Pierre Crahes Nordic walks across China with Exel Curve Pro February 20 2014
Massive congratulations to Pierre Crahès who crossed China, Nordic walking in a personal challenge that equaled 8 Marathon Trails in 31 days across. All using his Exel Nordic Walker Curve Pro poles. Here is his story...
Personal Challenge, 8 Marathon Trails in 31 days across China.
Departure is just hours away
Its has been several weeks even months that I’ve been working on this project, the logistics,
the marketing, dedicated training.
Apart from my various mountaineering experience and logistics experience in organizing
sports trips, I have had support from two mentors, Philipe Gata and Gérard Cain.
Philipe Gata provided a lot of advice on the project management and practical advice on
the autonomy for long distance mountain runs . I also knew that I could get distance
running advice and support from Gérard Cain.
Throughout my preparation and training for the realization of this challenge in China,
Exel Poles and Keen Footwear have provided me with quality and efficient equipment.
Both companies have been very fast and reliable when the conditions required.
I would like to thank my family and friends and in particular my spouse. She is so
supportive and patient. She brings constant unwavering support, this proof of love that is
so important to me, to help with the fulfillment of this project in China over 40 days.
Tonight despite all that, after packing my bag with my plane taking off in a few hours I’m
still downloading the last traces in my GPS. The same traces that I received from my
contacts in China today that I had to rework a few hours ago.
With the long journey still to come, it starts with a ten hour flight between Zurich and
Day One: Arrived in Beijing
I have arrived in Beijing. I already feel that I’m the only non Asiatic person in
Beijing, totally swamped in the Chinese crowd. Lunch and dinner today will be
rather easy to source. I see food everywhere!
At the Chinese border, Beijing airport.
The plan for the day is to sort out all local set-up (phone, transportation, train tickets)
before my first run tomorrow. I start at 6am, at the Beijing central train station to collect
my electronic train ticket [...]
Sorting the taxi is a good half-hour talk, to fix price and make sure about the travel
arrangements. Going by bus would have been my first choice but the first bus leaves at 7am
and will arrive far too late to let me complete my run in time.
Buying a mobile phone with a Chinese SIM card is not that easy. I have with me a piece of
paper with some options that have been kindly suggested to me by my neighbor on the
long-haul fight that had shown some interest and was very supportive. Nevertheless I have
to reexplain the request before I get a positive answer from the sales assistant.
In addition to 8 marathons trails across China, I want to get a feel of the Chinese
people and their culture. So that the plan is to travel mostly by public transport (trains
and buses), to stay at local hostels, to eat local (beside when running).
I am already at the hostel and the beds are very hard, this is not a legend. Tomorrow I
wake-up at 5am.
The street of the hostel. Well kept, not totally rebuilt.
Day Two: Run on the Great Wall, “water wall” section
Early morning I wake-up the hostel lobby staff to check-out and find the taxi I booked
yesterday. The taxi ride starts at 5:45am, it is about 80km long. In general in China you
should know what you want and it is better knowing where you’re going. This
taxi is no exception to the rule. I am glad I printed the map of North Beijing up to my final
destination. It will be my driver’s road map. [...]
At the Great Wall, on the section called “The Great Wall of waters”.
I’m keen to get started and without even checking the map, I cross the lake and climb on
the path along the wall. This is me at the foot of the 5 to 6m high restored edifice!
Yes, it is a wall and it works…
I step back a little to the very first tower and find a really tiny hole. I make a test with
my feet first, I can pass. I push my bag through then the poles and finally I go through.
Once inside, I am still not on the wall. The stairs have been demolished and the trapdoor is
Going around the tower and climbing two meters, it is possible to access the top of the
tower. That's it I am on the Wall! Its very impressive! On one side there is the lake and
on the other side a big staircase at 45 degrees.
The first stairs are so steep that I can’t even place half a foot on a step.
Running on the Great Wall is like being in a postcard or picture book. The
Chinese crows in the silence make the scene complete. This section of the wall is far from
the tourists and the hikers. [...]
Miles of Great Wall in front of me. An emotional moment.
I eat up the first few kilometers, it’s mostly down hill. Looking horizontally you don’t feel
like you’re going very fast on this endless wall that pushes in from crest to crest in the mist.
