I’m raising a glass right now to the “heroes” who went up with me, before me and after me to the treacherous Juyong Pass north side, the BADALING. It’s amazing. Anybody who’s been to this segment of the Great Wall can testify that this is the most famous, most visited and — the toughest. “The mere mention of the name sends shudders to climbers” as one tour book says. The 45° flights, the craggy and oftentimes irregular steps and the surging crowd, can cause one’s cold feet. Not surprisingly, a few colleagues decided to tea the time away at the Cloud Platform below. Meanwhile, the great multitude refuses to be dispirited by this pile of bricks.
I was racing to reach as many watchtowers as I can, given a limited period of time, and to take as many shots as possible. Until I found myself stuck in a stream of old folks, women and children. I’ve never been squeezed in a chopsuey of different colors and nationalities.
And this is just where the party begins. In spite of the grueling climb, we still managed to have some chats, a few laughs, exchanged smiles and traded shots as we go. An English accented photographer joked about his having lots of “walls on his pictures when he should be having lots of pictures on his walls.” It seems when everyone is a foreigner, no one is a stranger. Talk about social climbing.
I reached the third Beacon Tower and stopped at this shop where it says “Hero Certificate, Hero Commemorative Coins, Hero Cards.” At this point, I can sense even my ears are sweating. But I get to have a “breathtaking” view of the panoramic Juyong Pass, Crossing Street Tower and the Nan Pass. Some great reward! And as I climb higher, I noticed the crowds have become thinner (and so is the air) and the flights more unobstructed. But it’s lonely at the top. Feels like staring at a blank wall. Besides, it’s beginning to feel like I’m losing the battle vs. gravity and I need my reserved energy for the descent, which is no less difficult as the ascent.
I walked down the Badaling with this pretty Chinese-looking girl who’s coming out with some interesting myths about the Wall: that this was built as a single structure; the Wall being visible with the naked eye from the Earth’s orbit; and that one can travel the Wall from endpoint to endpoint. Yes, all myths.
We have some conversation until she reminded me of a scary fact that made me mind my own steps — most accidents here occur at the descent. (:-O
I have heard lots of tragic stories about the Badaling climbers and I believe the Great Wall is not short in warning the climbing public to take extra precautions when ascending especially those with heart, brain or other ailments. But these people here, they’re rock solid about getting somewhere up regardless of the risk. They have paid a great deal for this and no fortification’s going to stand in their way.
So here’s to us heroes who were once united in thinking that this is (or could be) a once in a lifetime treat. I bet you have collected your certificates at the Heroes Congregation Room. As for me, my photos are my certifications. Care for some pictures on your wall? Or is it the other way around.