Once neglected, the Great Wall of China may now be overloved

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The Great Wall of China was up there, above the treetops, hidden from view as our small group followed our guide, Yan Xinqiang, up a narrow, rutted trail toward a remote section of the wall known as Jiankou. At 61, Yan is old enough to be a grandfather but he practically skipped with excitement as we approached this relatively remote section - part of what is known as the Wild Wall.

We had driven almost three hours north of Beijing, parked in a small farming village and walked uphill for more than an hour until we finally clambered onto the spine of the Great Wall. The sky unfolded with green, jagged mountains in the foreground; the wall was draped over the ridges like a stone necklace.

The view was breathtaking, but there is one notable problem: The Great Wall is falling apart. For the next few hours, Yan, a Great Wall enthusiast, showed us where vandals have pilfered bricks or stones. In many stretches, small trees and bushes had pushed through the wall's stone flooring. In another spot, the flooring had simply vanished and a rusted metal ladder, installed to help navigate one potentially fatal descent, hung precariously in the air.
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