To the top of the Great Wall of China!

The Great Wall of China can [apparently, despite my youthful indoctrinations, not] be seen from outer space. I’m quite certain it was not visible today, at least not at the Mutinayu section outside of Beijing where I visited. The weather was downright rotten, with a max visibility of about 50 meters. Oh, and it drizzled half the time, too. Still, it was the only day I had for visiting the wall and so it was the day I did so, hiking a couple thousand steps along from one end to the other of this particular section. In the rain. With pretty much nothing to see.


And I have to say that, despite the weather issues, the experience was still pretty awesome. Considering that the current iteration I was walking on is about 500 years old it is incredibly impressive as a structure.

The visit began with the roughly 2 hour drive up from my hotel in central Beijing. In my typical fashion I was wholly unprepared for today’s outing other than knowing it is what I wanted to do. As such I didn’t bother booking a driver until this morning and probably paid about RMB 100 (~USD $16) more than the common going rate of RMB 700 I was told to expect. Not so horrible in the end and I hate the haggling so that’s life. The drive is a mix of Beijing traffic-laden highways and reasonably empty rural 2-lane roads. They do offer up some exciting moments like when the drivers play chicken in efforts to pass cars but otherwise uneventful.

After arriving at the site it was time to purchase my ticket (the folks at the counter spoke pretty good English) and then ride the ski-lift-esque gondola up to the wall. You can walk it, too, if you want, but there are enough steps on the 2.2 kilometers of the wall that you’re going to hike that I wasn’t feeling particularly guilty about having taken the ride.


Once on top you simply set out walking. The path is, for the most part, in good shape with a wide walkway and solid footing. Except the part where it is mainly granite which gets mighty slippery in the rain. Looking out the 100 feet or so that I could see off the sides of the wall or up and down as I hiked on it was easy to believe that there can be phenomenal views when the weather cooperates. But I’m mostly basing that on the fact that other folks have taken photos to suggest it is true. Mine, on the other hand, show mostly clouds fogging me in.


One nice thing about the misty, cloudy weather is that it does let your imagination run a bit wild. It is neat to see bodies appearing from and dissolving into the mist, often without so much as a peep. It was not hard to imagine that the silhouetted bodies in the clouds were ancient guards, coming and going on their patrols. Except for the part when they came into view and were surrounded by a bunch of kids chattering away in French, but putting that aside the image sortof worked.


One of the main attractions of this section of the wall is the views from watchtower number 22, the western-most of those currently accessible to visitors. There are many warnings of steep stairs to access that section, warnings that I read and decided probably didn’t apply too much to me because I’m in decent shape. I was wrong. And I knew that the views would suck (oooh…more clouds!) yet I made the climb anyways. It was 454 steps from the top of tower #21 to tower #22 without any flat areas in which to take a break. If you want to stop you simply pause on the stairs.


Never so much in my life have I wanted to be a slinky. What a fun ride down that would have been.


I hoofed it all the way back to where I started to take a ride on the "toboggan" down the hillside. I was rather ambivalent about the ride when I was researching earlier but looking down on it from the gondola ride up had me excited to give it a try. Reasonably long with some fun twists along the way. Alas, they close in the rain so I simply rode back down the gondola with the miserable visibility.



And then it was back in the car and back into town. No stops at tchotchke shops or silk markets. I guess paying the little bit extra can be seen as a wise investment in that sense.

Read more from this Trip Report under the Dream2011 tag here.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Despite being engrained in popular culture, you cannot see the Great Wall from space. Despite this myth, the Wall is a great place to visit when in Beijing.

  2. If you cannot see any major highway from space, you definitely cannot see the Great Wall from space. The toboggan is awesome. Best part of Mutianyu.

  3. Thanks for keeping me honest, guys. That will teach me top believe everything I learned in elementary school. 🙂

  4. I visited the wall this February with an overnight surprise of 2 inch snow. It was pretty hard to be going there and maintaining your hold while walking up there on the entire wall turning slimy and slippery due to all the accumulated snow. but an awesome experience none the less. Glad you had fun!

    1. Those extra steps were a LOT more, Matt. A LOT! Partially because I had just walked about a mile and there were several hundred steps prior to that point. Partially because they were uneven, broken in some spots and slippery. And partially because my physical condition might be a bit off since college. But mostly because there were just a lot of them and they were very steep.

      And thanks, Carl, for bursting my bubble on the weather. Here I was hoping that the extra deep breathing (aka panting) I was doing as I climbed was helping improve my cardio workout, not just causing the inhalation of lots more particulate matter. 😉

  5. We need to build our own great wall alone Mexico border and make sure it can be seen from space!

  6. Seth, as a an avid reader of your side – how long are you staying? I’m getting into PEK on Friday for a 5 night stay.

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