In front of me now the condition of the wall is beginning to deteriorate but there are
still some solid steep stairs, very steep. Step 5cm deep, 30cm high or more. At some
point the stairs are so steep that it has fallen off the rock that was supporting it. This means
some rock-climbing with few meters of empty space. And I keep running.
Do you see extreme slope of the Great Wall on the next summit ?
The wild Great Wall, it is empty space. Rock-climbing is sometimes necessary.
The Great Wall is hardcore trail running. The further I go, the more the Great Wall
has crumbled. It switches from an advertisement for a French car to a trail of fallen rocks.
Progression is harder but it looks like a trail.
In the heart of the matter. Here the Great Wall is still negotiable.
Until the Great Wall enters the forest, or the forest enters the Great Wall, who can
say. Now, I’m very far from the initial plan! No speed, no more easy paths, in fact no path
Most of the time I make my way on a narrow side wall. Bushes and trees, 3 meters high
have infiltrated the wall. I am glad I trained on the narrow wall along the sea side, so that I
can keep focused on my run beside the emptiness.
Add to that up-hill and down-hill sections on a slippy surface and some rock-climbing.
Usually less than 3 or 4m to climb but usually to pass a rock or a split with a large drop off
to the side, sometimes more than 100m cliff behind few bushes. Even running as
much as possible the average speed is very slow.
The sheer drop barely hidden behind bushes.
The only way through is the crest of this rock that is far from flat.
If Indiana Jones was a trail runner… Now we have what makes most of the
remaining run, a lost path in the forest barely visible. Only the odd outcrop of rock is
visible and the vegetation dominates. You need to make guesses, feel the path invisible to
the beginner, search behind low branches and high bushes. It slows down my
progress: first the vegetation is a real obstacle and second you need to go slow enough to
distinguish the path from two bushes slightly apart. It is really exhausting physically
Amongst the other traps are, sections where you need to leave the wall to go around
impassable parts. Some bypasses lead to dead ends. That is how I find myself at one point,
going strait up the slope like a wild pig completely off track trying to get back on the wall.
This specimen is around 10cm large. A friend of his was crawling up my arm.
After four hours running I reach a tower where two hikers have stopped for a lunch break.
They are the only two people I cross over the entire trip on the wall. They tell me
they will go back and few other sentences in Chinese I can understand. [...]
I take this opportunity to swallow a handful of nuts and I get back quickly on the path,
running and … guessing. It is like feeling lost while being on the correct path. The
situation is not pleasant to me while it would be totally unbearable to most.
Up-hills and down-hills, I keep going for few more hours. Until the disillusion of the
day: I am hopping for a wall that gets better coming closer to a road and I find myself with
nothing! 300m of emptiness, I am facing a cliff, in front of me the wall is stopping
sharp, bellow, the road. On the map, the wall touches the road, with a 150m height error. I
have been digging for weeks, the best altitude maps I could find were smoothed by 200m
with 150m errors on some summits!
Looking for a way out. Well, it is now 3pm, the option I have is to go back for 500m
(that means a lot of altitude difference) to take one of the paths that go down in the
previous valley and reach a road somewhere lower. I use all the gear I have, map, GPS…
The path is supposed to be in front of me but there is no path. I start to climb down
hoping to find a trace of the path below but it’s only a lot of wasted energy and no path.
So, I decide to go looking for another route more to the west, the same direction I came
from. And I find one, the grass there has been trampled, the branches are broken, I look at
my off-line map and my GPS position; spot on the path! In theory, 600m down there I
should find the road. I throw myself into the steep slop, might be over 45° steep, you need
to grab the trees to avoid sliding down. Half way down, I am facing a drop at least 4
meters high, maybe more. I can’t check it without my bag, if I go down I will not be able to
get back up! Further down it looks like another very steep slope, I can only see clouds. I
don’t want to risk an injury or test my distress beacon, I decide, disillusioned again to turn
Hours spent in the thicket. My arms are red.
The way back up is very difficult, slippery. Back on the Great Wall, I have one hour of
day light left with no alternative path before 4 hours. I decide to get to the nearest
tower to shelter from the bad weather and spend the night. A twelve hour night, in the
wild, it is long. I find a place rather flat in the tower’s rubble. In the end it is probably as
beautiful and comfortable as a Chinese bed.
