Walking the Great Wall of China

Walking the Great Wall of China

Walking the Great Wall of China

Walking the Great Wall of Chinaby Kiera Roche


We woke at a reasonable hour, I slide in and out of the bathroom with no major catastrophes and proceeded to dress. It was at this point that I discover the C-Leg had been unplugged during the night and was not charged. We later discover that the hotel staff unplug the electrical devices whilst they prepare the rooms. Fortunately I had brought a spare leg with me, so I popped this on and left the C-leg charging while we enjoyed breakfast.

After breakfast we jumped on the bus for a transfer to the village of Lotus Pond (30 km / 40 minutes approx.) where we started our warm up trek along a country lane. En route we catch our first views of the magnificent Great Wall of China at close range. After 1½ hours we ascend approximately 400 metres to the Wall. It is a difficult climb, with a hairy moment when Cathy was nearly knocked off the path by a donkey that thought she was in his way, but once on top the views were absolutely stunning. The first thing you notice, or at least the first thing, which impacted upon me apart from the stunning vistas were the steps. You go up steps on the approach, and when you get to the top there are more steps, and when you get to the top of those steps, there are even more steps. So you get up on the wall for the first time, with the route spread before you, and Oh No!! Its all steps! Steps up the
hill, towards the first watch tower, then steps down the hill, and up again towards the next. So there you have it a series of undulating stretches of wall from one watch tower to the next completely made up of…. you guessed it STEPS!.

This would be a test for any able-bodied person let alone an above knee amputee. It will be interesting to see how the new leg and I cope with this. So off we set along this undulating rollercoaster of wall amidst some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world. At the end of the day it was possible to descend from the Wall on a mile-long toboggan, by cable car, or on foot for half an hour. I of course being a “speed demon” opted for the “Death Slide” toboggan run. A quick twist of the knee rotator so that I could adjust to a shape which would fit inside the toboggan comfortably, eyes shut and vocal chords open and we’re down in minutes. This was the best ride I’ve been on for years and I was quite pleased that the discussion about the toboggan being a second hand import from Europe didn’t ensue until I was safely at the bottom. Today we managed to negotiate 14 watch towers and walk a distance of 10km which was fantastic, but my muscles were keen to let me know how they felt about the experience. I was delighted that I had made it through the first day in tact. It was my left leg which took the impact of the day, but fortunately I had my Radium B to keep my leg in working order. Only a few sores so all in all a good day. It is worth noting that I would not have been able to ascend via the toboggan if I had not had a rotator in my knee: another plus for the C-Leg.


I woke up this morning and everything ached, stump, back, knee, calf muscle etc…Today we had the day off hiking up and down steps or so we thought. Instead we paid a visit to the highest waterfall in the Beijing province at Black Dragon Paw Park. On route to the Park we passed the hills called Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon.

There’s a long climb to the top where the waterfall was and to my dismay, there were even steeper steps than the day before on the Great Wall. Over 120 of them to reach the pool above the waterfall. As you approach the top the steps become smaller and more crooked, when you think you have almost arrived there is an added challenge of winding your way through an obstacle course in the form of a tunnel, with a step ladder winding upwards. I wasn’t sure how I was going to negotiate this, so I simply put one foot in front of the other and hauled myself upwards. Finally some more steps, and there is the waterfall. A nice break and some doorstop sandwiches for lunch and we’re off again. Some of the other highlights of the day were trying to leap across stepping-stones, which were 2 foot apart, to get across a stretch of ice-cold water. After lunch we headed up a road, which was the remains of a stream bed. This was a fairly flat, but still uphill route and negotiating the small stones and grooves put a lot of pressure on my stump. I decided to be sensible and not walk too far, although I still did a full hour and a half. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t go further, but I wanted to be sensible and rest the stump before I did any irreversible damage. I realized that on the downward slope I could use the knee as though I was descending steps leg over leg. I feel that I am learning a lot about the capability of the C-Leg, which will help me to negotiate different terrains. Well at least I am getting some great practice at walking up, and especially walking down steps, and I feel I have made a breakthrough, you have no choice but to practice walking down steps leg over leg and this for me is quite an achievement.

Once back at the hotel I swapped legs and left the C-Leg charging while I went off to dinner/ I arrived back to the room to discover that the c-leg had been unplugged. It is fortunate that I discovered this or I would have had to walk the next day in my spare leg. Teena is having slightly different problems to me, but I think we are both finding the sheer volume of steps a challenge.


