Trekking the Great Wall of China

Kat Tetley works in CLIC Sargent's Challenge Events team and took part in the charity's Great Wall of China Trek 2016. Along with 22 intrepid trekkers she spent five consecutive days scaling some of the most beautiful yet demanding sections of the wall to raise funds for children and young people with cancer. Here she blogs about the challenges they faced and the delights they encountered.

Trekking the Great Wall of China

Day one

Arriving in Beijing, spirits were high. To give the team a chance to get over their jet lag, we spent the afternoon touring around downtown Beijing.

We first embarked on a nerve-racking rickshaw journey through the narrow alleys of the traditional Hutongs and Quadrangles. We then headed to Mr Wong’s for dinner. The retired famous chef put on a delicious spread of pork balls, stir fried veg and sticky rice which was greatly received by all.

A final evening trip was paid to the luminescent Olympic Park. Around the base of the stadium you can find all sorts of activities taking place, from Thai Chi, to kids speed skating or rhythmic dancing. Team CLIC Sargent were not feeling so active, hitting the hay early in preparation for our first day of trekking.

Day two

5.1K, 8,155 steps, max altitude: 310m

After a two hour transfer through the heavy Beijing traffic, we arrived at the Huangyaguan section of the Great Wall. The team were unusually quiet as we took our first steps.

Designed to slow down invading forces, the steps are built irregularly; some are tiny, some are deep and some are two feet high. This means it’s very hard to find a rhythm and you have to really concentrate on the floor beneath you.

Wisely, this three hour walk was designed as a warm up, helping us acclimatise to the unpredictable terrain. The evening was a very special occasion as we celebrated fellow trekker Chloe’s 21st birthday. Our hosts lit a bonfire, put on some old school 90s pop and bought the prettiest cake. 

Day three

14K, 23,447 steps, max altitude: 430m

Oh what a day! We woke today to glorious sunshine and clear skies, which must be said, in Beijing is somewhat of a rarity. Our task today was to trek for eight hours along 27 watchtowers. The vistas were breath-taking, stretching miles into the distance.

Our tour guide Teri’s word of the day was ‘undulating’ which sounds pleasant enough but in fact meant a lot of knee battering downwards steps and almost vertical inclines.

That combined with sheer cliffs either side of ruined pathways meant today honestly was a challenge, especially for the vertigo sufferers. But the team work from the CLIC Sargent trekkers was inspirational and confidence amongst the group was growing.  

Day four

9.2K, 14,855 steps, max altitude: 610m

Although we covered less ground today, our course was no less arduous. The slopes and steps were infinitely more steep.

At points we crawled for fear our rucksacks would send us hurtling back downwards and more than once I had to have my hand held whilst tackling an intimidating descent on crumbling staircases. But the sense of achievement was immense and personally my fear of heights was dwindling. 

Day five

9.5K, 14,770 steps, max altitude:780m

With the completion of each day, we were left thinking that the next couldn’t possibly be any more taxing. Oh how we were wrong!

On day five we were faced with the infamous Mutianyu section. Heads down we first ascended 1,000 steps in 22 degree heat. We then trekked through 11 watchtowers to reach The Heavenly Ladder. This, not so heavenly course, involved climbing 460 steps, non-stop, at a near 45 degree angle (and then having to descend that same path).

Some attempted to break our tour guides record of two minutes and 40 seconds, some of us were just happy to have found the confidence to reach the top without crying. Whatever the motivation, it was amazing to witness everyone’s determination. And our reward? A speedy toboggan ride down the mountain followed by a Subway ice cream. Yes, they have Subway at the Great Wall of China!

Day six

6.6K, 10,370 steps, max altitude: 480m

With the main trials completed, today was one for reflection. We spent a few hours undertaking some comparatively easy trekking and then transferred to the Badaling Old Section for our final mission.

Here we had been deemed special dispensation from the Chinese government to help repair the Great Wall. Everyone wrote a personal note to lay underneath their brick. The setting was perfectly serene and the mood was emotional. All in all it was a fitting end to a life-changing week. 

Take on your own challenge

Feeling inspired? Sign up to take on the Great Wall of China Trek 2017 or another overseas trek and join our fight for young lives against cancer.

Watch a video of this year's trek to find out even more:

Find out more

To find out more about CLIC Sargent's upcoming challenge events, please contact CLIC Sargent Challenge Events team on 0845 124 118 or email: challenges@clicsargent.org.uk

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