How to trek Jian Kou Wild Great Wall in Beijing on your own
- Terrain: woodland, uneven surface, rocky terrain
- Duration:8 hours
- Difficulty: hard
During our one week trip in Xi’an and Beijing, Jiankou Great Wall Trek is the absolute highlight. We get to see the unknown, quiet and stunning beautiful part of the Great Wall, which is so different from the developed part.
The Great Wall of China is a series of fortification built by various emperors throughout history to defend invaders from Magnolia. Earliest part can be traced back to 7 BC. The majority of the wall seen today was renovated in Ming Dynasty in (1368–1644). Today, several portions of the wall like Ba Da Lin（八达岭）, Mu Tian Yu（慕田峪）, Jin Shan Lin （金山岭） and Si Ma Tai （司马台） around Beijing are renovated by the government for tourists. The undeveloped portions of the Great Wall are technically illegal to climb, but have been popular among hikers and photographers all over the world for its unspoiled beauty and challenge.
There are two popular wild Great Wall trekking routes near Beijing. One is from Jin Shan Lin（金山岭） to Si Ma Tai（司马台）, the other is from Jiankou（剪扣） to Mu Tian Yu（慕田峪）. The first one is easier on transportation because both Jin Shan Lin and Si Ma Tai are popular tourist destinations. The downside to climb this section is one need to pay both entry fees for Jin Shan Lin and Si Ma Tai. On the other hand, Jian Kou trek starts from villages underneath the Wall and finish either at another village or at Mu Tian Yu from the back of the tourist area. Generally entry fee can be escaped. Just shortly before our trip we learned Jin Shan Lin was temporarily closed for maintenance. So Jiankou Great Wall was became our final destination.
Had checked the weather forecast on the train from Xi’an to Beijing, we decided to start the trip the day after, which means we need to get into the village underneath Jiankou on the same evening. Dropped our luggage at the hotel booked for the day after, we took the metro straight to the bus terminal at Dong Zhi Men（东直门） for the bus 916 express（916快） to Beijing’s suburb district Huai Rou（怀柔）. For some reason the queue was enormously long and many village people with big luggage kept trying to jump the queue, which even outburst a dispute. Even the bus departs every 5-10 mins, we still queued for solid 40min to get on the bus. After 1 hour, we got off at Yang Jia Yuan(杨家园) stop to catch the bus for Xi Zha Zi No.5 village（西栅子五队）, the closest village to JianKou. The bus to Xi Zha Zi runs only twice per day, 11:30am and 16:30pm. Many people would opt for a taxi from Huai Rou, which will cost about 150 Yuan. Looking back, this is not a bad idea especially when travelling in group. Well, we did it in an adventurous way. Getting of at Yan Jia Yuan, we realized the bus we needed actually leaves from Yu Jia Yuan（于家园） bus stop about 1km away and it is 16:25pm already. While not convinced that we could get the bus, we ran across all the way down the street and kept asking directions. Reached the bus station at 16:31. The bus was just about to leave!
For my non-Chinese speaking readers:
Getting the public bus to Xi Zhai Zi No. 5 village is difficult without speaking Chinese. You best bet is organizing a taxi from Huai Rou. We heard you can get the taxi fare down to around 150 RMB as in 2017.
The end stop is Xi Zha Zi No. 5 village. By the time we reached the village there were only a few passengers left on the bus. As soon as we got off, a village man approached us asking if we need dinner or accommodation. We followed the man to his place. It was a building conveniently located next to the bus stop (and later found the bus conductor lives there too) called Xiao Cui Shan Zhuang(晓翠山庄). The place was decent. It is a new-ish looking lodge with central dinning area surrounded by simple en-suite double rooms with electric shower, not the greatest but functional. As it was a Wednesday，besides us there were only a Czech group and a Chinese couple staying. He said in the peak season over the weekend he usually gets 70-100 guests. Seems the Great Wall trek is the main business here. The lodge serves evening meal and early breakfast and well stored with snacks and food supplies. Our host has done the trek several times himself. He showed us the route on the terrace and gave some advices. There is a 2-day trekking route from the village. Day 1 starts from Nine Eye Tower（九眼楼）, goes through Beijing Knot（北京结）, Eagle facing down（鹰飞倒仰）, and finishes at Jian Jun Shou Guan（将军守关）with exit route returning back to the village. Day 2 starts from Jian Jun Shou Guan（将军守关）, goes through Jian Kou Spot(剪扣), Zhen Bei Lou（镇北楼）, Ox Horn edge(牛角边) and exits at Mu Tian Yu Great wall. The most challenging part is from Beijing Jin knot to Jian Kou spot. But exit from Jian Kou spot down to Wofo Mountain Villa (卧佛山庄) at south side or Xi Zha Zi village one will need a taxi to get back to Beijing on the same day. We have planned only a day so decided to do the Day 2 route aiming at getting back to Beijing for dinner.
