Great Wall Trek Diary for Tuesday 6th November 2001

This is my diary for Tuesday 6th 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.

Tuesday 6th November – first day of wall walking; Huangyaguan Pass


11 AM. I’m walking the wall! Unbelievable… It’s just perfect. The weather’s incredible – cold, clear, crisp. Definitely warm enough when walking. There’s snow – on the path! Steep. Views incredible, fantastically clear. I feel absolutely elated. Nearly finished first film. XP this afternoon? [Ilford XP2, a film which gives sepia coloured pictures; I used it on later days.]

1645 Incredible day – lots of catching up to do!

Woke 0730, didn’t even bother trying shower, just got dressed, brushed teeth, went to breakfast. Bustling! Jasmine tea, nuts, tofu, mumbled eggs, bread, doughnuts. Many people grumbling how “this isn’t breakfast food” but me loving it. Set off @ 0900. Up through village, lots of people chopping crabapples. Horses! Left through gate, start winding uphill. Chatting w/ various people. Er… Julie, Laura, Emma, Wyn, etc. Stop for piccies on concrete irrigation thing, Mavis falls over! But she’s OK… Up more, horseriders pass – do we want a ride? No! Round bend to big clearing with statue of some bloke (Qi Qi Kwon? Qi Qikuon? [Aha, according to this informative page it's Qi Jiguang, a Ming era general.]), group shots. Let’s do some wall! Up past derelict hotel (great site!), and we’re on the wall! Hands on bricks. There’s snow! A photo-taking flurry begins. Start walking, not too bad I reckon. Totally incredible… See earlier comments, but generally wow: views! It’s the fucking wall! Big grin on face, not gonna go away for a while.

Horsemen at Huangya Trekkers at Huangya, just before first assault on wall

Some people totally storming off already, I’m taking too many photos to be at the front. Finish film fairly soon. Hook up with Mavis, helping her down some steep bit, end up with her until near end. Some people definitely having problems, but everyone going for it… Mavis is a good laugh – and Ollie’s got her back pack (far ahead and getting further!). Slower going now than if I was on my own, but realise that’s a good thing. Why be in a hurry to be anywhere but here?

Up, down, up, down, steps, rough bits, ice & snow. Coming towards end, turn right off wall & down slope, getting hairer. Round corner & can see Barracks – cool! Meet w/ Harry & Cathy, Harry asks if I’d stick around to help other ladies down (Mavis OK from here). Er, like - yeah! Excuse to stay up here!

The Barracks from above

Go back up to wall & meet up with back markers, then help Jess down - a few dodgy moments! Finally make it to bottom (more hawkers!), arrive in stadium to cheers & applause.

Great lunch: rice, nuts (Peanuts without chopsticks? How??? [Explanation: at dinner the previous evening I'd been very pleased with my chopstick skills, eating peanuts one by one; lunch contained peanuts but no chopsticks and for a moment I felt genuinely flummoxed - and then I cracked up.]), apple, hard boiled egg, sarnie, cake, soup. Then off again, v soon – some people have been waiting an hour. [Suckers.]

This afternoon is up the other side: straight up, then straight back down – so OK not to set off immediately. Drop coats off, then start heading up w/ Harriet (doc, rear marker), then head ahead to catch up w/ Harry. Jesus – steps! Some tiny, some normal, some huge – but many of each. Hard work, hardest of day because a) it’s all uphill; b) it’s steps, and pretty steep; c) playing catchup. Do catch up, then go at his pace (stopping frequently – good), until reach sign at top (gets dodgy/rough again then).

Looking across Huangya valley at the morning's Wall Near the top on the first afternoon

Actually goes further – up very steep staircase w/ handrail – very icy though. First lot are coming down, apparently lookout @ top is great. Up we go. Hard but looks like coming down is harder! Cathy @ top of steps – just a bit of rough stuff up to lookout: go!

Trekkers descending icy steps at Huangya

Laura & Emma up there; fruit is shared. Harriet still behind: went so far then helped someone down, then back up again! Make it to top shortly after Laura & Emma leave. I waiting @ top w/ Cathy while Anthony & Harry check out a bit of wild wall to the right. We three go back to lookout again – really incredible looking at where we walked this morning. Achingly beautiful. Perfectly happy. Boys return, group shot, then down we go (Anthony storming ahead). It’s hairy, although I’m pleased to find myself not gibbering like some people were. :-) Good fun going down, gossip, jokes, travel stories – don’t have much to say, just listen. Happy to be with these guys, and very happy to be last ones down, because after that it’s over.

Looking down the icy steps at Huangya Harriet, Andy, and Kath at the top

Knee complaining a little, mainly toes are complaining of being scrunched up in boots – hard going down! Horses again – & hawkers of course. (Chinese couple earlier – he in suit, she in heels!). Get to bottom, spot rubbish from lunch, start clearing but Chinese woman stops us – she wants it. Kindly invited back to H+H’s [Harry, guide, and Harriet, doctor] place for tea - excellent! Gives me chance to catch up on this, while Harriet does her medical notes & Harry talks travel & jokes. Anita & Cathy pop by and have some tea, then go. Harry gets the brandy out – now you’re talking, especially as I lacking coat. About 6pm head back to C5 and coats, and finish this. Quiz tonight!

Another great dinner, similar to last night but some differences. Sat w/ Kit, Diana, er, others – old & well-travelled mainly. Won the quiz (team name “Spock”), out in front from start – woo hoo! Free beer! [Team: Hanmer, Lucile, Kit, Wyn, Diana, Jill, Josie, Judy.]

Most then to bed, plenty still drinking though! Sit w/ Llew, Becca, Laura, Emma (?), Cathy, Jean & Anita joined us later. Much beer - doubles in price @ 10pm! About 1115, barmaid sits next to me, and writes down (and says very slowly), “This restaurant is closed. Please tell everybody.” I did, and then I left, but I heard the next morning that people stayed later, and she threw a tantrum. To Louisa: “Yo go sleep now!”