Today, the guides decided that it may prove a little difficult for some amongst us since it included a hike through a dense forest area, and they were not happy about one or all of us potentially having an accident by getting a foot caught. So it was decided that whilst those more able bodied amongst us began walking from one end of the wall we would go to the other end and meet them in the middle, then all walk back to our end again together. The reason the team who had traversed through the forest couldn’t walk along the wall initially was that this part of the wall is actually a Chinese Military Base. So whilst some of the party scrambled through forests, we headed off to one end of the wall and began walking towards our meeting point. It was felt that we wouldn’t be able to meet the others until after lunch because of the difficulty of some of the terrain. This part of the wall is very derelict not so much of a walk as a real climbing and clambering experience. It was less strenuous on the legs, because you had to pull and heave yourself around things using your arms. It was much more difficult mentally, in that I kept thinking, I could easily fall here and really hurt myself”. The downhill bits however were still hard work. We arrived at the lunch spot 2 hours before the rest of the party. For me this has been the best day so far as I felt I had already achieved a lot by pushing myself physically. It took us only 1-½ hours to reach the rendezvous point and the eagerly anticipated fried egg doorstep sandwich with cheese for lunch. I also managed through my negotiation skills to end up with 3 Wagon Wheels. Once again, today as I reported yesterday I found myself walking downwards leg over leg this time not on steps but undulating slopes with only slight support from one of the helpers another gratifying outcome of the walk.

A lot of the watch towers are full of plants up to eye level and if you need to pee this is probably the ideal place to do it since there’s no way off the wall and even if there was there wouldn’t be anywhere to go anyway. It feels like your peeing in a part of a great palace garden. Sorry just thought I would share that with you. We had excellent support from the local farmers today. When we arrived at this section of the wall we were informed that the local farmers would offer to carry our packs for us. For a days work in the field a farmer would be paid 50 Yuan (approximately £4.50). It was suggested that we could pay them the same to carry your packs for the day. If we had not had this help from the locals today’s challenge would have been even more difficult as we needed our hands free to pull ourselves up and the grip onto the wall as we descended the steep slopes. Today we climbed 16 towers and I made it in one piece. There is a quick transfer to the next hotel. This evening we were staying at the Simatai Lodge. You can see the high peaks of the wall from the hotel, and they look like great dark mountains, tomorrow we are all going up there for another physically challenging day. For the moment I’m just enjoying the company some wonderful Chinese Pears and a very nice glass of wine, well, you have to fortify yourself for the morrow now, don’t you!


The Great Wall at Jinshanling dates back to the Ming Dynasty and today this would be our start and finish point on the great wall. From September through to late October the days are still warm and bright, and you need to make certain you drink plenty of water. There’s some display of colour in the trees, and the Persimmons will still be glowing on the bare branches of orchards in the area. You will see them being harvested by a farmer with a sharp knife on a broom handle reaching up, and someone else below catching the falling fruit in an apron. Look, too, as you pass the Miyun reservoir on the way, for fishermen who have dragged their boats to the side of the road, filled them with water, and have signs up which say ‘huo yu’ (‘live fish’). The fish are swimming around inside the boats.

Today we are walking from the hotel at 200 meters to 700 meters. The climb to the start of the wall is on a flat incline which tales about 40 minutes to ascend. I can really feel the strain on my calf and ankle today. About half way up the path I have to stop and put on an extra stump sock, which is generating a lot of interest from the locals. We reach the top to discover that we need to descend the wall, almost the full 500 meters to reach the iron suspension bridge, which hung across small canyon with about a 100m-drop to a river below. A little bit wobbly and scary if you’ve never been on a suspension bridge for people before. On the other side there was a very steep climb up a series of at least 4 iron ladders and that was extremely hard work. Finally up on the wall we covered at least 6 of the towers before we stopped for lunch. Then we all turned around and went back the way we had just come.

Of course going down the ladders was no less simple than getting up them in the first place. Whilst we had been on the wall at one of the towers there had been a very mixed international film crew making some kind of Japanese film. We were a little surprised since we had not seen any other tourists on the wall thus far, and they were a little surprised to suddenly find themselves in the company of a group of people with limbs missing. The manager of the Great Wall asked permission to take a picture of my new leg and I was happy to oblige, it’s not everyday he sees something as unusual as us either. Well I’ve had another great day and its time now to relax and talk with the rest of the group about the experiences of the day over a few glasses of wine. See you tomorrow.


We started today on the same road as yesterday walking from the hotel at 200 meters above sea level to 980 meters at the highest point. We followed the same 40-minute uphill walk to the start of the wall. When we reached the wall we stopped for a quick ice cream instead of turning left and heading for the suspension bridge as we had on the previous day we turned right and headed towards the tallest towers. Some of these towers were incredible steep and exhausting to climb. The fitter members of the group quickly faded into spots on the horizon. We proceeded slowly to the rest stop and waited for the other more enthuastic climbers to join us.

We descended the other side of the wall through the jungle to the local village. James and I led the group (I would like you to think this is because we were the fastest to descend, but is because we were the first on our feet) I really enjoyed descending to the village through the jungle, although this was hard work and quite difficult terrain I felt that I was physically pushing myself. I did have a couple of hairy moments where rocks gave way under my feet but I only slipped once and James was there to catch me. We reached the village and were invited into the local farmers homes to see how they lived. We were invited to take them gifts to say thank you for opening their homes, but we were told not to give them money. We spent about 15 minutes in the village and then headed back up the hill to the Great Wall. This was quite a trek, but as it was the last day and everyone was buzzing it seemed as though the time just flew past. When we reached the wall we had a rest stop, bartered for some t-shirts and then headed back down the hill to the hotel to cross the finish line. This was an immensely rewarding and emotional experience and one I shall never forget. The moment was topped with Chinese fireworks and a bottle of sparking wine.