The thick, black clouds were ominous against the darkening skies. Wind wailed through the valley below and a few small raindrops splattered against my arm. These were the conditions under which I began to contemplate if attempting to scale the last and tallest piece of The Great Wall of China in Juyongguan, Beijing was really as good of an idea as I had originally thought it to be. Leaning against the cold stone of the crenellated battlement, I glanced over at my dad who was sitting a step below me, appearing slightly tired. I appreciated his company, as it was he who had volunteered to come with me all the way to the top—which depressingly, still was not in sight. Worn and tired from the last three mountains my dad and I had climbed that same week, I stared off into the distant mountains of Badaling and thought back to the events that had led up to this moment.
Our plans for traveling to China had initially been for the purpose of visiting family. My only remaining great-grandfather had been terminally ill at the age of ninety-two. My parents immediately scheduled a flight to Shanghai and after a brief stop at Houston, Texas, and a plate of sushi in Narita, Japan, I found myself in the country my parents frequently spoke of.
I was awestruck by the incredible urbanization of Shanghai and I found it difficult to keep up with the constant flurry of activity around me, a blur of people, business, and construction. We stayed at the Jin Sha Hotel for a day to meet up with my uncle. Together, we drove on a one hour road trip to Haiyan, the small town my great-grandfather lived in. After some emotional moments and the taking of a family picture which I will treasure for the rest of my life, we departed for Qingdao to visit the rest of my family.
Qingdao is often associated by many with the world-famous Tsingtao beer. However, I will always remember Qingdao as the city of the high, soaring mountains, the city of jagged cliffs, and the city of sparkling beaches. I was quickly enticed by its natural beauty but was also appalled by the rapidness at which Qingdao was transforming into an urbanized metropolis. I pleaded with my parents for us to go see as much of China’s natural landscape before it was all gone, buried under a sprawl of human civilization. They agreed, and within the next few days we climbed Tianshan, Fushan, and Laoshan, three uniquely beautiful mountains in Qingdao.
A day later, after traveling on an overnight train to Beijing, I found myself trudging up the steep steps of the lower section of the Juyongguan Great Wall. Every part of my exhausted physical body resisted, but I was driven on by my desire to see more of China’s mountains and to document them with pictures and videos, perhaps to share with my own children someday. After arriving back to the bottom of the valley, I gazed up at the final strip of Wall, tired but determined. I began the climb.
The rain had stopped. Everything was silent. The clouds parted, revealing a crack of sunlight which bathed the entire valley in warm, golden light. Suddenly inspired, I darted up the remaining steps to the next watchtower, shouting for my dad to follow. Upon reaching the next platform, the steps suddenly ended. We had reached the top. A wave of emotion swept over me, and I pulled out the camera as birdsong filled the valley.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.