“Well, everything turned to shit in a hurry, didn’t it?’
Ben nodded, and then slipped slightly on a wet rock, landing on his finger. It dislocated. With a grimace and real British stiff upper lip, he just popped it back in. Meanwhile, I could hardly move because my leg was cramping powerfully. In a very un-British way (mainly because I’m an Aussie), I was swearing like a trooper, loudly. I think some grunting may have been involved too. The rolling thunder that had accompanied us all afternoon had finally turned into a heavy downpour not long before all this, and, of course, the wall we were on dead-ended at the top of a huge cliff. It would be dark in two hours. Unlike Ben, I’d forgotten my waterproof pants, too.
Yes indeed, things had gotten a little bit tricky.
(See here for Part One)
Returning after the summer to the same village where Mr Zhao had met us in back in June, we wanted to finish the rest of the Baihebao wall. This time we were with a different Mr Zhao, who the “real” Mr Zhao had arranged for me as he had an overnight client to take somewhere. This new Mr Zhao turned out to be a nice fellow too.
No sooner had we got underway than I got us slightly lost, and we had a heavy and wet bush-bash up to that same power pylon, still saved in my GPS from last time. It had rained recently but was hot and smoggy today.
The first thing we discovered after regaining the route – pretty wet now thanks to bashing through the dew-covered scrub – was that Ben’s instinct was right last time. Had we kept on down the wall, we’d have intersected the same path we found after my bushbashing detour. Noted for next time!
The wall was primarily loose rock and ran along the cliff top, with the drop on the left at first then, after descending a perpendicular cliff, on the right.
As the day went on, the route became tougher. There were two fairly large cliffs we had to avoid, by pushing down the steep slope to the side, then coming back around to the wall. The forest was still very green, making it a bit more difficult to find the way.
It was still sunny – behind the smog, which was clearing – when we reached the main navigational challenge of this hike. Just beyond the ruined brick tower, the wall ends at this gorge. The wall picks up on the other side, generally eastwards. To get around it, we first followed a path north and then back behind us westwards. After a while, we cut away from that and aimed a straight line uphill back towards the wall, passing around the gorge. It was pretty easy and a pleasant forest, and as long as we maintained the right bearing we’d have no trouble picking up the wall on the east side of the gorge.
After all that it was a hard slog up the hill. The wall disappeared after a while and there was a faint, scrubby path to reach the top of the mountain. At 1,200 meters elevation, this point is high above Beijing and the nearby Yanqing plain. But it was pretty smoggy beyond, so there was little to see. We headed east again, downhill, but not long after leaving the summit, thunder that we’d heard in the far distance started to sound closer.
At the end of the wall, a huge cliff fell away in front of us. The thunder was louder and closer. The sun that had burned through the smog back at the top of the hill was nowhere to be seen now. The temperature dropped as we headed rapidly uphill, searching for a route down.
The rain came very quickly, a few drops for just twenty seconds or so and then a real downpour. Suddenly, a simple walk became something of a challenge. We were in the rain, high up on a rocky wall at the top of a cliff. There was some light still, but the sun would disappear in a few hours. We had that long to work out an exit.
“Well, everything turned to shit in a hurry, didn’t it”, I said.
Ben nodded, and then slipped slightly on a wet rock, landing on his finger. It dislocated. With a grimace and real British stiff upper lip, he just popped it back in. Meanwhile, I could hardly move because my leg was cramping powerfully. I’m not sure why, but Ben had some salt in a little packet in his bag. Apparently it helps with cramping, he said, so I opened my hand and licked up the salt he poured into it. It had only been raining five or six minutes but I was already drenched from the waist down – unlike Ben, I had no waterproof pants.
We were calm, though, and focused on working the problem. And sure enough, just as he had found the route down the cliff earlier, Ben found a likely looking path on the south side of this ridge. I’d planned on using the north side, not as steep, but this path looked more promising.
By the time we got to the bottom, navigating by dead reckoning, I’d managed to explain to the new Mr Zhao where he should come and find us.
I changed out of my soaking cotton trousers right by the side of the road. Mr Zhao was bemused but good humoured about it, and about me sitting in my wet trunks in his car. Of course, the sun came out properly around the time we reached the road. We had a good drive back to Yanqing, right underneath the ridge we’d just traversed.
Back on the train, I sat there in my wet gear and held up my raincoat like a skirt. We’d made it, easily in the end, though the mountains reminded us that you can never take things for granted. Our friend Tina sent a message on WeChat, asking how the day had been. I sent her this photo, and explained my present lack of trousers. “Good Lord”, she replied. “Glad I wasn’t there to see that”.
For a short cellphone video of the trip, click the image below.