UPDATE 2014/8/28—changed departure times: 8:00am (7:30am from the subway)
Holiday hike! Stretch the legs with a tough hill-walking hike, crossing 16km of hills and valleys, with more than 1,000m of ascent and descent over the full trail. Along the way we'll walk by fields, terraces, abandoned settlements, and we'll spot a short stretch of very old Great Wall.
Because it’s one of the biggest holidays of the year we might see some bad traffic on the way there or on the way back.
The ‘Super Loop’ hike
The village of Sancha is situated in the fork of three valleys and is a perfect starting and finishing point for a walk through an especially interesting piece of Beijing countryside.
Part 1: Spring Valley Loop
We’ll start by heading up a trail that skirts along the side of a terraced valley lined by impressive rock faces. Eventually, we’ll leave the terraces behind as we come to the top of a ridge with Qin Dynasty Great Wall running along the top of it, and cross over to follow a path through a straggly pine forest.
At the foot of the slope on the other side, on the other end of the pine forest, we’ll make a sharp turn and head back uphill again to the plateau at top of the ridge. We’ll make our way through some fairly thick vegetation, although at this time of year it shouldn’t be too dense. We’ll encounter the Great Wall again when our trail departs from the top of the ridge and begins to loop back towards Sancha. This downhill section will take us down another valley, along a stream, past abandoned farmhouses, and through a forest.
Just before we get back to the village, we'll make a turn up another valley and being the next part of the hike.
See photos from the Spring Valley Loop hike
Part 2: Hidden Village
The turnoff leads us up through terraced hills, following a dirt road alongside a small stream. In winter the stream slowly freezes, building up thin layers of ice that gradually escape the banks of the river and cover the road and valley floor with a very slippery surface. The road climbs gradually, passing abandoned stone houses, woods, and fields on the way up to remains of a tiny old village located at a fork in the valley.
The village used to be home to the childhood sweetheart of our local guide, and he says all the girls of the village were very beautiful. Perhaps there was something in the water!
From the abandoned village we’ll continue up the valley, aiming for the chestnut plantation that is a joint venture between an investment group from overseas and a Beijinger who returned to China after studying abroad. On the way up to the orchard the trail gets steeper, and after the orchard it gets steeper again as we pick a trail through the forest, aiming for the ridgeline that will take us up to a lookout point up on top. In summer, this part of the trail involves a bit of bushwhacking, but in winter the main problem might be figuring out where to walk, with the trail covered by fallen leaves.
The forest is part of a conservation area, and the aim is to encourage regrowth on the hills that will help build up a good layer of topsoil and prevent dust getting blown about. Our local guide led a team that went through the area, marking boundaries, and figuring out how best to encourage growth through selective thinning.
On previous trips we have heard plenty of birdsong, and spotted the prints of wild pigs. We think there's a pretty big pig lurking somewhere in these hills, and our local friends say the size of the footprints indicate a weight of more than 70kg!
After a push through some foliage, we’ll reach the lookout point – a group of big rocks at around about 1,000 metres above sea level. From the lookout we’ll get a good view of the surrounding mountains and forest, and if the weather is clear we’ll be able to spot Great Wall in the distance. On really clear days we've been able to see the Huanghuacheng Great Wall to the southwest, and the Mutianyu Great Wall off in the east.
From the lookout it’s down all the way, following a more distinct trail down a different valley. In places it’s steep and slippery, with loose dirt and small rocks, but after a while we’ll turn on to a less steep path that goes through small clearings in the woods, and then down through old terraces on the way back down the road, and then back to our starting point.
See photos from the Hidden Village hike
We'll have light snacks and drinks at the village before we head back to the city.
What to bring on this hike
- Plenty of snacks and maybe a light lunch
- A backpack to carry your food and plenty of water
- Warm clothes in case it gets chilly
- Good hiking boots
- (Click here to read our full What to Bring on a Hike list)
Reasons you might not enjoy this hike
- There's a stretch of the trail that is perpetually overgrown, and it gets a bit scratchy in summer.
- We'll need to keep up a reasonable pace in make sure we finish the hike before it gets dark.