Trek China Chal­lenge

The People's Friend Special - - REAL LIFE -

In our bright pink T-shirts, we were all shapes, sizes and ages but at seventy I was the el­dest. All strangers, we had signed up to Breast Can­cer Care’s “Trek China Chal­lenge”, a spon­sored en­durance test along the Great Wall of China.

I was ready for the jour­ney of a life­time.

On ar­rival in Beijing, we whizzed along busy mo­tor­ways past sky­scrapers and in­dus­trial ar­eas, then on spank­ing new roads planted with acres of spindly fir trees.

It was cold and dark on ar­rival at Si­matai moun­tain lodge and fa­cil­i­ties were ba­sic. I re­tired to bed in a dor­mi­tory for four, don­ning warm py­ja­mas and grate­ful for the hot-wa­ter bot­tle I’d packed at the last minute.

At 7.30 a.m., we met in the court­yard, dressed in our trekking clothes. We were cold and ap­pre­hen­sive, tired from the ten-hour flight and time change. I took it upon my­self to lead an im­promptu warm-up fol­lowed by mus­cle stretches.

We 32 trekkers were di­vided into two groups, each ac­com­pa­nied by a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the char­ity, a Chi­nese doc­tor and a Chi­nese guide who spoke good English, and we were driven to our start­ing point, Gubeikou.

The Wall wasn’t as I had ex­pected but a nar­row track high up in the moun­tain peaks, unkempt, ex­posed, daunt­ing and pre­car­i­ous.

Known as the Great Dragon, it stretches thou­sands of miles across the north of China, from Qin­huang­dao on the Yel­low Sea to Ji­ayuguan near the Mon­go­lian border; it switch­backs through 17 prov­inces, from Shang­hai Pass (Old Dragon’s Head) by the Pa­cific Ocean to the salt lake sand marshes of Lop Nur, where it fi­nally lays its writhing tail to rest.

It would take about 300 days to walk its en­tire length but none of us had that time to spare so six very dif­fer­ent sec­tions had been se­lected.

We trekked through wind and rain, the ground un­even and wild with gra­di­ents of up to 70 de­grees, much of the Wall derelict, strewn with rub­ble, over­grown with veg­e­ta­tion and with­out a para­pet. Sure-footed “hello peo­ple” – Mon­go­lian peas­ants named for their habit of in­tro­duc­ing them­selves with a cheery “hello” – ap­peared from nowhere and, for a few yuan, of­fered a steady­ing hand in times of trou­ble.

We trekked for over five hours, tak­ing in 23 of the 1,200 watch­tow­ers, and at Jin­shan­ling our wait­ing coach trans­ferred our weary bod­ies back to the lodge.

Some­how on Day Two, we stag­gered on through an­other 43 watch­tow­ers, fol­low­ing a rough track with steps that were in­con­sis­tent – high and low, nar­row or shal­low.

Noth­ing had pre­pared me for the rough and pre­cip­i­tous ter­rain.

A break pre­sented us with the chal­lenge of de­scend­ing a sheer rock face via three ver­ti­cal, rusty lad­ders.

This was in or­der to make our way across a sus­pended wooden plank bridge, which swayed a thou­sand feet above a nar­row gorge with a sil­ver rib­bon of river be­low.

To com­plete the or­deal, we leapt off the far rock face, sus­pended in a

A wel­come break! One of the very high points of our trek!

Set­ting off along the Great Wall of China.

A lo­cal lady of­fers me a hand – and a hello!

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.