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article imagePhoto Essay: Climbing the Great Wall of China Special

By Lonna Lisa Williams     Mar 9, 2014 in World
Beijing - Justin Bieber had his bodyguards carry him up the Great Wall of China, but this Digital Journalist climbed it herself only to find a Chinese grandmother already there, cane in hand.
The Chinese people rarely complain. They can silently climb a thousand steps to a temple on top of Beijing's Summer Palace, stand in line for hours, and brave cold, windy conditions to ascend China's Great Wall. As an American who could be in better shape, I found it difficult to keep up with my Chinese tour group. On the second day of our whirlwind tour of Beijing, we rode about an hour and a half north of the city to the mountainous gates of this world-famous wall.
Walls were being built in China as early as the 7th Century B.C. and were later joined with the section finished in 206 BC by the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. Over the centuries, more sections of the wall were added, especially during the Ming Dynasty in the 14th Century. The wall runs east to west in northern China, roughly along the border of Outer Mongolia, and was used to keep out invaders. The wall stretches over 5,500 miles, sometimes on top of mountain passes higher than 3000 feet. The walls themselves can reach heights of 29 feet and be up to 30 feet wide, so that soldiers, horses, and carriages could travel atop them. Towers, bunkers, and signaling stations also top these walls, which were used as a transportation route along the Silk Road and as border emigration controls. Europeans didn't even see the Great Wall of China until the end of the 16th Century.
The most famous section is near Beijing, the Badaling Great Wall. Tours regularly go there, and it is kept in good repair. U.S. President Richard Nixon and his wife visited on their historic trip to China in 1972.
We arrived early on a winter morning. Our bus driver parked far away from the entrance, and I struggled just to climb the long hill up toward the tour station. I was recovering from a sinus infection, and the dusty wind didn't help. We passed under highway overpasses, a railway bridge, and a tunnel before we got to the gate where the tourist shops and toilets were located. Then we climbed who knows how many steps and waited in the biting breeze to get a ride on the Disney-like rail cars that reminded me of a gently sloping roller coaster. It was hard climbing in and out of those little, individual cars, but the men working the equipment gave me a hand. As my car carried me uphill toward the wall, I noticed how dry everything looked, as if the loose dirt and grayish evergreens had not seen rain in months.
The real climbing began at the bottom of the wall, up steep stone steps. At one point, inside a tower, the steps were extremely high, with no hand rail, and I struggled to ascend. Finally, I reached the walkway between the sides of the Great Wall. In the mountain sunshine, the wall extended east and west as far as I could see, along rocky cliffs and hilltops. How the Chinese managed this feat so many years ago, I could not imagine. As I puffed my way along, with the help of a Chinese teenager named Jenny, I was surprised to see a Chinese grandmother, cane in hand, standing on the wall ahead of me. Justin Bieber got his bodyguards to carry him, but this smiling, wrinkled woman climbed the wall with her cane. The truly fit could hike all day along the wall, from tower to tower where watchful soldiers once signaled with fire if an enemy army approached. I walked from one tower to another. There were few places to sit down. A vender sold souvenirs, and warmly-dressed girls posed for photos as children ran across the ancient stones.
Walking up the steep hill to the entrance of the Great Wall
Walking up the steep hill to the entrance of the Great Wall
Passing a performing Chinese bear
Passing a performing Chinese bear
Passing a furry camel on the way to the Great Wall
Passing a furry camel on the way to the Great Wall
People get into the rail cars that take them up the hill to the Great Wall
People get into the rail cars that take them up the hill to the Great Wall
Looking down at the rail from the hilltop platform
Looking down at the rail from the hilltop platform
Approaching the Great Wall of China
Approaching the Great Wall of China
Inside the Great Wall of China
Inside the Great Wall of China
Looking eastward at the Great Wall of China
Looking eastward at the Great Wall of China
Farther east view of the Great Wall
Farther east view of the Great Wall
Fashionable girls pose near a souvenir vendor on the Great Wall
Fashionable girls pose near a souvenir vendor on the Great Wall
Lonna Lisa Williams poses with some Chinese girls on the Great Wall
Lonna Lisa Williams poses with some Chinese girls on the Great Wall
The Chinese grandma who climbed the Great Wall with her cane
The Chinese grandma who climbed the Great Wall with her cane
Soldiers on the Great Wall
Soldiers on the Great Wall
People mingle inside the Great Wall
People mingle inside the Great Wall
The northern face of the Great Wall
The northern face of the Great Wall
A more distant view of the Great Wall s northern face
A more distant view of the Great Wall's northern face
Looking westward at the Great Wall of China
Looking westward at the Great Wall of China
More about Great Wall of China, Beijing, China, climbing tour, Justin Bieber
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