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Trekking the Great Wall of China

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Mags Tyekiff and her daughter Polly Tyekiff took part in our China Trek from 5 to 14 September 2013, raising just over £8,000 to help us support people with MS. Mags, who has MS herself, shares her daily diary below.

China trek 2013

Day 1 - London to Beijing

Left High Ham for Heathrow at 11.30 am. Met up with other members of the group and Group Leader Ken and GP Mark. Boarded our flight at 5pm to Dubai. Spent approximately 1 hour in Dubai Airport, then on to Beijing. Journey was long, but hassle free.

Day 2 - Beijing

On arrival in Beijing we boarded a shuttle train to pick up our baggage. Another long coach journey to our hotel in Beijing - Beijing Xiang Hotel, Xuanwu District. Very short time to settle ourselves into the hotel as a result of heavy traffic, which delayed our arrival at the hotel where we had a very nice Chinese dinner. We were all very tired and retired early to gather our strength for our first trek in the morning. Early start – up at 7, breakfast at 7.30 – all bags had to be packed and ready to go into the coach before breakfast.

Day 3 - Beijing - Huangyaguan

Our room was clean and fresh and we slept well. We ate a good breakfast, an unusual selection, but tasty. Another long coach trip to our hotel in Huangyaguan. On our way out of Beijing, we visited The Temple of Heaven: seven acres of recreational parkland with the temple at the heart, where locals were playing instruments, singing, playing mah jong, ballroom dancing, practising various forms of tai chi, and numerous crafts (knitting, crocheting, weaving, etc.), all to a background of piped Chinese music. We were only given an hour to look around, not nearly enough time, but we had to continue our journey to our next hotel.

The hotel is in a stunning location at the foot of the mountains upon which sits the Great Wall of China (our first glimpse of the Wall). We are all in awe - amazing! The hotel is basic but lunch is tasty and plentiful. After a group warm-up session, led by Ken, we set off on our first section of our trek – a taste of the challenge that lies ahead of us. Originally built in 557 AD, the Huangyaguan section of the Wall was repaired for the first time in the Ming Dynasty with bricks, and for the second time in 1985. This section was particularly stunning because of its water towers, which have all been restored and are majestic. We trekked for approximately three hours.

Polly and I managed the first trek very well and were first home, already having made friends with all our fellow trekkers. Polly has taken some amazing photographs. We are meeting up again at 6pm after a shower and a rest and out to a local eating house just round the corner for our supper. After we had eaten we had cold beers round a bonfire prepared for us by the locals. Had a crazy karaoke experience, with Katie and Jamie, we sang a Robbie Williams number, 'Angels', which was chronic – Polly went to bed. Tomorrow we will trek for 5 – 7 hours and spend the night with locals in a mountain village. I promise not to sing!

Day 4 - Huangyaguan - Mountain Village

After breakfast we headed out of the hotel up the mountain side onto a restored section of the wall. At midday we had reached the start of 'Heavens Ladder', a very steep and sometimes treacherous climb of 200 steps. This was a really tough section and a couple of the group were reduced to tears, but Polly and I were marvellous of course! At the top, there were stunning views over the Yanstan Mountains and the region below.

Very short rest period and then up again we go to join the top of the ridge where our path winds around a section of the old wall (the wild wall). Lots of beautiful wild flowers and shrubs, very little evidence of wild life, just a few birds and the odd partridge. Eventually mid-afternoon our guide leads us down off the wall into a valley and to the mountain village in which we are to spend the night. I would describe the accommodation as a family run YMCA type set-up, very primitive. After dinner we all congregated for a good old chinwag by another bonfire. Today we trekked for 8 hours and we managed it extremely well.

Day 5 - Mountain Village - Jinshanling

After breakfast we set out across the farmers' fields up to the Wall where the Hebei province, Tianjin City and Beijing all meet, which has been marked by the erection of a stone obelisk and map, called 'The Three Bordering Tablet'. Photo opportunity and rest. We start to descend and make our way west along the Wall until we meet the village of Longman, where we return to the hostel for lunch, before starting our road walk to meet up with the coach at 6pm, which took us on to our hotel at Jinshanling. Whilst we were sleeping, the whole length of the track we travelled to reach the hostel the day before had been excavated and the coach was now unable to collect us from the hotel, hence our walk to meet it. Today we have trekked for 6 hours.

The hotel at Jinshanling is the best yet. It is Government run and the rooms are lovely, proper toilet and shower (a wet-room!) Our evening meal was the best yet too. We had a couple of beers and a briefing after dinner, then shower, hair-wash and bed for me, where I write up my daily log. Polly stayed up with the young ones. Another big trek ahead of us tomorrow, but back to this hotel again in the evening, which is good news as we do not have to repack our bags tonight!

Day 6 - Gubeiko - Jinshanling

Lovely breakfast this morning followed by our briefing and then off in our coach to the start of the Gubeiko section of the Great Wall. It seems that we are being joined on the wall by another party of trekkers which includes a celebrity, a certain Denise Van Outen. This has created quite a stir amongst the youngsters! The weather is good. The air is clear – great for sightseeing and photography. From the Wall we can see the Miyun Reservoir and the Wangjing Tower rising in the distance. Our guide tells us that the Jinshanling Region is one of the best preserved areas of the Great Wall, originally made from huge bricks, each weighing about 12 kilograms (26lbs). This section has had all of its five main passes and 67 watch towers restored. This is a spectacular hike.

