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China 2023: The Great Wall Challenge Trek

In October 2023, I visited China, working as an expedition doctor to support a charity trek along the Great Wall of China.

The wall is vast, measuring a total of 13,171 miles and it can be seen from space. Therefore, our week long itinerary was only going to show us a snapshot of the wall, which is one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

We experienced a journey through different dynasties as we walked along the wall, and the segments we visited ranged from fully restored barricades to more remote and derelict parts.

The wall actually started life as multiple smaller walls before these were joined together by Qin Shihuang, the first emperor of a united China.

On this trek I was joining a group of 10 women alongside Mel the expedition leader. We all met at the airport prior to our flight to Beijing. It had been difficult sorting out visas- perhaps this was as China only re-opened it's borders to international travellers in July, however we were all set and ready to go.

Our trek started at a fully restored section of wall, which looked magnificent. It was fascinating to imagine the footsteps of soldiers as they marched along the top, guarding the wall from enemies.

Following in their footsteps, the group made their way along the wall, discovering that the wall was not particularly flat in nature, but instead consisted of lots of inclines and descents.

Most of these were in the form of stairs but the steps were usually quite uneven, making it vital to concentrate and ensuring that everyone had tired legs by the end of each day. We were told that this was so as to make the steps difficult for invading soldiers so that they were more likely to fall over- luckily we managed to stay on our feet!

Nevertheless, every day was leg day!

As we progressed the wall gradually became more remote and the well demarcated paths became more worn. The scenery remained stunning with tree lined mountainous horizons accompanied by the autumnal colours of the changing leaves in the foreground.

As well as the ubiquitous stairs, we were also surprised by the number of CCTV cameras, even in relatively remote mountain villages. The Chinese authorities certainly like to monitor what is happening, regardless of where you are in the country, and we also had the occasional drone and "well dressed tourist" who appeared to be watching us from afar.

As well as the walking, we were also lucky to experience excellent hospitality and great local food. Rice for three meals a day with various vegetable, meat and fish accompaniments provided us with the fuel required to trek and there were also other surprising delicacies such as cucumber flavour crisps!

These were not just "dried" cucumber but crisps with the taste of cucumber! Whilst I had to try them for their novelty value, I don't think they would be a bestseller here in the UK.

We eventually finished the trek and everyone was successful in their endeavours. It was great to support such a fun group and they were great at encouraging and supporting each other. We were also supported by a fantastic guide- James, who was massively enthusiastic with a great sense of humour.

After medals, it was time to get on the bus to return to Beijing to see the sights and of course to barter for souvenirs in the market.

From a medical perspective, we had no major issues which is always a relief, and it was a really fun trip to be part of. It is hard to do justice to the scale of the Great Wall in photos, but I would highly recommend visiting it to follow in the footsteps of the warriors of old.

Beijing saw us visit the obligatory sights of Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City before we flew home, and it was nice to see the juxtaposition of old architecture and traditional wedding photoshoots against the backdrop of modern skyscrapers.

If you want to know how I got started in expedition medicine and how you could be doing this as well- have a read of some of my other blog posts or listen to my podcast which is available on well known podcast platforms.


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