How many French wind engineers does it take to find the Great Wall after midnight? Just one, and his name is Hubert. We tried to camp on the wall two weekends in a row, mainly because our first attempt had us camping at 1am on a lovely plateau - because we couldn't find the wall anywhere. Waking up the next day, we realized that we had climbed the wrong mountain ridge. Given that (1) we had set out at 10pm in the darkness to start hiking, (2) Hubert was not in our group and (3) that the only directions we had were to hire a van to "the place with all the fish restaurants", our predicament wasn't too much of a surprise. We did find the wall the next day, but it was close to dusk when we started our almost vertical climb, so we all resolved to come back the next week since we now knew where the right trailhead began.
Come the next Friday, we had a patchwork of 13 people from Switzerland, France, Canada, Hong Kong, the Netherlands and the USA, including Hubert. Karim told us to meet at "7pm sharp", meaning we only got out on the 730pm bus to Huai Rou, with one of the group straggling behind on the non-express bus. In Huai Rou, we ate dinner at the same noodle and shwar place as the week before and hired 2 vans to take us out to where Hubert said the trail began. By 11pm, we had arrived at the gate, only to find out that the main road was closed unless we each paid 20 RMB. Karim and Hubert were outraged, as entry was free only a month before.
Solution? The vans took us 50m down the road to a cornfield, and we all got out, turned off our headlamps and crept past the gate in the pitch blackness. Upon hearing a car rattling down the road toward the gate, all 13 of us lept into the shrubbery in a spontaneous act of psychic coordination. The car passed, we all started breathing again and tiptoed on.Once past the gate, the headlamps came out and our voices rose and fell as we made our way past more cornfields and farms, turning off at a small path that lead us up to a village, after which Hubert believed the trail began. We met two (drunk) villagers who urged us to continue straight on noting that there were "no breaks in the trail". Sure thing. A few meters later, we stumbled on the first of many divergences in the path, with each "Y" resulting in a heated discussion from the Wind Engineers about what to do next. By midnight, Hubert and Karim decided to double back to the main road, believing we had turned off too early. At this point, I was skeptical that I would make it to the wall at all.
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