My favorite part of my first trip to the Great Wall was the quiet--once I got past the third signal tower at Mutianyu, the crowd thinned out. The cool wind blowing through the mountains was a welcome relief from the choking heat and humidity of Beijing in August.
Inside the signal towers, I let my sweaty shirt dry as I caught my breath. And during those breaks I was able to meet a few friendly Mainland tourists who spoke just enough English to match my Chinese ability at the time. It was a more difficult hike, but much more enjoyable than the following year when I visited the Badaling tourist trap.