Great Wall of China guide: Jiankou

Seen by many as the most spectacular and challenging unrestored section

Untouched, unregulated and, in so many ways, unsafe. This section of the wall is the prime pick for those looking for a wild wall hike, with spectacular peaks and troughs, crumbling towers and sheer drops making for some unbeatable views – and a serious workout.

What’s the story?

No one’s exactly sure when this section was built, though most believe it to date back to the mid-1300s and the early Ming dynasty, when adding a protective wall to this already-testing dramatic landscape seemed appropriate. Better safe than sorry when pillagers and threats to the throne come a-knockin’.

One thing’s for sure, though; it hasn’t been touched since. Every brick here is an original, which is why many of them are now mere piles of disappearing dust and rubble.

Why choose this section?

In a world of ticketed entry, tour guides and total restoration, Jiankou offers perhaps the truest, most authentic Great Wall experience around, not to mention some of the finest views in Beijing – nay, the whole of China.

You won’t find a chairlift, handrails or well-preened staircases here – this is hiker’s territory – and the ever-changing gradient and rugged, not-so-beaten paths provide a challenge to even the most experienced ramblers. In 1935, Mao Zedong penned the now-famous adage that ‘we are not true heroes until we reach the Great Wall’; after completing a hike here, you’ll feel worthy of such a title.

Away from the gaze of, well, basically everyone, this is also a popular choice for those looking to camp overnight upon the Wall.

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Fun fact Jiankou is home to the ‘Eagle Flies Facing Upward’ watchtower, the tallest point along the section, which can only be summited via the imposing Sky Stairs – an 80-degree, face-in-stairs passage that’s only wide enough for one person at its narrowest. The view from the top is simply breathtaking.

Be warned The danger factor cannot be overstated here – there’s grapples around cliff faces, near-vertical climbs upon crumbling staircases and a potential cascade of falling rocks at any moment. As a result, it’s completely unsuitable for children and those not at a good level of fitness; hiking experience is also recommended. Wear appropriate footwear, take it slowly, be wise and don’t take unnecessary risks.

Hikers say ‘Jiankou is pretty wild, and it’s known as the most dangerous section in Beijing. For a slightly more mellow adventure, try the wall on the west side – it’s still fairly rugged, but there’s less chance you’ll fall off a cliff. That’s not to say you couldn’t fall off a cliff over there, but you’d have to try a lot harder.’

Distance from the city 70km

Getting there By bus: You'll first need to get to Xizhazi village (西栅子村) in order to access Jiankou. Take the 916 Express from Dongzhimen Bus Terminal towards Huairou, and get off at Yingbinlu (12RMB; around 70 minutes). Cross to the opposite side of the road and take the 862 two stops to Yujiayuan (2RMB); from there, the H25 bus will take you to Xizhanzi (7RMB; around 70 minutes; daily 11.30am-4.30pm). Given the number of changes, arranging for a driver may be your best option, either from Huairou or Beijing proper; don’t pay more than 800RMB for a return trip.

Opening hours and tickets
Open 24/7, 365, and completely free. No need for a ticket at this one, but be warned that its already dangerous climbs become yet more perilous during Beijing’s icy winters; given the testing physical nature of a hike here, visiting in the summer heat can also be challenging. Spring and autumn are the best times for a trip.

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  • 4 out of 5 stars