The temperature dropped quickly in the evening. The night was cold, fortunately the room comes with electric blankets.
The Great Wall Trek
Our plan was getting off early to see the sunset on the wall so we left the lodge at 5:30 a.m in darkness. Although it should be an easy 40 min ascend to the Great Wall, we spent first 2.5 hours getting lost in the neighboring hill. Finally at 8:30am we arrived at Jiang Jun Shou Guan, the first tower of the trek. Although mostly broken and partly covered in rocks and bushes, the wall looks stunning in the morning sun. From here it forms an unmistakable skyline along the ridge of surrounding mountains. Have to admire the amount of effort to build this huge defense line hundreds of years ago.
From here on the route is basically follow the wall. There were some steep parts where scrambling was necessary. Where some parts were too damaged to pass we had to get off the wall and took a detour. Although the path is not officially sign-posted, there were lots of red ribbons tied on tree branches at key junctions. Overall it is not difficult to recognize the path.
At two of the steep junction, some villagers has set up ladders asking for a toll. We pushed through the first one without much trouble. In front of the other watch tower the second villager was quite vicious. Todd pushed through, he then literally took out an axe not allowing me to pass. Realizing we were not going to give him any money, he grumbled that there is a detour on the right around the tower. Surprised, I took his advice and took the 2-minute detour.
In the afternoon the paths were getting better, and we started to see people coming from Mu Tian Yu side. At 2 pm we reached the edge of the Mu Tian Yu Great Wall with a sign “scenic site trespass forbidden”. Seems the government wasn’t trying hard to stop trespassing, because the boundary is a low partition wall that one can easily jumped through.
From here on everything is renovated. The bricks are nicely layered and cleaned. There are rubbish bins, cable cars, toilets and cafes. After all the scrambling and climbing, this is not interesting at all. Mu Tian Yu Great Wall is huge. It took us a good 2 hours to get down to the site exit. We took the shuttle bus to the main exit, caught the bus back to Hairou and took the same 916 express bus back to Beijing for our well deserved roast duck dinner.
1. To Dong Zhi Men long distance bus terminal: From Beijing Dong Zhi Men(东直门) metro station wall to the long distance bus terminal
2. To Huai Rou（怀柔）: Take 916 express（916快线） to Huai Rou, allow plenty of time ahead as there might be massive queue, around 12 Yuan
3. To Xi Zha Zi No.5 Village（西栅子五队）： Either take a taxi from final stop Huai Rou to Xi Zha Zi No.5 village, about 150 Yuan
Or get off at Yang Jia Yuan(杨家园), walk about 1Km to Yu Jia Yuan (于家园) bus stop to catch the bus to Xi Zha Zi No. 5 village. The bus leaves twice per day, 11:30am and 16:30pm, cost 8 Yuan.
4． Back to Beijing: Exit from Mu Tian Yu scenic area, take the shuttle bus down to main entrance, 10 Yuan. Take local bus from Mu Tian Yu main entrance back to Huai Rou, stop at Huai Rou Main Street, 7 Yuan. Take 916 express from Huai Rou to Bejing Dong Zhi Men bus terminal. 12 Yuan.
At Xi Zha Zi NO. 5 Village: Xiao Cui Shan Zhuang(晓翠山庄)， ensuite double room 120 Yuan.
Food: Buy food supply and water from Beijing or Huai Rou if possible, as there is no supermarket and very limited restaurant choices in the village. Xiao Cui Shan Zhuang(晓翠山庄) serves evening meal and breakfast.