A tower is my refuge for the night on the Great Wall.
A night on the Great Wall. I force myself to eat, I drink, I put on all my clothes. I
remove all the hard and sharp objects from my bag, that will make a good pillow. It’s 7pm,
good night. At 8pm the cold wakes me up. My top is very hot but my leggings and the
light shoes are close to the limit. I try to fall asleep. Unfortunately the cold feeling is
surmountable but persistent. I don’t want to burn all the energy I have left tonight and not
being able to run tomorrow to get back; I get the safety blanket out. I fall asleep some
time later. At 1am the cold wakes me again. A light wind is blowing and the drafty tower
lets it in. I huddle behind some bricks take some energy drink ; my teeth are chattering
until I warm up in my new position, I fall asleep. Well the 6 hours time difference, after
only one day, not yet assimilated, is not helping. Around 4am (10pm in France) at last I
really fall asleep.
Day Three: the return run
At 6am I wake up with the daylight. I don’t waste time. Two fruit jellies, a handful of
nuts and I start running on the return path.
On my way back, the Great Wall continues over a stilted relief.
Despite the night in the wild, I progress faster than on the outward journey. I am avoiding
all the useless bypasses, I recognize the dangerous zones. However, a mountain race is
won only back at the base camp. Following a well marked track I will remember it. I
keep going following this track, I know the vegetation is thick in this area, I run like a wild
pig and I finally find myself deep in the vegetation, off course. I try to go back but can’t
immediately find where I come from, 2 or 3m high bushes around me, I am 150m away
from the wall but I cannot access it from this side of the crest. Only my tenacity is
taking me out of this situation with no other way out. The track I was following
lead to a view-point.
I keep going back until I find a new alternative trail that goes down to the valley. […]
Things are going well, I begin to encounter the first signs of civilization.
Still need to get back to Beijing! [...] I finally make my way to a small village. Reaching
the main road, I see my man. He his standing next to the road, dressed with city clothes.
This man must be waiting for a bus, although there is nothing like a bus stop around. I
have luck on my side. This man is going to Beijing!
I quickly realize that without him, even knowing Chinese, there is no way I could reach the
city. I need to take three different buses with quick connections on lost car parks or
crossing speedway interchanges! My savior goes down stops before me. [...]
The way back has cost 37 times less than the outward journey… In the subway, in the
middle of clean citizens I look like I have just completed an assault course. [...]
Unfortunately no time to rest, I take the train tonight to Daton, I have one
hour of sleep left.
Day Four: first trip by train 2300 people on board
So it’s 1am. I wake-up and leave the hostel in Beijing quickly make my way to the train
station. [...] It takes more than twenty minutes to get the commuters on board and fill-up
over twenty wagons, that's over 2300 people on board..! Yet the train leaves almost
5 minutes in early…!
I was not looking forward to the long trip, since I have a ticket to be seated this night and
that the trip is over six hours long. I may sleep for about 30 minutes at the end of the
The battlements of Datong in the heart of the new expanding city.
I have now arrived in the city of my new stage: Datong. It is just after 9am. I can
picture myself arriving at the hostel in no time. […] Due to some errors on the city map,
policemen and taxi drivers unable to point me to the correct direction, I arrive at the hostel
only at noon after improbable events.
This is my first opportunity to rest after 5 days of barely no sleep.
Day Five: People joining
In the morning I visit the engraved Buddhas not far form the city center. [...] In the
afternoon I get to meet the owner of the hostel and two other people that wish to join me.
[....] The idea is that they will go at their pace directly to the top while I will be running to
all the temples on the way to the summit of Heng Shan.
Day Six: Bei Heng Shan
After a visit of the hanging monastery, […] I start the trail on Bei Heng Shan. From temples
to temples I am going up and down on the steep slopes of the mountain. Progression is not
always easy with the crowds of pilgrims and tourists due to the national holidays. [...]
Of course compared to all the visitors I am going up very fast, and comments are many.
Especially in the main staircase that leads to the summit. That one is very steep, some
visitors end up on all fours while I eat up the hundred steps, two by two straight to the
Running on a highly visited pilgrimage site is also the opportunity for nice encounters
and receiving a lot of support.
