We’ve rearranged the ’plus’ version of the High Rise trail to avoid the cliffs and steep scrambles in the middle, replacing them with a walk through a long valley that is rewilding after rain washed out the little gravel road that was the main way in for the local farmers.
We’ll start the hike with an easy warm up, walking through chestnut orchards on concreted field tracks. As the hills get steeper we’ll reach the end of the orchards and start the ‘high rise’ part of the hike, following a narrow path up a big hill to an almost-800 metre peak. Our starting point is at around 300 metres above sea level, so this is a pretty good climb. Your breathtaking climb will be rewarded with breathtaking views.
In these hills it’s said there were gold mines, and some sections of our trail were made for the donkeys that serviced the mines. We don’t expect to see donkeys in the hills, but we’ve seen the tracks of wild pigs. Hopefully we don’t run into any of those!
On the regular version of the High Rise hike we skirt around the tallest peak in the area. Today we’ll offer the option to go all the way to the top, which we’ll find marked with a trig, and then a little bit farther on to find a pile of stones that is supposed to be the remains of a watchtower. We should arrive at the pile of rocks in time for lunch (and hopefully long views of all the surrounding mountains).
We’ll come down again to find our regular trail, and follow it around the peak to find a track that leads down through terraced chestnut orchards to a small village, a tiny settlement of around 10 houses linked to a larger village by a concrete road.
Instead of heading out to the larger village we’ll follow a little concrete farm track farther up into the hills, crossing over into a long valley.
The concrete farm track peters out at a little shack, turning into a gravel trail and continuing down the valley.
To our east is the peak of the High Rise, and the steep cliffs and valleys that lead up to the top. The mountains here catch a lot of rain, which comes out of the valleys in streams and small torrents. This year there was enough rain to turn the valley trail into a small stream, and we hop over the stream constantly as we hike out the valley. At this time of year we may find some ice left over from winter, when the stream freezes over. We’ll pack some crampons just in case it’s slippery.
If we kept hiking all the way down the valley we’d end up at the Lakeside Great Wall. But before we get there we’ll turn off to cross a medium-rise hill, hiking a farm trail through terraced chestnut orchards and then down in to the valley on the other side.
The lower part of this valley is served by a narrow, slowly rising concrete road, which is used by villagers and their three-wheeler trucks up to load up with the harvested nuts every September.
Farther up the valley it’s steeper, and the narrow concrete road turns into a dirt track that winds its way up through the terraces.
Eventually the hills get too steep for more terraces and trees and the farmers’ tracks finish. This is fairly typical in Beijing—the main orchards are on the flatter ground near villages at the bottom of the valleys, and the orchards extend up into the marginal land, ending when the hills get too steep.
What’s also typical is that there will be a narrow path up and over the steep hills, leading to the orchards – and then the villages – on the other side of the mountains. These tracks were used more often back before the roads were built and everyone got cars. These tracks are not used so often any more, and usually only by hikers like us!
Our climb over the hills is steep to begin with, and starts to zig-zag through a brushy area as we near the pass. We’ll stop at the top and look back for views of the Great Wall over the Little West Lake.
The trail then heads down on to the Big Black Mountain side of the hill, coming down a dirt path and then on to a concrete road that leads down to one of the villages in the area.