The Final stage
With the 3000km mark drawing near and 3 months on the wall, it is really difficult to conceive what I have already been through. The desert seemed never ending as we traveled up the Hexi corridor along the silk route from Jauyigian. I felt like a marble in a half pipe being flung from side to side as we traversed the valleys and then up onto the mountains and back down into the dessert plains. The scrambling over and through the dongas of Shaanxi and finally we have arrived in the mountains of the Hebei province and Beijing.
The terrain is daunting and nearly impossible to travel as the crow flies; the cold is now part of the day. With this has come my bigger rucksack with extra gear and safety equipment, stopping for longer than 20 mins, now not advisable, as the sweat on your back starts to freeze, so “keep moving”.
Its 7 in the morning still hazy dark, we are all huddled in a group having breakfast, but we can’t stand around or even finish eating, we must now move to generate heat. Off we set, into the mist and up the ravine leading to a buttress that will take us up to the massive rock wall that has been eluding us all these months, have we finally found it. Blowing steam out of both nostrils like a bull entering the ring to fight the matador, up we climb. It’s a small goat trail, overgrown with some of the biggest hook thorns l has ever seen. With my body ice cold, the pain of the thorns tearing into my skin as we try and force our way through them is excruciating.
Slowly the sun wobbles up onto the horizon, weak and heavily laden with the toil of trying to warm up the frozen earth, it manages to lift a few rays and flop them over the valleys, just scattering pockets of mist to the left and right, allowing a bit of warmth to soak through and reach down to us, energizing our lethargic limbs. It is incredible how warmth can lift ones spirit, and gives you a surge of energy.
The path has now dissipated into the bush as the gradient increased, each goat probably deciding on its own route. The bush was now head height and whipping our cold faces, stinging our frozen noses. The hiking poles hardly penetrating into the frozen ground, slipping and sliding we rounded the final corner of the buttress and onto the mountain top.
I stood, hanging between my hiking poles steam pouring out of my gear and sweat hanging from my brow, sucking on the cold air and filling my lungs until they burned trying to find the last bit of oxygen at this altitude, I looked up. Ahead of me, there it was, parting the mist like a giant standing up and stretching his arms into the morning sun, the great wall started to unravel itself down the valley, into a tower, out the back and on it rolled, into the next tower up the next mountain and the next, then it split, it seemed to pick up speed as this visual phenomena enveloped me as it rushed off into the distant horizon, I lifted my arms into the air and just screamed.
From here we ride the dragon to the sea.