I booked this trip through http://www.backpackingchina.com/ as they were VERY reasonably priced and I didn't want to get dragged around tourist shops.
We gathered at the hostel, then walked to the tour bus, which drove is way out into the mountains, which was great in itself.During the busride you get to talk to some people, a lot of whom were low budget backpackers. A great way to meet some of the most adventurous people and get some tips on where to go next :-)
It was a very hot day and we stocked up on water and I foolishly thought 2 bottles of water was enough, ha. You can buy water, food, hats, climbing poles and such at the foot of the wall.
On the wall it became very clear that this hike is not to be underestimated. There were some people in flipflops, even though the website clearly stated to bring proper boots. You really need them!! The wall is largely unrestored and the steps are sometimes crumbly and very uneven. It also goes right up and down, with the last part being the most steep, so don't rush into it!
I really enjoyed this part of the Wall too, it was a great way to see a number of towers and various great views. You will get hassled by locals trying to sell their goods, but they are pretty polite about it (and frankly, they'd probably make more money if they just offered to carry water, bags, etc). There are numberous people selling more frozen/cold water on top of the Wall, you just pay a little bit more, so don't worry about that.
Overall it was a great first glimpse at the wall, and I'd recommend the trip the Backpacker's Hostel offers, if only for sheer affordability: http://www.backpackingchina.com/ Oh and if the group size of 30 scares you, after hiking for half an hour, you hardly ever see half the people again.
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