Story of William Edgar Geil - The First One Hiked the Entire Great Wall of China

William Edgar Geil was a well-known American traveler, geographer and writer in the early 20th century. In 1908, William Geil led his expedition along Great Wall of China from Shanhaiguan. After 3 months, he and his team arrived at Jiayuguan and explored the western most point of Great Wall of China. On the way, Geil took a lot of photos and recorded many legends about the Great Wall. After going back to America, he wrote a book “Great Wall of China”, introducing this precious ancient man made project to the western countries and made Great Wall the symbol of China.

Two Photos Provoked William Edgar Geil’s Interest on Great Wall of China

On February 14, 1907, a British diplomat in Russia wrote a letter to Geil with two photos of Gubeikou Great Wall, which provoked Geil’s interest on the Great Wall of China. One year later in April of 1908, Geil left his hometown for China.

Landed in Qinhuangdao and Started the Great Wall Hiking from Shanghaiguan on May 31, 1908

About one month later, William Geil landed in Qinhuangdao. On May 31, he started his Great Wall hiking from Shanhaiguan. He knew nothing about Chinese and needed help from the translator for everything. But he was very ambitious.

Recorded What He Saw and Heard on the Way

Leaving Shanhaiguan Great Wall, William Edgar Geil and his expedition team proceeded all the way to the west. They crossed the mountains, canyons, and plains whereever Great Wall passed by. On the way, Geil took notes about Great Wall anytime, but he was not satisfied with what he saw. He asked people about the length of the Great Wall and measured the height and distance on his own. Plus, he were willing to ask the locals about the story of the Great Wall. Moreover, he was keen to think about the cultural and national significance behind the Great Wall throughout the journey.

Reached Jiayuguan on August 21, 1908

Geil and his expedition arrived in Jiayuguan Great Wall on August 21, 1908. After arriving, Geil noticed that this was not the westernmost section of the Great Wall as people knew before, and there were more to its west. So he went to find the real Great Wall west end - 15 kilometers (9 miles) southwest of Jiayuguan. Upon arrival, he found that the Great Wall once covered in masonry was left with its loess core only. He took a photo here and recorded the end of the Great Wall, finishing his Great Wall hiking tour.  

Went Back to America and Published the Book “Great Wall of China”

After finishing hiking the entire Great Wall, William Edgar Geil went back to America with lots of photos, notes, travel dairies. There, he gave speeches about Great Wall and his hiking experience while writing a book about it. In 1909, his book “Great Wall of China” was published, which was the first book written by a foreigner about the Great Wall. This book made the Great Wall a symbol of China since then.

His investigation also clarified the misunderstanding among foreigners on the westernmost end of the Great Wall of China. Jiayuguan was thought to be the west end of Great Wall, but Geil discovered that there were still continuous wall to its west.

 Read stories of others who have walked the entire Great Wall of China:
 Dong Yaohui Hiked the Entire Great Wall: He took 508 days and completed on September 24, 1985
 Liu Yutian – the First Person Hiked the Great Wall Alone: He took 2 years and finished on April 5, 1986.
 William Lindsay - Working on Great Wall Protection after Trekking: He took 8 months to hike in 1987.
 Sally - the Only Woman Walked the Entire Great Wall of China Alone: She took half a year to hike in 1990.
 Ren Erlin & Ren Zigeng – Chinese Father and Son Trekked the Great Wall: They took 89 days and finished the hiking in 2003.
 Jamie Bradish & Rob England - a US Pair Took 10 Months to Walk the Great Wall: They finished in 2007.
 Stephen Robert Loken – the First Person Walked to the East End of Hushan Great Wall: He took 601 days and completed in 2011.

Further Reading:
How to Hike the Full Length of the Great Wall of China? 8,851.8 km!
How Long to Walk the Great Wall of China?
Has anyone walked the Great Wall of China?
- Last updated on Jun. 10, 2020 -
Ask a Question
Question Summary (100 characters)
Details (optional) (2,000 characters)