We stuffed ourselves into his small van and headed off. The journey out was harrowing. If we tried to sleep, the bumpy road woke us up. If we stayed awake, we saw our driver passing other vehicles with reckless abandon. He would pass on the right, on the left, going uphill, going downhill, on straight-aways and around corners. There was even a half-serious discussion of how much repatriation of our remains would cost.
After miraculously arriving in Jinshanling in one piece, we were disappointed to find that the smog had followed us. Although the Chinese government has taken significant action to prevent air pollution during the Olympics, some days are still worse than others. We couldn't see more than a few hundred meters in any direction. Despite this, we took comfort in the fact it wasn't raining and that the area was beautiful.
To walk along the Great Wall at Jinshanling costs 50 yuan a person, or about US$7. Just after entering, there were vendors trying to sell books, t-shirts and water. Once we got to the wall, however, we were alone for the first few kilometers except for a smattering of other walkers. There were also the workers who sit and watch the guard towers that appear every few hundred meters.
Although our views were somewhat obscured by the air pollution, walking the Great Wall was still stunning. We couldn't imagine how amazing the hike would have been on a clear day.
As a word of warning to people thinking of making this 10-kilometer hike, be sure you are in good physical condition. The wall undulates relentlessly and some parts are very steep. Going downhill can be even more dangerous than going uphill, and one slip could cause you to slide dozens of meters before stopping. Make sure to wear shoes or sneakers with good grip, as loose rock and pebbles appear throughout the hike. Some parts of the wall are in better shape than others, and in some areas the steps are more like ramps with rocks on them more than anything else.