Journeys, &c

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Tag: china (page 1 of 2)

Chengde (not Chengdu)

Home to pandas and spicy foods, Chengdu is, oh, right, you mean Chengde?

Yes. Chengde. Four hours up the freeway from Beijing, not four hours by plane. Chengde doesn’t, and probably never did, have pandas. But as the Qing Dynasty’s summer resort it has beautiful gardens, an impressive replica of Lhasa’s Potala Palace, laid back people and a great vegetarian restaurant. Sounds like a perfect weekend destination.

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Daddy Daughter Road Trip in Hebei

“Daddy, I don’t want to go to Jimingyi”. Why not, I asked my two year old over my shoulder, while dodging trucks on the backroads of Hebei Province. “Because it’s not good to go in there. It’s very dangerous”. I’m not sure how much my kid really knew about the old walled village that once was an important relay post for the Ming Dynasty postal system, but she seemed pretty convinced. Still, it couldn’t possibly be more dangerous than Hebei’s roads. I’d just done lengthy battle with literally hundreds of trucks, and I was about ready to pull in anywhere. With one last blast of a truck horn on my tail sealing the deal, I swung off the road for the final night in the back blocks of Hebei.

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Snakes, Ladders & Camo on the Dajiaoyu Wall

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April 2015: Half way up a narrow, steep, crumbling, five hundred year old staircase is not the place to decide to turn around and climb down. It’s still less the place to switch places with your friend. But when I looked at the sagging lower layer of bricks and the loose sand around them, I decided that hauling myself over the top of the nearly two meter brick wall in front of me was too risky. It was the last obstacle before the top, but I didn’t want it to be my last obstacle ever. Cause of death? Crushed in a rockfall. No thanks.

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The Fort and Wall at Beihua Ridge and White Horse Pass

Far to Beijing’s north, the Great Wall runs roughly along the border with Hebei Province. Just west of the well-known “wild wall” at Gubeikou is a little-visited but wonderful section of Ming Dynasty Great Wall called Beihualing – Beihua Ridge. It has everything: dramatic towers, ridgeline wall, remoteness, beautiful Ming stonework lying just where it fell centuries ago, and a really big fort. Just up the road is the equally impressive White Horse Pass, or Baimaguan.

Click through for photos of this incredible area.

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Solo camping…with a two year old child

“When I first met you, you were expecting your kid”, he laughed, this guy I know who came hiking last weekend with me, my wife, our two year old and some friends. “I remember you telling me you hoped to continue hiking as much as you could, and I went home thinking, ‘nup, won’t happen'”.

“But here you are, hiking with your kid”!

Here I am. But the truth is, when we were expecting our child, I did have darker moments where I imagined all that really was over. That my hiking-most-weekends lifestyle was over; that I wouldn’t get to go wild camping again for a long time. Determined not to let this happen, I started hunting around for gear that could help me take a small child into the hills. Somewhere on youtube – and I can’t find it anymore – was a Dad who took his one year old into the mountains using the baby carrier I ended up buying. He really inspired me. It’s fair to say, he changed my entire attitude to impending and subsequent actual fatherhood. From the moment I saw that clip, I wanted to do the same: solo camping with my little kid (my own youtube clip is at the very end of this post).

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Beijing to Shanghai: Bullet train or plane?

The experiment: Shanghai-Beijing. Which takes more time door to door? The plane, or the train?

The result: It’s closer than you might think.

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Sunrise above Shuitoucun

Sunrise above Shuitoucun. Set off at three in the morning, a cold November Sunday, hike four kilometers through fog and forest to the pass, down to the Watergate and then up the long line of Great Wall. The first light rises as you breach the cloudbase, and then, southeast, to your left, the huge yellow sun bursts into the world from beyond the range.

A fine end to a year’s hiking. And, hopefully, as the kid gets bigger, a sign of more in the year ahead.

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Photos: Fujian Province’s Wuyi Mountains

There’s only so many Chinese New Years you want to spend in Beijing. Cold, fireworks so incessant it sounds like one of those week-long artillery barrages from some horrible war, and smog spikes from all that gunpowder smoke. Oh for somewhere a little warmer, clearer, and quieter. This year, having run out of entries on our China visas, we travelled “guo nei” and took the short hop down to Fujian Province’s Wuyi Mountains…

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Gansu Province’s Incredible Great Walls and Silk Road Sites: Part II

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I’m a mountain guy, I decided, after just a few hours in the outskirts of the Gobi desert. It was hot, and blowy, the Great Wall we were following was practically impossible to see, and the ground beneath us was parched and covered in huge salt pans. Give me a goat track, I thought. A ridge ripped by a cold wind from Siberia, and a Ming wall I can actually see. But my friend Chinoook is made of sterner stuff (though I give him a run for his money on my home turf). Out ahead, he led the way through the salt pans towards a brown smudge on the horizon. “There’s the wall”, he promised. I squinted. “Sure it is”, I thought skeptically. But he was right. Just meters off a salt pan they could have used as a set for Mordor in the Lord of the Rings, stood an enormous, multi-tiered wall – a giant layer cake two thousand years old.

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Gansu Province’s Incredible Great Walls and Silk Road Sites: Part I

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This is a story about the Great Wall, but even more than that it’s a story about a guy I know who’s really, really into the Great Wall. Yes, I know I’m into the Wall – every second entry on this blog is about it – but I am nothing more than a young, naive Luke Skywalker to this guy’s Yoda. In May 2013 I joined him on an expedition to explore obscure, remote parts of the wall out in Gansu Province, as far west as historical China extended during the Han and Ming dynasties. In a week with Yoda, I would climb a rockface, navigate by night, gather Han potsherds, thumb rides by the side of the freeway, and eat stir fried gizzards. I also learned a lot about the Great Wall, and made a good friend.

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