The Great Wall Revisited


Remember when I went to the Great Wall of China a few weeks ago? If you recall, I was so disappointed at how crowded and touristy it was that I thought I would weep. Well, last week I decided that I couldn’t live with myself if I passed up my only chance to see the Great Wall in all of its rustic beauty. I made a reservation to travel with a small group to a remote area of the Great Wall called Jiankou, where few people go and certainly no tourists! You’ll see why in a moment 🙂

But let’s back up a little, shall we? This past Saturday morning, I woke up at 5 am to get ready for my 6:15 am pickup outside the campus gates. I’ve never seen the University campus so empty. Usually it’s full of chattering people, swerving cars, and a ton of bikes.

Two hours after pickup, our tiny group arrived at the Jiankou section of the Great Wall and were greeted with these signs:

What an invitation, huh? This section of the Wall isn’t actually closed to visitors right now. Jiankou was closed in 2004 to allow restoration of the Wall so that it could become a greater tourist attraction. The restorers gave up about a year later because Jiankou is too remote and access is too difficult. Better for me, I say. As you’ll see, this climb is NO JOKE. For those of you who are interested in visiting this section of the Wall, be aware that the hike is long and strenuous. I loved hiking Jiankou because I’m very physically active and in good shape – I’m not trying to brag, I just want to impress upon you the difficulty of this hike so you don’t let the mountain defeat you (as has happened to many people our tour guide has led).

As usual, I’m going to let the pictures speak for themselves with few words to mar their beauty. I have a lot of pictures, so if you’re not interested in the Great Wall, scroll down to the end of the post for gorgeous pictures of delicious food. I promise, they’re good 🙂

This section of the Wall was built with limestone. Other sections were built with sandstone, which erodes much faster.

Many centuries ago (6.5, to be exact), the Chinese did not have modern mortar to connect their bricks. They used another substance in abundant supply. Can you guess what it is?

Rice! The Chinese used rice mixed with other substances to create a mortar for the Great Wall. This stuff is strong – it feels just like rock and has obviously lasted for centuries.

These nameless flowers bloom only in mid-June and fill the air with a wonderful lilac-type scent. Mmm.

Last hand pic, I promise.

Yes, we really did climb up here!

This particular section is called “Heaven’s Ladder” or “Sky Stair” – a particularly tough, steep climb, but it’s nothing that a Jessie can’t handle!

At the top!

A drainage stone:

Pictures speak louder than words.

Food? Yes, please! After our six-hour hike/climb/rappel, our guide brought us to one of many little family-owned restaurants in the area to enjoy some fresh trout and home-cooked meals. The owners literally caught the trout right before cooking. Can’t get any fresher than that.

Feast your eyes on this meal:

Boiled peanuts and soybeans:

Remember this vegetable? It’s the same wild vegetable that our group ate at the Hakka restaurant in my first China post. I asked the cook what it was – apparently it doesn’t have a name, it’s just “wild vegetable” and it is picked from trees (? not sure about that last part, I don’t think I quite understood what was said). The “wild vegetable” was just as delicious this time 🙂

Black fungus with carrots and green onion:

Spicy tofu (with just the right amount of spice!):

Veggie-egg omelet, courtesy of the hens outside:

Potatoes and niu rou (beef):

The trout!  Can’t get any better than fresh caught.

Every single dish was superb beyond words. The lovely woman who cooks for the restaurant really knows how to cook. Keep in mind that all these dishes were for four people. That’s right, FOUR. Needless to say, we didn’t finish all this delicious food, but I ate my share and more 🙂

I had such a wonderful day, I wish I could experience it again. I’m so happy to share this special day with all of you, a day that I will always remember. Until next time, gan bei and zai jian!


  1. Nice hiking/climbing! I would have been complaining a lot if I were there with you. And nothing like a good beer and some home cooked food. Waking up that early and hiking that hard, I bet you were pooped by the end of the day. You’ll have to come visit VT to show off your hiking skills.

  2. Absolutely incredible!! So glad you got to go back to the wall and have a much more fulfilling experience!! So cool that they used RICE to connect the bricks!! WOW!! 🙂 And what a delicious looking feast!! Well deserved after all that hiking. Looks like you’re doing well!! When do you come back to the US?