Reaching the summit, I go halfway back down the last section to meet with my friends. On
the way to the next summit, a Chinese man is offering me a branch that all lust
after, with small orange fruits about the size of pepper’s that taste of medlar tree fruits,
On the second summit, my prize in the hand.
I progress quite fast, the path break opens in front of me. Kids are happy when I jump the
last bunch of four steps pushing on my poles. I am at the bottom in no time.
Day Seven and Eight: “Red Light, Green Light”
[…] The national holidays, it is like “Red light, Green light” or “Sly fox” or “Peep behind the
curtain” or “Grandmother’s steps” in UK, well you just don’t travel. There is almost no
way to travel (especially by train, no seats left) and there is no accommodation (fully
booked). That is why I planned to leave Beijing before the holidays to gain mobility. Wutai
Shan (Thai huai), is the next stage after Heng Shan (Datong) it’s closer and accessible with
a 5 hour bus journey. However there is no bed available in Thai huai before tomorrow. [...]
Day Nine: Arriving in Wutaishan
[…] Just arrived at the bus station and it’s 7.10am. The bus leaves 15mn early.
Another bus driver that believe in his seven lives: he is over taking trucks that are
over taking carts while passing double white lines or in road turns…
[…] After about 5 hours we arrive at the terminus at the centre of the valley. […]
Finding the hostel is a real hunt, most people can't read neither Chinese, Latin characters
or maps. […]
I have three maps and none of them are complete. I will try to combine them to
improve accuracy. Tomorrow I will try leaving around 5.45am to get maximum
daylight since the run is very long. There will be a lot of altitude variations and probably
more than a marathon to run. […]
I get talking with the English speaking Chinese in the hostel. I receive all types of
information and advices for the following day. Some good and some contradictory.
The paths will be difficult to find but they tell me about a junction between two
temples which is on no map. They also say I won’t be able to make it in one
Day Ten: 4 summits of Wutaishan
5.20am I dress then get down to the lobby where I have to wake-up my host in the
neighboring room. […] I eat half of my big meal (a freeze-dried tagine, I take the
remainder with me). My host is asking me once more if I really want to go, telling
me the weather is not so good. I made my bag the lightest as possible but with all
security elements. Therefore I take all my warm clothes, enough energy food for the
entire day, equipment for repair and orientation.
The sun is rising in the mist while I am going through the first temple of the day.
A “splendid highway” for a trailer; “a difficult countryman trace, sometimes narrow” for
a random Chinese hiker. It is not always easy to get a rational appreciation from the
information I collect before being on the mountain.
[…] From temples to temples I realize that the map’s perspective is open to
discussions nevertheless I find my way. The second temple’s renovation state could be
called “construction”! […]
Reaching an isolated temple, a pilgrim in a car kindly offers me some water and
wishes me a nice trip. The climbing slope starts again, I am running towards the fork
between West and central summits.
Quite pleased with my progression, since the morning mist rise, I’m moving
toward the West summit instead of going directly to the central summit. A that
moment I come across the pilgrim in the car again, just starting his way down, he
congratulates me. I start on the path and quickly go free-ride, the steppe providing an
acupuncture session for free.
Sort of a trail quickly turning into free-ride to the West summit.
At the West summit! Just below the summit a small precarious village.
An happy encounter with an enthusiastic hiker, on the central summit plateau.
[…] Once at the central summit, once again, there is one building still standing and an
enormous construction is started. Nearby, there are stocks of bricks and
Buddhas. Shall you believe it is thousands years old.
A huge stock of Buddhas for the next, gigantic, temple of the central summit.
Further, higher to the North summit. The end of the slope is steeper and the height may
also impact my feelings. The North summit (3066m) is under the clouds, the
temperature is chilly. I am still wearing the tank top but soon after my arrival at the
summit, I am putting on two layers and my gloves. Indeed, the temperature is close to
zero. There is ice in one of the temple’s pond. […]
From the North summit, I go down directly to the col, access to the valley and passage to
the East summit. […]
From the East summit, I start the long downhill not mentioned on the local maps –
but I have a GPS trace. [...]
