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Stepping it up with Beijing hikers | Updated: 2013-05-15 14:50

Stepping it up with Beijing hikers

Fa Hua Temple has been destroyed but its pagodas still stand tall. [Photo/]

The claustrophobia of life in the grey capital has been known to suffocate the outdoorsy types who end up living in Beijing. But on a clear day, the mountains just beyond still coax and call, their little explored ridges and trails beckoning some away. I'm not talking about the Badaling and Mutianyu Great Wall sections, rammed with tourists. Somewhere out there are actual escapes, quiet valleys to clamber and peaks to summit.

Since 2001, Beijing Hikers has been organizing multiple trips every week to hiking destinations which would be tricky for the average Joe to discover. In addition, some particularly unique trips help fill the roster such as a hike by the light of the full moon, or a winter river hike where at points fish can be seen through meter thick ice.

Last Wednesday, I joined the group to check out their Silver Pagoda Loop, a nine kilometer ramble past two towns, a quarry, a Buddhist shrine and an impressive series of six-century-old Buddhist stupas.

After a two hour bus ride to the north east, 12 hikers and three staff stumbled out to blink in the hazy light. Everyone out was disappointed to find that roughly 60 kilometers away from Beijing, the air quality had improved but little. "On a clear day, you can see clear through to the Mutianyu Great Wall!" insisted Millicent Thapa, the self-proclaimed "craziest" guide of Beijing Hikers.

She soon scrambled off, leading the way through Haizi Village toward a humble shrine where she told short and entertaining bits of history. The multilingual American was bizarrely upbeat yet refreshingly sincere and laidback: an ideal guide. As she laid out the flags for the rest of the group to follow, she twittered about the local flora and fauna and the time she had to splint the leg of a woman who had the misfortune to trip and break her leg.

No such misfortune occurred on our hike. The hikes are categorized from 1 to 5, and this one was a 3 -- moderate. The webpage warned that a reason people might not like the trip is that "the hike is mostly flat, except for the last climb up to the top of the mountain behind the pagodas. The climb up is quite a tough way to finish!"

But even the flat sections were a barrage of pleasant scenery. The group happily plodded forwards, and it seemed only natural that people would discuss topics from cycle tour honeymoons to disease-ridden inflatable sex dolls.

Stepping it up with Beijing hikers

Stepping it up with Beijing hikers

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