    1. I’ll be traveling to Hong Kong to visit my aunt this upcoming Saturday, then returning to the States on July 1st.

      (BTW, CONGRATS!!! 😀 😀 😀 😀 )

  3. Holy smokes! I’m glad you went back and got your Wall of China dream climb in!

    That Heaven’s Ladder looks INTENSE! Thanks for sharing the beautiful pics and your awesome meal afterwards!

  4. i dont think id ever wanna leave the great wall! what an amazing photo of you too, with the mountains/hills in the back!

    xoxo <3

  5. You are having an experience of a life time, how awesome! That loos like quite the climb.

  6. Those photos are stuuunninng! It’s so amazing that such places exist, ahh, nice! Good job on the climb, it looks extremely challenging! There are many perks that come with being healthy and fit 🙂

  7. Hi Jessie,

    Thank you for all the comments you’ve been leaving on my blog. I know it must be so difficult for you to get internet, let alone fast internet to load all the pages, so please don’t feel like you’re obligated in any way to catch up on my blog… I am content just to read your posts about your latest adventures in China! 🙂

    And apparently, your latest adventures included CLIMBING THE SKY STAIR! CRAAAZY! That thing looks like it’s 180 degrees vertical! Indeed I envy your fitness, my dear Jessie. I’m sure it worked up quite an appetite for the delicious food afterward! The wild vegetable looks like pickled veggie greens. I love that stuff. Also, as you know, I <3 black fungus like no other. Hahaha.

    Best wishes for your next adventure!!

    xo Aletheia

  8. Can’t get any better than fresh caught and fried, you mean. I applaud the chef’s preparation choice.

  9. Jessie,

    Fantastic pictures! I’m amazed by the beautiful scenery. It looks like that wall goes straight up. I can’t imagine having to actually build it. Those people must have been truly determined. I’m also amazed at your stamina! Tough girl (I think it’s the Erwin in you :). Seriously, I’m so glad you got that experience, and that you’re enjoying your trip so much. Have fun and a good time during the rest of your time there.

  10. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Your pictures are stunning, Jessie! And you aren’t kidding about the hike being no joke — Heaven’s Ladder looks serious! 🙂

  11. The photos are stunning… Wow, China is on my bucket list thanks to your adventures!

  12. I’m so glad you got to go back to the Great Wall and enjoy a better tour. Not many people get to visit the great wall but you got to visit it twice AND probably got to climb one of the best parts, lucky duck! Great pictures by the way. I’m so glad you didn’t decide to take a video this time or I’d have to yell at you again haha. Those are some of the steepest stairs I’ve seen! Girl, you are definitely in great shape!

    All those dishes look huge, and only for four people?! I’m surprise she deep fried the fish though. I would prefer something as fresh as that to be steamed. I’m sure it was still delicious anyways. Glad you’re having a great time in China and taking the time to enjoy true Chinese culture. Can’t wait to see your HK adventures. Enjoy the rest of your stay in China Jessie!

  13. Thanks for sharing these gorgeous pictures! I would so love to go to China one day..and I’ll make it my goal to go to Jiankou…I think I can take it! Besides, I hate crowds and I can see how it would be much more enjoyable that way. And I’m a fitness junkie who loves a challenge.
    Hope you enjoy the rest of your stay!

  14. These pictures are beautiful!! What an amazing experience (and a great workout, haha)! I loved looking at all of these shots and you’re right…in this case, pictures definitely do speak louder than words!!

    And I had no idea the Chinese used rice as mortar in the Great Wall. That’s so interesting…and how cool that it’s so strong.

    And the food look amazing too. Seriously, I’m envious of your entire day!

  15. Do they advertise STRENUOUS? I have been on many walk/climbs that do – and they are really not… so it becomes confusing. Great experience and second to none! Boiled peanuts are new to me…and the fish does look good -but a tad overcooked?
    I would have loved to have been there with you, climb and all. Nothing feels better… and then the view!!!!

  16. Wow that’s some serious hiking! Amazing they built that so long ago and it’s still there for the most part. Funny how the workers gave up restoring it!

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