Starting fast on the way down. Here the fall is well settled.
I keep going and further down I see three people, a man, a woman and a kid, going down
the trail. I quickly reach them. We exchange few words, take pictures. The man is offering
me to have dinner with them tonight. I could go down much faster, arrive before sun-set
and catch the last valley shuttle but I keep going with the three pilgrims, it is nice
and friendly. [...]
Trail and friendly exchanges at sun-set.
I ease the women from her coat. That’s the opportunity to take pictures, sing chants, go
around Buddhist towers. A very nice way to end a marathon trail. We reach the road,
I have 42.2km on the watch with over +2300m of positive altitude variation.
Day Eleven: In Wutaishan valley
Only customer at the hostel, I spend the day with my hosts following them in their routines
in the valley, from post-office to grocery shop... […]
Lunch with the hosts family.
Day Twelve: From Wutaishan to Beijing, on the way to Taishan
[…] I have got very few hours left for tourism before I go to Wutaishan train station. The
station is in the nearest town outside the valley, a special bus trip and friendly exchanges
on the way. […]
One of the temples at the bottom of the Wutaishan valley.
I take the last bus to the (lost) town. When I arrive, I have 9 hours ahead of me waiting for
the train scheduled at 2am. […] Another short night in the train, this time on a hard
Everybody is up at 6am, waken-up by train radio first then by the inspector .
Day Thirteen: Beijing to Taishan
In the early morning I switch train at Beijing central train station and get on-board,
seated for 9 hours to Taishan. […] Nine hours is long, yet it is just long enough to
break the ice with the shy Chinese passengers and get some exchanges on-going. The two
passengers next to me are very friendly and helpful checking the directions to my
hostel (good they do so as Google is pointing me to the opposite side of town). […] I am
learning things about clothing and university deals among others. It's getting hilarious as
one of them is using Google translation returning “If yes, I can feel tranquil. You can take
out the avis taxis, it is clear that the price of the car, up to ten millions euro. I can help you
fight my car...”
I arrive at the hostel and meet Tony, a Chinese graduate. He wanted to get to Taishan
summit for sunrise but he is now decided to join my run.
Usual hike duration from bottom to summit is from four hours to six hours. My plan is to
go up and down twice at day-time.
Day Fourteen: Taishan
I get up at 6.30am and wake up Tony still sleeping. We are leaving shortly after 7am. For
the first assent, I keep Tony under control to make sure he will be following up to the top.
Still, we overtake all the pilgrims on our way. […]
The first ramps in the climb to Taishan.
The landscapes are amazing, very similar to the traditional paintings. [...]
Full throttle in the last very steep ramp.
Once at the top, I go down, up and down again between the boundaries of controlled
sections completing my second return trip by segments while Tony is going down. […]
All pilgrims are very supportive, many stop me for pictures.
Engraved rocks near Taishan summit.
On the way down I take full benefit of the solid, light, curved Exel poles to jump
up to nine steps all together between intermediate platforms. [...]
“Who climbs Taishan lives 100 years.”
I climbed it twice in one day.
Day Fifteen: Rest day in Tai'an
As often I get woken-up during the night by some noisy Chinese tourists or hikers sharing
the room. Running is somehow tiring but poor quality rest at night (in trains and shared
rooms) makes it even more tough. […]
Day Sixteen: Tai'an to Zhengzhou
Another short night due to noisy Chinese hikers sharing the room. […] It is a long train
journey, this time with no English speaking passengers around, although they will change
several time during the day. […]
Arrived in Zhengzhou I'm welcomed by some locals that treat me very well. […] In
the evening we try making some plans for the next day. One of my host is going to take me
by car to the bottom of the sacred mountains but he does not speak a word of English, so
we try to set-up everything in advance.
Day Seventeen: Song Shan
I did not expect it at all, the run on Song Shan is very difficult due to the hot
weather […] and due to the arrangements made last night for transportation I have some
additional time constraints. [...]
Pilgrims stop me for photos.
To close the trail loop today, I need a strong motivation over-passing the fear due
to tiredness and move into the slope fast enough. [...]
