The rocks’ sharp edges were directly pointed at the sky, as if they were waiting for me. I saw a small stone falling off the wall not far away, gaining speed, only to be crushed to pieces on a big rock in the deep valley. My legs started feeling wobbly, and my heart was pounding fast against my chest. A pang of fear was quickly expanding in my stomach. No one could survive a fall of that magnitude.
That day I went with my classmates to climb the Great Wall of China in Jin Shan Ling on the outskirts of Beijing. I had heard this section of the Great Wall was one of the most treacherous. We were sixth graders from Hong Kong International School, now doing a field trip to explore Beijing’s culture, and the Great Wall was part of it. The tour guide said the climb would be very hard and challenging, but knowing that tour guides tended to exaggerate the sights and scenes, I expected it to be basically just like the stairs and ramps I climbed at our tall school building every day. I wasn’t too excited about climbing it for four hours.
After getting off the tour bus, I saw the Great Wall was a small line cowering on the ridges of the rolling mountain. In order to climb onto it, my classmates and I first had to trek through about one mile of mountain road to get there. I thought that was too big a hassle just to climb this wall. Arriving at the ridge's foot, I found that the part we were about to get on was in disrepair, some steps and stairs destroyed and broken, with some small stones tumbling down the sides. Looking on further, I saw a huge structure towering above the trees around it. Steep steps led the way slowly to watchtowers, each higher and higher than the one before it. Then I started to wonder if this trip to the Great Wall would be a challenge.
My friends and I struggled through broken bricks and stones to climb onto the Great Wall. Standing on the wall, I looked around and saw strange holes along the sides of the battlement wall. I asked our tour guide what they were, and he said that the holes were used for shooting arrows. Then I looked up and was amazed by the length of the wall. There were some other people far ahead of us, and they looked like ants crawling on a slab of stone. The tour guide told us that the Great Wall was about 20 thousand kilometers long, stretching from Liaodong in east China to Lop Lake in the west. The earliest part of the wall was built in the seventh century BC, and the major part was built in the Ming dynasty around the 17th century.
I asked myself how ancient Chinese people were able to build this monstrosity and smiled at the thought of overcoming the challenge of climbing it. While climbing, I looked around at the mountains below me, wondering what it was like to build this wall. Ancient Chinese soldiers and laborers had no machines, no mechanical equipment to help them out at all, just their hands, wits, and strength. I remembered reading an article saying that many people died carrying giant stones and bricks up the mountain. Pulling myself up the steps of the steep wall, I felt as if I could hear the screams and cries from the laborers of ancient China, as they carried breathtakingly heavy stones up a mountain. Looking at the shooting hole in the battlement wall, I could almost see the soldiers’ shaking hands as they shot arrow after arrow at the enemy, knowing they could die any minute. But my thoughts were soon driven away by the exhaustion of walking up the rocky and uneven stairs as I started to focus on my legs.
The path in front of me was uneven and jagged, and there were no parapet and battlement walls on either side. If one were to trip and fall, one would fall completely off the Great Wall. I forced myself to not look down, or else I could become nauseous and might risk falling off into the deep valley. I slowly made my way up, desperate to reach the highest watchtower of this section. But I looked ahead of me and saw that I had a long way to go before even seeing the top. Just before I gave up, I remembered a quote from a famous Chinese figure, saying “He who doesn’t reach the Great Wall is no hero.” So I clenched my jaw and moved my legs, despite the screaming pain from exhaustion. After what seemed like days, I started to see the last couple of steps leading up to the peak of the wall. I forced my legs to keep moving and not to collapse on themselves. Finally, I scrambled to the top, and I felt like the whole world was at my fingertips.
Now standing on the highest watchtower, I saw the city of Beijing far away; it looked like a miniature toy city. Seen from up here, the Great Wall looked like a giant snake slithering all over the mountains. No trees or weeds could grow above the wall. I saw colors all around me from trees slowly shedding their leaves, as if they were giving up the fight to grow higher. I scanned the horizon to see a small village nestled between two mountains. Several birds were soaring through the sky about five meters above me, chirping happily, unafraid of any sudden noises that would have scared them away in the city. There was peace and quiet up here, no tourists screaming for pictures, no rumbling of cars, just me and my classmates. I looked up again, and saw the clear blue sky beckoning to me, fresh air entering my nostrils, the gentle breeze blowing away my gloomy mood from the city smog. I closed my eyes and I could almost smell the air of ancient bricks, stones, and falling leaves, a smell not yet contaminated by street dust and automobile emissions. Now standing here, I forgot all the pain in my legs from what seemed like the longest hike ever. I had just conquered one of the most dangerous parts of the Great Wall. That thought seemed so bizarre that I started to think it might not even be true. But I shook myself and said, “Dylan, you did it.”
As I started to go down, I felt proud of myself and my classmates for clenching our jaws and not giving up. Looking around, I saw tons of sweat dripping off their faces, but they were all still smiling and laughing. I wondered how the ancient Chinese workers felt when they finally finished building this monumental structure. This climb, as tough as it was, made me feel like a hero that I had never imagined myself to be. Now I felt I could accomplish any tough challenge in the future, as long as I put my heart and mind to it. I looked ahead at the far away steps leading down to the exit and thought, “Easy, Peasy.”
Dylan Zhang is an 11-year-old boy born in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Now he is a sixth grader at Hong Kong International School. He plays violin and likes to play Ping Pong and badminton.
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