So you thought getting on the wall would be easy did you?? Oh no!
Slowly I pushed myself up there. It was hot, steep and completely open. We were on the top. I stood there wondering what on earth I had done, The Wall stretched as far as the eye could see; on and on it went, a solid grey mass, the size of a small road, with sometimes a smooth surface and sometimes the worst steps I have ever had the experience to climb or descend. I quickly learnt that the smooth bits were worse than the steps! When the wall went downhill, it was sometimes so steep that I had to walk sideways like a crab, walking up I was sometimes clinging to the barrier wall at the side.
So after the shock of the first day, of course, came the second day. Wow, this was different. We walked for an hour through near jungle to get to the great mass of the Wall, we climbed on top and there, waiting for us was a little Chinese man, selling his goods. When we asked him his age, he was over 80! He came up every day, through that long walk to sell his goods – we were put to shame, he sold quite a few things that day.
Today, I had trusted my “wing it” method for contents of my rucksack, yesterday it had been so heavy, weighed down with this and that, you really don’t need a pair of warm gloves when it’s over 30 degrees! Just water, snacks and a stick. I was not carrying that lot again!
We walked away from our little 80 year old friend and started the climb. What we didn’t bargain for was our local guide Oliver, giving us a whole new experience today. The terrain on the wall changed from being smooth and in good repair, to complete rubble, derelict and overgrown. As we picked our way over the rough ground we went round bushes and looked over the edge of the wall where the sides, which yesterday had been tall and safe, were now broken and often non existent. It was so steep, that when we had to go on our hands and knees, scrambling up, it was actually easier than straight walking. And so we came to learn the real set up of the Wall. It snaked over the top ridge of the hills as far as the eye could see, up and down, up and down, and every time there was a top of a ridge, there was a large square look out post, solid and as big as a small house. At every single one of these, we had to climb up a very steep incline to get into the entrance.
As a group we had got to know each other a little now, I had learnt that it didn’t really matter if I wasn’t as fit as some of the others, a welcome relief, I just got on with the job, willing to share my fears and the fun of it. But then came an experience that tested my very nerve core.
We climbed out through one derelict lookout post to go down the main wall and when I looked ahead, there was nothing to walk on but a line of broken stone, about a foot wide and trees on both sides. The side to my right was over the edge of the wall with a drop of about 30 feet, on my left was the inside of the wall, completely overgrown and invisible; but what we had learnt was that in the middle of the wall, there were great open drops with stairs to get on top. These drops had no barriers, just straight down to the hard stone below, it would not have been a soft landing – probably a little harder that our beds! A wave of fear overtook me – I remember uttering “I don’t think I can do this”. Then a voice behind me from our expedition leader, said very very calmly, “Just concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other” – it was a lesson for life...
Worse was to come – one of those odd and rare moments in life when you only have to say one thing to the people you shared it with and you’re right back there, well here was one of those moments.
I have never in my life been in a position where I have knowingly had to put my total trust physically into the people around me. As we climbed to a lookout post, there was a pile of wobbly stones to step on, then someone pushed me from behind, the guide stood at the opening to pull me in, but the opening wasn’t above me, it was to my right, about 3 feet over the edge of the wall and nothing below but 50 feet of clear space and my legs are just not that long!! For a split moment, I was suspended between the person pushing me behind and the guide holding my arm, there was no way back.
I am not quite sure how I got the courage together to do that, but somehow I did. It was a life changing moment, a moment of learning to trust other people and allow myself to be guided and helped and writing this has brought a tear to my eyes, because I learnt that other people can really be there for you. That really was a Life Changing Challenge.
Guest Blogger - Annie Davidson