In the evening I have the chance to try a local restaurant specialty with my hosts and
friends of theirs. […]
Day Eighteen: Blogging and Planning
I am doing some reporting, posting pictures and additional planning for the coming stages
and runs. […] All this takes me to “bed” far too late, about 3.45am. By the way, talking
about bed I am not surprised when a thick blanket thrown on the floor is
designated as bed. I don't know if I really got use to it or if I am just tired enough to
sleep anyway. [...]
Day Nineteen: Express to Hua Shan
The traffic jam of the huge city of Zhengzhou has got me nearly missing my train. No rest
in this high speed train, I am too afraid of missing my stop. However I get to meet a
Chinese tourist guide – for Chinese tourists – who offered to drop me at my hotel on her
Fast trains in China are modern and comfortable, quite comparable in many points to
Unlike the sacred mountain Hua Shan, the city of Hua Shan is not touristy at all. This is
due to its proximity with the touristy city of Xi'an only half-hour away via bullet train.
Therefore I could not find any hostel at the bottom of the mountain. There are very few
hotels for foreigners and even in the American branded hotel I found employees
don't speak a word of English. I am glad I can at least handle the numbers in Chinese
(written, spoken and on the hands the Chinese way; all sorts are very useful). […]
By the way, by now I have already completed 170km of run, many thousands
steps, tens of hours of walk and my feet are doing very good. I love my Keen ATR86, I
always feel I am wearing perfectly fitting slippers.
Day Twenty: Hua Shan
That's another special day at the sacred and famous mountain of Hua Shan.
I start the day at 5.50am and leave running in the night from the north of the city to the
bottom of the mountain. […] The temperature is 10.5C at the bottom, close to zero at the
top, perfect for trailing mountains. [...]
One of the most impressive section of Hua Shan remained unchanged: the canyon.
It is long, narrow and very (very) steep.
I can't feel the cold yet in another very steep staircase.
Some famous steps
Summits to summits on the crests of Hua Shan.
Alone at the South summit.
Once at the North summit I loop via the East summit (including the chess pavilion), the
South summit (including the plank walk) and the West summit before getting back to the
North summit. […]
I then start for a second loop at the top, this time in the quietness of the high
mountain. […]. The way back, down the mountain and to the north of the town is quite
long. It sums up to yet another 42km and +/-2300m.
Day twenty-one: Short connection to Xi'an
It take the bullet train, over 300km/h, on time. It is a very short connection from Hua
Shan to Xi'an. […] My hostel in Xi'an is in the city center, right next to the city wall. […]
In the bullet train to Xi'an
Day twenty-two: The terracotta warriors
Today I'm a tourist, I go visiting the world famous terracotta warriors not too far from the
city. […] So strange to encounter westerners again, I almost did no see any
westerners since Datong, many days ago [...]
Day twenty-three and twenty-four: In Xi'an
I am visiting the city wall, and while not working on the blog, I spend a lot of time
discussing with the locals. […] Xi'an was planned as a buffer city in my agenda in case
anything went wrong, which is why I spend extra days in here. […]
Nevertheless by mistake I try leaving the city one day earlier, but at the train station they
tell me they only have tickets for standing, my trip is nineteen hours long...
Day twenty-five: Last day in Xi'an
I am visiting different area of the city, meeting new people. […] In the evening I am finally
off to Emei shan!
Day twenty-six: On the way to Emei
It is a long day in the train from Xi'an to Emei, a nineteen hours trip. An opportunity
to learn about traditional Chinese kung-fu on TV, to pass near incredible infrastructure
At the hostel, everything is written in English but nobody speaks English. Once again I am
glade I can speak few words as I have to sort out a mismatch in the booking.
Day twenty-seven: Emei Shan
5.50am I quickly get ready, I eat half of a freeze-dried meal and leave in the night.[...]
Orientation is not easy until the dawn breaks. [...] When I reach the park entrance (yes,
now every famous mountain is a tourism business), the gate is not yet open, I'm waking up
the guard. […]
I will not drink alcohol…
The path is fantastic, nature, singing birds, streams, bamboo forest... Almost
nobody around, few people working in the park and hikers that slept in one of the temples.
At some point, still on the way up, I find myself in stairs going down, covered with moss
very slippery. I'm using the pikes on the poles, but I need to proceed so slowly that I'm
worried about the long way back. […]
Reaching one of the temples on the way up.
