At one of the most treacherous and least restored stretches of China's Great Wall, a line of pack mules halted upon emerging from the gloom of a dense forest draped in mist and dew.
Laden with 150 kg (330 pounds) of bricks each, the seven animals finally got moving in response to the coaxing and swearing of their masters, eager to gain altitude before the sun climbed high in the sky.
Just a tenth of the wall built during the Ming dynasty has been repaired, said Dong Yaohui, vice president of the China Great Wall Association.
"In the past, we would restore the walls so that they would be visited as tourist hot spots," he said, by contrast with today's objective of repairing and preserving it for future generations. "This is progress."