We took a couple of wrong turns, so what should have been a 7 hour trek, turned out to be 8 hours at least. We are all more than ready for our shower and beer on our return! Today's trek was not without its events – I slipped and landed heavily on my bottom, scraping my hand. For this shocking display I was presented with the much coveted 'Dong Award' at the after dinner briefing session. Today a couple of the girls found some sections too much for them and wept! Dinner was again very good. Afterwards some of us went to a 'paper cutting' exhibition with translated talk, which was fascinating. I came back to my room for an early night and to write up today's events. Early start again tomorrow, for a shorter trek of around 4/5 hours, then in the afternoon on to Mutianyu.

Day 7 - Jinshanling to Mutianyu

Another lovely breakfast – thank God I brought the Yorkshire Tea Bags. We leave the hotel and trek east towards Simatai along a much restored section of the Wall. We meet other trekking groups from various parts of the world. Denise Van Outen proves to be quite camera shy, but hey-ho, Hello Magazine seems to have her all tied up. On our trek today up and down the spine of the mountain, we can see for miles. We regularly take shelter from the heat in one of the many watchtowers along the way. This is where the Great Genghis Khan broke through the Wall with the Mongul Hordes.

We stop for our packed lunch at around 12 noon and then make our way to our coach, which will transport us to Mutianyu and the Three Springs Resort, where we will be staying tonight. Unfortunately, safely off the Wall, Laura trips and injures her ankle. Mark the GP who is travelling with us, springs into action. It was feared that Laura had broken her ankle and was carried the rest of the way down the path to the waiting coach. Off to the hospital we all went and dropped Laura and Mark off with Guide Kevin. An hour and a half later they joined us at our hotel. It turned out to be a soft tissue injury (bad sprain) – Laura now on crutches and therefore unable to join us on our final trek tomorrow. We are all very sad that she will not be with us when we cross our finishing line. Hotel accommodation proves to be the best yet, wet-room, proper toilet, balcony and a lovely restaurant. Today we trekked for 4 hours.

Day 8 - Mutianyu to Beijing

This is our last trekking day on the Wall and we will walk for at least 4 hours. After a good night's sleep we leave our hotel and trek on, passing through a small village and start climbing a steep wooded track to the top of the Wall. The morning is misty, so views of the far off mountains are limited. This section is one of the most beautiful parts of the Wild Wall in Beijing loved by photographers and we meet lots of tourists from all over the world. We are all in high spirits, but Alice is higher than most, and runs on ahead of our party to the next tower where she strips off and waves the waiting Chinese flag as we all cheer, including the little old Chinese lady who is the keeper of the flag in the said tower. She dances around with Alice - chirping 'very good, very good'. Luckily she puts her clothes back on before we are all arrested and returns to the group jubilant with her 'Youtube' footage!

We trek on and pass the finishing line, where our guide is waiting to spray us all with frothy champagne. What he doesn't spray we drink. At this point we all became a little emotional after such a hard challenge has come to an end. Group and charity photographs were taken in abundance, more champagne was consumed and we ate our packed lunch and prepared for our descent from the Great Wall for the final time. We have a choice – we can walk down, take the cable car or use the toboggan run. Polly and I choose the toboggan of course – 1,700 meters of pure exhilaration! A Chinese official tried to take Polly's camera from her whilst she was moving – I had to give him one of my sternest looks and even shake my fist at him! All great fun. We walked through the market at the bottom of the wall and met up at, believe it or not, a 'Subway' eating house, where we had a sandwich before boarding our coach for the long drive back through the rush hour traffic, to our hotel in Beijing.

On our way back to the hotel we made a quick detour to the Olympic Stadium for a quick look at the 'Birds Nest' and the 'Water Cube'. Back at the hotel, given a chance to freshen up, we don our party clothes and are taken to a very nice restaurant in the city for our celebratory Peking Duck Dinner. Delicious food, some tastes new to me. Ken made a lovely speech and we all felt very proud of what we had achieved together. Polly surprised me by standing up and paying me lots of compliments for achieving so much as an MS sufferer and at the ripe old age of 62. It was quite unexpected and I was very touched when everyone raised their glasses to me – an emotional moment.

Off we went to experience the local night life at 'The Lake'. As we stepped off the coach the heavens opened – thunder and lightning – we darted for the closest bar, where we had a lovely evening with live music. A great saxophonist and his band plus lady singer entertained us, or did we entertain them – it's all a blur! No not really – we oldies had a drink and a dance – I had my first 'shot' which tasted like bathroom cleaner, then we got a taxi back to the hotel and left the young ones to party on. Sleep comes easy to me tonight.

Day 9 - Beijing Experience - 17 million Residents

We are all up early and ready to go. Our coach and guide take us to Tiananmen Square. There is a strong police and official presence. A rather solemn mood came over the older members of the group. The youngsters seemed to know little of the student uprising and the sad loss of so many young Chinese students, who dared to 'step forward' in an attempt to gain more personal freedom. From the square we went on to the Forbidden City where there was lots to see and learn. Laura had a wheelchair to help her around today, but Beijing is surprisingly inaccessible so we were often delayed due to crossing roads and climbing steps. Off to the market for shopping and the youngsters are in their element! We older ones opt for the foot massage and off we go to the salon. What an amazing experience – I could do with a foot massage at least every Friday!

Back to the hotel where we have our final supper, repack our bags and set our alarms for 3am when our coach will take us to the airport! Adventure over. Polly and I have managed to raise around £8,000 for the MS Trust. The money is still coming in.

I am planning a reunion for all those who want to get their walking boots out again – Snowden in the Spring of 2014!

Mags Tyekiff

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