As I am moving higher up, the landscapes are typical of the sacred mountains and
the transitional Chinese paintings. [...]
My first encounter with the monkeys is not so easy. It is an adult, seated in the
middle of the path. The animal is a little scared and therefore a little aggressive. I try my
best to move slowly as far as I can from him, that is quite close. The second monkey is a
young one, that immediately noticed the performance of my Exel poles and want
to give them a try, pulling the sticks, appraising the carbon engineering. […]
On the way, above 2100m, in the clouds, it is getting chilly.
Soon I reach the most touristy area, the junction with the road and the cable car. […] As
most people take the cable-car, the path is not jammed. […] Before reaching the summit I
take advantage of the quietness to refill with glucose […].
Few more steps and I am at the summit of Emei Shan 3077m, above the clouds. [...]
At the summit, people asking for photos.
I shall go down soon. There are about -3000m down, with several slopes to climb in
between, around 30km and no more than five hours of daylight left.
I am pretty fast at the begging, the weather is good, I am feeling good. I come across
several groups I overtook on the way up; most of them stop me for photos, which is
sympathetic, unfortunately I have limited daylight left. [...]
One of many encounters at the beginning of the way down.
To get the best of myself and go faster during what is left of daylight, I am cheating
my mind, letting me believe I have almost arrived. And it works for the next 10km/-500m
down. I even enjoy the sections going up-hill, offering some relative rest from the downhill
The way back is still long, I am crossing the monkey zone at night, passing
along a river. […] When I reach a branch I choose the option that leads faster to the
civilization for safety reasons, but this means I will have extra distance to run in the night
to get back to my hostel. [...]
Back at the hostel, I have run 55km, over +/-3000m. [...]
Day Twenty-eight: Blogging and Logistics
I spend most of the day on blogging and logistics. […] I get to meet some tourists; always
funny to see some people from Thailand or Korea trying to speak English to the Chinese.
Part of my day is spent evaluating the probable options for the last run on the Great
Wall. There will be less than 11 hours of daylight back up in the North and transportation
is a major issue. Add to that all the descriptions I could read mention a very difficult
track with some “rock climbing” on the way. Now you have a logistics brainteaser.
Day Twenty-nine: On the way to Chengdu
Once again I get woken-up at 5.30am by a person sharing the room. I am back to sleep
until 8am and need to rush to catch my train to Chengdu. As usual the train is on time
even with the long distances we travel through. […]
Arrived in Chengdu, I am now quite used to metros and street names, however I did not
know about shops numbering and it takes me some time to locate my new hosts. […]
This evening, I am meeting some locals and share typical dishes. The area of Chengdu is
famous for its cuisine and its peppers. As you can guess the dishes are very very spicy.
Typical very spicy dish of Sichuan (Chengdu area).
Day Thirty to Thirty-three: In Chengdu
Chengdu is another time buffer for my project. As everything went according to plan I am
staying five days in the city. […] To tell the truth, after three days I felt totally rested
and went “by mistake” to the train station, heading for my next run. […] Only to get
back to my hosts in Chengdu and forced to wait patiently for the departure time to
come. […] I get to meet new people and learn again a lot on modern China. […]
I am used to it, it is good but the stomach is crying for relief.
Usual day in the shopping streets.
Day Thirty-four: 30 hours in the train
This trip from Chengdu back to Beijing by train is thirty hours long. It won't be
“that long”: I am totally focused on my next run, studying maps, descriptions, GPS points...
I come to the conclusion that the day after tomorrow I will leave Beijing by bus to Jankiou,
precisely “the 5th team” of the village of Xizhazi, and the following day I will go for what
is given as a difficult 9-hour run, starting early in order to catch the buses to get back
to Beijing in the evening. […]
Day Thirty-five: Back to Beijing
Everybody is woken up at 5.25am, one hour before arriving in Beijing. Enough time to
have a solid breakfast and making sure I am at the top calorie wise. [...]
To go from the train station to my new host I need to cross all Beijing city center, it takes
one hour and a half by metro. The first thing I notice out of the metro is the significant
temperature drop since last month. I better get all my warm clothes with me
My host is aware of my challenge and she knows about my previous runs. Nevertheless she
warns me again, last year a man had a deadly fall, another has been missing and
I go meet a Chinese friend of mine in the city center [...] and take this opportunity to get a
maximum of fresh information on the transport system to go to Xizhazi. [...]
