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.
From the Water Pass, we’ll follow the dried stream bed a little way up stream before zigzagging it up a big hillside to get back to the wall.
This big climb will be the last tough climb of the day, and the wall at the top is a great place for a rest, with superb views in all directions.
From there, we’ll hike a bit farther along the wall before heading through a crabapple orchard, to the dirt trail that leads back to the village, and then back out to the road where our bus will be waiting. It will take an hour or so to do that, and along the way we’ll be able to see more of the Great Wall that surrounds Camp Big Plate as well as getting a good look at the sheer cliffs and the reservoir plain.