Hiking logistics

Once you have a route planned, you can fill in the logistical details.

The first item to plan is transportation. Begin with your planned starting location such as a hotel or airport. And end with your destination, typically a parking lot or a trail head at a Great Wall site. Decide how you will make the trip, as we've already discussed under Reaching the Great Wall. It's important to pay attention to how long this transport should take, keeping traffic in mind and allowing some contingency time. If you're arriving in the general area by plane or train, it may not be possible to adjust your departure time, in which case your arrival time will also be fixed. But if, for example, you're leaving from a hotel, you can adjust your departure time to provide the arrival time that works best for you. Usually leaving the hotel very early in the morning, around sunrise, is a good plan. Sometimes it makes sense to travel part of the way and then stay in a hotel or guest house overnight so that you can depart early the next morning from a location that's near the starting point for your hike.

Once you have reached the end of the road travel portion of your plan, trails are the next consideration. Sometimes this leg of the journey is nonexistent or trivial; sometimes it's significant. But do plan how you will get from your drop-off point to the Great Wall. Remember, this is no longer to be considered the approach to your hike; this actually is your hike. You should find it enjoyable, interesting, and stimulating even before you have reached the Great Wall.

Locating hiking trails can be challenging, both on satellite imagery and in real life. Satellite image quality varies from place to place. Where it's good, you can often identify trails in areas where the tree cover is not too heavy. This is not foolproof, as what looks like a trail can often turn out to be something else. The best way to get trail paths is to use a GPS track from someone who has already hiked that trail. Spend some time exploring hiking forums and other Internet communities and you can often find people who are willing to share their GPS tracks. When looking for trails in person, it's easier to find a trail but it's harder to know which trail is the right one. Often a trail branches and you don't know which path is the correct one for where you are trying to go. A GPS receiver is a good solution for this problem. In lieu of a GPS, a compass and a map are reasonable substitutes, especially if you can find your current location on the map. Popular hiking trails are often marked with ribbons tied to trees, paint on rocks, or other visible indicators. This is not a totally reliable solution but it can be helpful, especially when combined with other trail finding techniques.

Markings painted on rocks on a trail leading to the Great Wall

The next aspect of your hike to consider is where you will sleep. If you're carrying a tent and a sleeping bag, you have great flexibility in this regard. You will probably want to set up your tent in remote places where it's least likely that you will be noticed or bothered. If you're carrying a sleeping bag but no tent, you'll want to make sure there are watchtowers where you can sleep in case of precipitation. If you aren't planning on camping or sleeping outside, you'll need to find villages that are large enough to be likely to have a guest house. You may also want to just ask people if you can sleep in their homes and offer them money for this. Usually this works out OK but sometimes you may have trouble finding a willing host. By sleeping in people's homes, you will get to experience what life is really like in small villages in China the way few foreigners ever do. If you are going into villages to sleep, try to get a feel for how long it will take to get down from the Great Wall and into the places where you might find shelter for the night.

Camping at Jinshanling

While contemplating getting off of the Great Wall and going into villages, give some thought to resupply. You will need to periodically stop for food and water. In general, once a day is a good guideline for this, and a daily resupply works out well in conjunction with a daily (nightly) sleep break. But if you're not sleeping in villages and you can carry adequate food and, especially, water, then you can resupply less frequently.

As you figure out your logistical details, sometimes it becomes necessary to make adjustments to the route for improved convenience in taking care of the realities of your hike. This can be an iterative process as you alternate between routing and logistics until your entire plan makes sense. Don't worry too much about making things perfect, though. Adjustments almost always need to be made in the field based on unexpected factors. This is just one more of the aspects that make your Great Wall hike into a true adventure.