Day Thirty-six: Going to Jiankou
The trip is a real prologue to the trial. I am first taking a metro to the main bus
station, then I need to find the bus station and the bus that goes towards Jiankou, quite a
challenge when you are not fluent in Chinese. […] Half way through I need to change bus.
There I find out a mismatch between the timetable on the internet and the effective one, I
must wait four hours in the cold wearing a running pant. […] In the last bus I meet a
hiker and finally arrive in Xizhazi at night.
At the village I point the hiker to the hostel and we decide to share one of the few rooms
available (the others are closed due to the cold, it is no longer the peak season). [...]
Once again, I receive warnings from the tenant of the hostel, telling me the path
is very difficult. She gives me a card with the hostel details and a small map advising me
to come back to the hostel after completing the shortest loop.
I have my battle plan sorted. Tonight I am having a 1000kcal meal. Tomorrow I
will start early, run with a light bag, relying only on sugar, up to Mutianyu as initially
The night is really cold. I get to bed fully dressed.
Day Thirty-seven: Jiankou – Mutianyu, the last run
6.15am, I get quickly ready, eat an apple and hit the trail. […] The temperature is
below zero but the slope leading to the Great Wall is doing its job and soon I am taking of
my down jacket and fleece. [...]
It takes me only eighteen minutes to climb the trail and reach the Great Wall. There are
some bricks that have fallen off, there are few bushes grown up on the trail but the wall
looks like the Great Wall, nothing to compare with my first day on the Great Wall.
It is going to be a great day. I am cautious considering the many warnings I received and
start directly towards Mutianyu.
I catch the sun raising on the Great Wall.
This section of the Wall is much more touristic than the “Great Wall of Waters”. I come
across several groups of hikers. As they see me running fearless on this tricky path they
often stop me for photos. I am afraid this will impact my schedule. […]
Progression is much easier mentally than my first run on the Wall, however the run is
indeed sometimes dangerous and one should not fall avoiding a deadly end. Occasionally
you need to avoid an obstacle but the alternative is usually clear.
Some steps remain impressive and leave no room for mistakes. Among others “the 38 giant
steps”, a staircase about six meters high with very high and very narrow steps yet without
handrail or rope. Further up the trail it is better if you know some rock-climbing.
This massive drop is the “38 giant steps”, take care!
So steep that it involves some steps of rock climbing.
Here there is room only for one foot, a giant rock stands in the way of the Wall.
I have reached the return point to the hostel (30mn away). That loop was given for up to
ten hours, it took me only two and a half hours! [...]
I keep running toward Mutianyu. Passed the highest tower and its vertiginous stairs I start
encountering more hikers coming from the area of the Wall open to tourists. Finally I enter
the tourist area and I can feel confident I will complete my objective. […]
At the entrance of the touristic area, jumping, standing on the Exel Nordic Pro carbon
poles – they have hit hundreds of kilometers, tens of thousands of steps!
Running between towers and tourists.
The famous high steps of Mutianyu.
After more than 30km I leave the Great Wall and run another handful of kilometers
through the exit of the park looking for a bus stop.
The way back to Beijing from Mutianyu is another adventure […] a long trip back, well
optimized it is still about three hours of bus and metro for only sixty kilometers. [...]
Day Thirty-eight and Thirty-nine: Last moment in Beijing
Little resting, more encounters with locals, local shopping and visiting the city by foot, that
is my program for this two-day margin before catching my return plane.
Day Forty: On the way back to Nice, French Riviera
I am keen to thanks all the people that supported this project, family, friends, Exel Poles
and Keen Footwear. That was a project several months long from preparation (training,
marketing, logistics) to achievement.
This project offered great encounters with numerous people, helpful, generous. I
understood and could put into perspective many ideas and concepts about China and its
culture – while thousands of kilometers through the country were like a glimpse.
PerfectTrails in China was an amazing adventure that let me learn a lot and surpass myself.
(c) 2014 Pierre Crahès – http://PerfectTrails.com