The year is 1933. Young officer Li rolled up the last of his tobacco leaves and lit up his new creation with a match. He breathes in deeply, a satisfied breath, and then exhales the smoke together with a deep sigh. His soul is plagued with feelings of of longing… or is that regret?
He takes another deep breath, letting the smoky goodness fill his lungs. He nods to no one in particular. Yes – there is definitely some regret there.
It wasn’t that long ago when there was peace across the land. It was just one year ago, in fact, that he was still a farmer boy playing in the cornfield of his father’s vast land. Today he is part of the 626th Regiment of the Northeastern Army. His job sounds simple, but is far from it. He is guarding Shanhaiguan from the Imperial Japanese Army in the north.
War is about to come to Li. Earlier this morning, word filtered down that the envoy from the Japanese 8th Division had already made its demands for the 626th Regiment to evacuate from their location on the Great Wall.
The smoky goodness suddenly tastes bitter at the thought of the upcoming battle. Li hands the half smoked cigarette to one of his comrades. “Today we fight on this Great Wall to defend our motherland,” he says. “Who knows? Maybe in 50 years, this piece of wall we will fight on today will become a place of peace once again.”
He pauses. The time of battle is close. He readies his weapon. “Will they remember our names then?”
It is the mountainous terrain that makes Gubeikou truly unique. It can be found about 125 kilometers from Beijing and it has always been a place the needed to be defended. Gubeikou is the main pass that leads to the city and it stils in the Yanshan Range. Because of this, a military presence has been here for much of documented history – over 2,500 years. The original fortifications may not stand today, but the memories of ancient travelers and warriors still resounds within the pass.
Xu Da is responsible for much of this section of the Great Wall. He was a famous general during the Ming Dynasty and the work is truly outstanding! There are 4 sections of wall in Gubeikou and the total length of this section is more than 20 kilometers. There are nearly 150 beacon towers and each is positioned about 150 metres apart from the next. Some are closer than others, however, as a few are just 30 metres apart.
Each tower has its own unique interior design, but they are all based on the same principles. There are two floors, 6 archways, and 10 doors. Some have cathedral ceilings, others are flat, and some are painted or geometrical in nature. Every tower has at least one porthole as well, while some have up to 6. The largest towers provide a home for up to 100 soldiers at a time!
Our goal on Day 4 was simple: Night Camping at the Watch Tower near Gubeiko, then a morning hike to Jinshanling
To camp on the Great Wall and to experience the night scenery and windy chills as many soldiers who have camped there before for centuries past – this was certainly the highlight of the trip!
The next morning’s hike included a section that is off limits to public as it is under military zone, so we had to make a detour, which meant we had to climb down the mountain and then climb up the mountain again before we could reach the Wall.
Awesome hike from Gubeikou to Jinshaning section of the GW.
Type of terrain: Gravel, uphill valley, jungle path.
Weather: Clear , cool
Duration: 5 hours
All along the Great Wall, there are quiet places where you can pause and ponder. These perfect moments are the best part about a journey along this masterpiece of architecture. It was also a wonderful opportunity to do some photography.
The mountainous terrains makes for the perfect backdrop.
Follow our series on the Great Wall Hike 2014
Day 1 – The Great Wall of China Hike (HuangHuaCheng)
Day 2 – The Great Wall of China Hike (Jiankou)
Day 3 – The Great Wall of China Hike (Jiankou to Mutianyu)
Day 4 – The Great Wall of China Hike (Gubeikou to Jinshanling) – currently reading
Day 5 – The Great Wall of China Hike (Jinshanling to West Simatai)
See the video we have created from the images we captured during this journey