In Mìyún County 110km northeast of Běijīng, the stirring remains at Sīmǎtái (admission Y30; 8am-5pm) make for a more exhilarating Great Wall experience. Built during the reign of Ming dynasty emperor Hongwu, the 19km section is an invigorating stretch of watchtowers, precarious plunges and scrambling ascents.
This rugged section of wall can be heart-thumpingly steep and the scenery exhilarating, although the masonry has been scheduled for a makeover, which could pacify its wilder moments. The eastern section of wall at Sīmǎtái is the most treacherous, sporting 16 watchtowers and dizzyingly steep ascents that require free hands. Deemed too dangerous, the section beyond the 12th watchtower is currently inaccessible.
Sīmǎtái has some unusual features, such as ‘obstacle-walls’. These are walls-within-walls used for defending against enemies who had already scaled the Great Wall. The cable car (round trip Y50) saves valuable time and is an alternative to a sprained ankle. Take strong shoes with a good grip. Unfazed by the dizzying terrain, hawkers make an unavoidable appearance.