This stretch of Great Wall sits on the boundary of Yanqing District and Hebei province, west of the Badaling section of the Great Wall, and to the south of the Guanting Reservoir.
It’s a tough walk, and if you are not scared of heights, clambering up and down slippery and narrow paths, and walking over loose rocks, then this will be a great hike for you! Did we mention it gets quite windy, and is often cold because of the high altitude?
The hike begins with a 30–40 minute walk up a concrete road that leads to an isolated settlement called Big Plate Camp (alt. 1091m), a tiny village that is encircled by the Great Wall.
The ‘Camp’ part of the name comes from the village being an old supply point for the wall in this area, back in the Ming Dynasty. Nowadays the village is virtually empty, apart from when everyone shows up for the planting and harvest seasons.
From the village we follow a hillside trail that leads to the Great Wall, walking up to a 1,280m peak before getting on to the wall. This will take 40–60 minutes, and it will be a steady climb up broad hillsides.
From the wall we have excellent views in all directions – to the south, tall mountain peaks; to the west, snowy mountain peaks in the distance, with the Great Wall in the foreground; to the north, the Guanting Reservoir and more hills in the distance; to the east, more mountains, and another stretch of Great Wall that eventually joins with the Badaling section.
It’s likely that there were two periods of construction for this section of wall, one much earlier. You can tell the difference by the appearance of the wall – the earlier wall has a white-ish colour and is built with stone, while the more recent Ming Dynasty construction has a grey colour and features bricks. Most of the wall in this area is not well-preserved, but in some spots we’ll see that the foundations were built very strongly.
We will walk along the wall, passing through ruined towers on the way to the Water Pass. The path starts off nice and easy, but as we head down it gets tougher, and in some places we will need to follow hillside trails to get around sections of the wall that aren’t walkable.
As we get near the Water Pass, we’ll follow a dirt trail down the hill and across some terraces to get to an archway that lets water from the valley stream continue to flow down the valley. The archway is certainly not a door or gate – it has a sheer drop on the outside, down to the rocks below. We’ll have our lunch near the Water Pass – there’s a nice open place to sit down, and it is usually sheltered from the wind.
After the Water Pass, the trail splits – sometimes we follow the stream a little way up, before zigzagging it up a big hillside to get back to the wall.
This time, we’ll continue up the dried streambed, and follow it up to a crabapple orchard that’s next to the wall. From there, we’ll follow the wall a little further, getting excellent views of the Guanting Reservoir. After a while, we’ll cut across some fields to reach the dirt roads that leads to Big Plate village, following it all the way back to the bus.