We woke up unusually early - 6am - to meet our driver on time. We were the last ones into the van, which was nice as it meant we didn't have to wait to drive around picking up others. The first people to get picked up had boarded the van at 6am and had already enjoyed about an hour of meandering around the city before the van reached us. The driver headed out and drove in the traditional mildly homicidal local manner for a little while, then got onto a freeway. Unfortunately, this appeared to intimidate the driver. The road was generally wide open before us and the signage appeared to suggest left lane speed limit 70 and right lane 50. Our van stuck to about 45 km/h in the right lane the vast majority of the time. After 3.5 hours of semi-sleeping in the van we reached a stopping point where we met another van and our English guide showed up, gave us a short speech about the hike, and then we were off again. Another hour took us to Jin Shan Ling. At this point it was about 11:30am. Our guide explained the hike was typically 3.5 hours, plus another 40 minutes or so if you walked up to the wall rather than taking the cable car, and that she'd be meeting us for lunch at 1:30pm at Simatai (English guide means short speech in semi-English at start, not a companion). The odds of completion of a 3.5+ hour hike in 2 hours didn't seem to faze her and we figured she'd simply be obliged to wait for us, so we set off.
Probably due to altitude, Jin Shan Ling was quite chilly even at noon. Luckily Chris had warned us of this so we'd brought fleeces. We planned to walk the whole thing so we set off past the cable cars and soon caught our first glimpse of the greatest wall. Note that it is NOT visible from space, per NASA.
The wall at the Jin Shan Ling starting point is in remarkably good repair so, at around noon, we set off in earnest towards Simatai.
Between Jin Shan Ling and Simatai are 30 watchtowers. The first few are in excellent repair and despite frantic picture taking we made good time through them.
A short distance further along the wall we ran into a crew enjoying a brew on the wall. We assisted them in taking group photos and they offered us a brew and then took some pictures of us with our camera.
Whenever we stopped and looked around it would almost feel surreal "OMFG, we're on the Great Wall!!".
Some parts were in better repair than others and on occasion it became fairly steep, enough so that it felt falling wouldn't be too terribly difficult. In the rain, or even with a decent water-bottle spill, it would be fairly lethal.
Somewhere along this rougher section a couple of local villagers, one lady in particular, started tailing us. We had been warned they would wish to sell us stuff and tried to avoid being indebted to them. However, the main lady, who claimed to be a farm worker of Mongolian descent, kept following and ultimately proved a major asset in helping Pavan along steep or loose (or both) patches of the wall as she was unerringly sure-footed.
In order to visit all of the thirty towers between Jin Shan Ling and Simatai in some cases it is necessary to climb into and to climb or leap out. Sadly Pavan may be limited to telling of the time she visited "most of the towers between Jin Shan Ling and Simatai".
All along the way were vendors selling water, coke, beer, and in some cases trinkets. This was wonderful as it relieved us of the need to carry water. Trucking the inventory up the wall each day must suck for the vendors but evidently the profit from the inflated prices (as much as $1.5 for a water sometimes!) makes it worthwhile.
Somewhere around kilometer 6 or so, after accompanying us for an hour or more, our villager declared we were leaving her turf and began to pull out merchandise. We felt the service had been worth something so we negotiated fairly weakly and ultimately bought a book of rather nice photos for ¥60. This should represent good profit for her and is a good price for us so it seemed a nice mutually beneficial arrangement.
At the end of the trek the wall stretched on up the hill but this area was semi-blocked off and is apparently quite steep and hazardrous.
After a fantastic hike we had a quick lunch at Simatai and then loaded up the vans for the long drive home. At the end of a rather long day it was incredibly nice to sit down to some hostel dinner and then crash. The whole experience seemed (and seems) somewhat unreal. Perhaps one day we`ll have a chance to do a multi-day wall trek!!