We have pushed up north of Beijing following the wall to Gilbarco and into the mountain at Samutai and on. We now take a turn to the Southeast and deeper into the cold rugged unforgiving mountains which reach up to 2500 meters. The wall just continues to climb up and down, over cliffs and rock faces that I just stand and stare in awe wondering how they ever build this. Can an enemy be so terrifying that a nation be driven to such extremes or were there other reasons, was the wall also used as a way of employing a nation and keeping them united in this common goal of protecting the people from this age old mythical enemy.
As the sun once again breaks the edge of the mountain leaning its chin on the wall, we drag our weary bodies up the goat track towards the towers. The rivers have now succumbed to the cold and lie like frozen streaks of milk in the valleys. Little waterfalls have been stopped in their tracks as the now cling, frozen to the rock faces. The trees are just sticks piercing into the mist netting above us. Under foot the ground is frozen solid and our ski poles can no longer penetrate into the soil. We scrunch along as the frozen leaves and grass crack under our feet, shattering into pieces. The wind slowly sneaks down the valley, wiping long streaks of mist around the jaggered rock pinnacles like scarves of feathers, then scraping its icy talons down our necks that our skin writhes trying to escape it.
The climbs seem to be getting longer each day, as if you are trying to walk up an escalator, just never getting to the top as it rolls you back down. The wall is now wrapped and entwined around the mountain peaks and cliff faces. With time, in some areas it looks as if the rock and wall are welded together as one. The mountains look like a hand with the peaks as its fingers, and the wall strung between them like the seam of a glove. The scenery has now surpassed anything I have ever seen before. The mountains just go on forever, I cannot count the layers of ranges as they stack against each other and layer on into the distance, going from browns, to blue, purple and then dissipate into a gun mettle grey as the disappear into the blurred distance, into a mystical haze.
The average daily temperature in the mountains is about -8; it’s been 14 days now without a rest as we push towards the finish. I can feel the km in my legs now, weary and tired as I find each day more telling than the previous. I feel that I am really struggling some days, the mind is willing, but the body has been hammered by the mountains. Its midday and I stop for lunch. The sun has already called it a day and on its way down the as I dig into my ruc sac for lunch. It’s the usual, stale Chinese bread with peanut butter, jam and processed cheese. But that’s not all, it’s frozen again. I bite into this looking down the valley dreaming of home as the icy bread causes my teeth to ache. I wash it down with my half frozen water.
It’s only been 5 mins not moving and I am already shivering, up I get, chewing on my last crust which crunches like a Rusk and head up the next valley into the mist, I don’t know how high this one will be, but it’s in the right direction.
You know what? After this is over I am always going to have a smile on my face.