David L. Gallahue's first glimpse of the Great Wall of China-what little of it he could see between the bobbing heads of hundreds of tourists-was disappointing. "I thought, 'It has to be better than this.' I really wanted to hike on the wall," says Dr. Gallahue, Ed.D., an associate dean at the School of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation at Indiana University in Bloomington.
Last spring, he got his wish. Dr. Gallahue organized a joint hike for his university and Beijing University of Physical Education to highlight China's bid to host the 2008 Olympics and celebrate 10 years of cooperation between the schools.
Beginning at Bo Hai Bay in the town of Shanhaiguan, Dr. Gallahue and cohorts hiked 6 to 10 hours a day along different portions of the 4,500-mile wall. During the 5-day trek, the group encountered everything from easy terrain on wide, sturdy sections of the wall to strenuous parts across loose, uneven rocks.
"It was arduous," says Dr. Gallahue, an avid backpacker. "I've climbed several 14ers in Colorado and attempted Alaska's Mt. McKinley, and this was just as strenuous. It was 90 degrees F every day and we kept going up and down as we hiked along magnificent ridges with spectacular views."
Ranked as one of the great wonders of the world, the Great Wall of China is actually a series of walls built by different dynasties more than 2,000 years ago. If you don't have a friend in China to get the myriad permits, your best bet is to arrange a backpacking trip through a travel agency. Some offer hiking and camping trips on the Great Wall, including Interlake China Tours in Seattle (206-368-9074; www.eskimo.com/~interlak) and China Travel Adventures in Michigan (800-336-3669; www.china-tours.com).