Tiger Leaping Gorge

Tiger Leaping Gorge is a section of the Yangzi river which has cut into the rock the world's deepest, longest and narrowest gorge. The name comes from a legend whereby a tiger escaped capture by leaping across the gorge with the help of a rock which sticks out of one of the rapids sections. Trekking the gorge had always been on our to-do list from the first moment we decided to visit China. Whilst in Dali, we had spoken to a few people that had just come from Lijiang (the base from which to trek the gorge) and they had said it had been raining heavily whilst they were there. This worried us as it is not recommended to tackle the gorge during or after heavy rain, due to landslides and slippery descents. Fortunately for us the sun came out whilst we were in Lijiang and so we decided to head to the gorge.

We began the trail in Qiaotou, leaving our heavy packs at a guest house so we only needed to carry our smaller day packs for the trek. Almost immediately after heading off, we were followed by one of the locals who offer a horseback ride for the trek (or at least the most difficult parts of the trek). We told him that we didn't want the horse and that we liked walking, but he nevertheless insisted on following us, assuming we would change our minds when we got to the part known as the 28 bends. This is the most difficult part of the trek, where the trail winds back on itself as it climbs the steep gorge wall. We had heard much about this part but we were keen to tackle it on foot.

The trek started a few metres above the Yangzi river, but soon after we left we found the river to be well below the trail, with nothing but a nasty drop separating the path and the river. We found some parts of the trial to be extremely muddy, which is made worse by the numbers of horses that follow the path. These horses also add their own flavour of nature to the walk, which is sometimes difficult to avoid. After just two hours we came to the first guest house on the trail and stopped for lunch.

Forty minutes later we returned to the trail, finding the horse-man waiting for us, and he picked up the trail again a few metres behind us. Another horse-man also followed! Obviously there was something about us that said "these guys will want some help soon". We soon reached the 28 bends, and after climbing part of the way up, managed to convince the locals that we were actually going to do the trek on foot and they left us, obviously rather disappointed.

We were quite surprised when we reached the top as we expected the 28 bends to be much more difficult that it actually was. There was a small outcrop of rock that stretched out over the gorge and the views were incredible! Snow capped peaks (in late winter), massively tall and steep rock walls, landslide-prone areas with wooden housing and gravel roads, and the mighty Yangzi river gushing through rapids below.

A few hours later we stopped for the night at the Tea Horse guest house, where we met some other trekkers who we ended up becoming good friends with. We played drinking games well into the night, and Marty had his first taste of Baijiu, a traditional Chinese spirit. The combination of many beers, baijiu, a day's trekking and high altitude made for an interesting night!

The next day we pushed on, moving downstream where the gorge becomes even steeper and the river even more turbulent. This part of the trail had even less scrub than the previous day, so the perilous drop down into the gorge was far more apparent. Also, there were quite a few waterfalls that needed to be traversed which added to the danger. In the afternoon we came down to where the main road travels along the gorge and decided to take the footpath down to the river itself. This part proved to be the best part of the whole trek. The paths were carved into the rock faces of the gorge, and were quite tricky to navigate in parts. The area at the bottom, the "Middle Tiger Leaping Gorge Rapids", was simply breathtaking. The area is formed where a tributory drops several hundred metres to meet the Yangzi, and has several huge rocks in the river which cause immense turbulence and rapids. We were able to climb out onto the rock in the middle of the river and watch the water being thrown up into the air all around us! After soaking this in, we took a different path up the rock face which included some rather interesting home-made ladders. We camped for the night in a guest house with a cute courtyard and in incredible view of a gigantic vertical rock face.

The next morning we took a minivan back to Qiaotou, past some recently cleared landslides and through some sections of road that seemed barely wide enough for us to fit through. We got a van back to Lijiang with our new friends, and chilled out in Lijiang before moving on to Sichaun.

Tiger Leaping Gorge is an incredible piece of our planet, which is sadly going to disappear in a few years as the Chinese are planned to dam the gorge, which will flood the gorge and raise the water level by up to 200 metres. If you have the chance, get out and see it while you can! And whatever you do, don't do what the Chinese tourists do - they catch buses directly to the rock where the tiger is supposed to have crossed the gorge, take a few pictures, buy some souvenirs and go home. What a waste of a truly unique and fantastically beautiful landscape...

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