More than just a wall

If one just looks at the Ming section of the wall in isolation, the building process took over 250 years.

At any one time there were over one million people involved in the wall building process each year, so you are looking at 250 million man-years of construction just to build this section.

There are many other sections of wall that were built over the 2000 years of wall building. When you are traveling along the wall and have just dragged yourself nearly 1000 metres up a mountainside, you stop and just stand and stare in amazement; how was this built? Who carried all the rocks, brick, filling and then the glutinous rice porridge mixed with limestone, the cement that holds everything together? The question’s just never stop.

It was one of those days, we found ourselves at the top of a mountain range, on the spine traveling from peak to peak. Then as the wall often does, it runs dead at the top of a cliff or runs into a cliff face. They call this “borrowing from the mountain”, the wall traps you, you have nowhere to go. It’s either scale the cliff face or backtrack and find a way round. We were on one of the highest and most rugged section, old weathered rock with the wall perched on top of this. Sections have just collapsed over time and cascaded down the mountain side leaving a dangerous loose pile of rubble with a 200-metre sheer drop on each side.

It was basically crawling across these knife edges on hands and knees. Really slow going and scary.

We were only covering about one km per hour because of the treacherous conditions. The nervous tension also sapping our energy as we pushed on in fear. As we crossed the one section the next would be there, worse than the last. Tower after tower we pushed on up towards the top of the mountain. The last tower before the top was to be our reward spot to stop for a break and something to eat. We scrambled up the bits of wall between each tower; it was in a terrible condition, it was actually like climbing up a rock fall. Finally we got to the tower, walked through and slap bang into a cliff face. We looked up and we could see the wall 40 metres above. We decided to stop, eat, take a rest and then decide on the next move.

40 metres of cliff face, the carrot at the top was the next bit of wall, staring down at us, enticing us up.

I remember Andy saying to me, “you check it out and let me know”. Up I went, immediately my mouth went dry as crazy thoughts entered my mind. I climbed up about 15 metres, then five back down, I called down to Andy, “I think we can make it, try the first bit and see how you feel.”

For both of us it was heart in throat stuff!

I think Andy a bit more than me as he is quite vocal about his dislike of heights. We were stuck to the rocks like glue, sliding up, grabbing onto shrubs as we pulled ourselves up metre by metre. We were now beyond the point of no return. Steeper and more exposed it got, the closer we got to the top. You don’t want to look up or down.

Then finally we pulled ourselves over the top and lay there staring up at the turret in all its glory as it had proudly stood for the past 200 years surveying the valley.

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