wall, it would have just been an encumberance.] Cool. Much running around with guide, Eric, I didn’t expect this much exercise so soon…

Others go, Eric & I do stuff then follow. 2 coaches. Jack, guide, spiel – very sweet. Driving through Beijing, then outlying villages (maize everywhere – for cattle apparently). Signwriters must do well. After a while, into the mountains! Now it gets windy. Slightly nauseous anyway, this doesn’t help. Pass a huge reservoir (described as “tiny” compared with five serve Beijing), v pretty, water tower is disguised as a pagoda!

Can see wall on mountains ahead. V steep! Not doing that bit, but are doing bit next to it! Arrive at Barracks [Our hotel at Huangyaguan Pass for the first two nights - its actual names is the Huangya Villa Hotel - see photos.] – mental! Huge! It’s right by the wall! Like, wow! (In margin: Bags! [No idea.]) Look round, photos before light goes. Lots of hawkers. Check out room – very basic but it’s all there. Brings home your desire for warmth & security, mind. Llew more intrepid…

Archway at the Barracks

It’s 1530, alarm clock says 0730. Julie’s just getting up, I suppose, and here I am at the wall. Hope she’s alright.

Hot water 1500–1700, dinner @ 1800.

Read a while, but was getting sleepy so tried to have a shower. No hot water. Not cold water: no water from hot tap. Er? Resolved to stink, washed feet, got ready to go to restaurant to change money & have dinner. Quite a few people there already, drinking beer & chatting. Changed $200, got some beer! Met Shaun, very nice chap, bar manager @ NSC. He’s in room next door w/ Bob who I met at luggage, but didn’t get his name before. Told me a bit about NSC, sounds cool. 16/17 year olds @ intake, often w/ no capabilities, first term is hell (“want to go home”), by 2nd year they’re “bolshy little fuckers” and by time they leave they’re your typical young adults – like compressing the teenage years into just 3.

Round tables seating 10 w/ Lazy Susan. Cold bits already, yummy peanuts w/ sesame seeds (sweet – J would not like!), celery w/ dried prawns (didn’t try), strips of beef w/ garlic (tasted as you’d expect), & some green leafy vegetable, very bland. Sat on same table as Llew. Also: Diane, very nice middle-aged lady with GSOH and lots of spirit; her friend (name?), also nice but not impressed by food - poor dear; Lola & her daughter Rhiannon, easily the most “glam” pair here; Harry, Silk Steps guide, 40s, grey beard, very experienced trekker, lots of sage advice to give out; Becca, who I met earlier, still nice; Jeanette who I mistakenly thought knew Becca (actually could be roomies I guess) and didn’t talk to much (mainly talking to Diana on my other side). Bit of talk from Anthony, Anita, Harriet. Food comes! Lots of courses… Little beef satays, really tender lamb/mutton (lovely), chips (!), slices (thin/small) of something melon-like, cabbagey noodly soup, watery peppery (yiy!) soup, plain rice, er… Dumplings!


Drank a fair bit of beer. Someone’s birthday so cake! Sitting around, chatting… Had some firewater of some description – giggling Chinese girls @ bar, squealed when I necked it. Tasted like pear drops! [It was rice wine.]

Andy avec beer

Crashed @ 2145, felt like 2am! Woke @ 3am, almost ready to get up. Uh-oh… BURP! Nasty, felt like I was gonna be sick, but gladly wasn’t. Thank God for Malc’s sleeping bag, that’s all I’ll say! Must get him a nice present to say thanks.

[The next morning we'd walk on the wall for the first time...]