Friday, September 18, 2009

虎跳峡 Tiger Leaping Gorge

After spending just a night in Lijiang, I made the quick ride over to Tiger Leaping Gorge (虎跳峡) the next morning. Tiger Leaping Gorge is a canyon on the Yangtze River and one of the must-do’s for any hiker in China, or anyone with two legs traveling in the vicinity of the gorge for that matter. The gorge ranks among the deepest in the world, cut nearly 12,000 feet deep between two 18,000 foot peaks, Jade Snow Mountain and Dragon Snow Mountain. A Korean guy named Hong, who I’d met at my Lijiang hostel, went with me. After dropping my big bag at Jane’s Guesthouse at the trail head and fueling up on some noodles, we set out at around 1:00. There are two routes for the gorge, the checking-it-off-the-list lower route that you take by bus, or the higher foot path for hiking. We were walking along the road looking for the high path, and we would have missed the inconspicuous trail quietly veering off from the road had it not been for a nearby local who pointed us in the right direction. Nearly missed turns and local Naxis helping us out would turn out to be a continuing trend. The Naxi, by the way, is the local minority that inhabits the gorge, still using the same trails for daily life that we trekked. For the first hour or so we were trailed by a local and his horse, frustratingly waiting for us to get tired and pay for a ride.

The hike took us on switchbacks and steep climbs past waterfalls, terraced farmlands, and small Naxi villages where women were feeding their pigs or men were corraling their goats. Each movement of the sun and clouds made for a different perspective of the mountains and water. Frequent stops had to be made for pictures and just to think. The highest point of the trail (first picture) made for some excellent views. It is definitely the most peaceful place (and naturally impressive) I’ve been in China. Possibly trying to fill the competitive void left by not running cross country for the first time in nine years, I found myself unintentionally outpacing Hong and other Chinese hikers we ran into along the way. There are several guesthouses along the trail, and around 6:00pm, and we (Hong) decided to stop in at the Tea Horse Guest House for some tea. Of course, the owners were Korean – I think Hong knew this before we stopped there. We weren’t going to the Halfway House as planned, even despite my arguments that we should keep going in case of rain the next day (again, my competitive side).

It actually turned out to be a good decision, despite Hong ordering our dinner and breakfast without asking me what I wanted – it was only a problem because the food was really bland, not exactly what you want when you’re ravaged from a day of hiking or are gearing up for another one. Over beer and bland food I chatted with a doctor from New York, a couple from the UK, and an electrical engineer from Norway whose name I won’t even attempt to spell. The guy from New York, Cappy, had spent time doing medical volunteering in Africa and gave me some great suggestions for places to go, as well as books to read. The second day was a lot easier since it was pretty much all downhill. The coolest part of the whole trek was the very end, where we took a nearly direct decent down to the water’s edge. At the water we got to see Tiger Leaping Stone – the stone from which a tiger is said to have leapt across the Yangtze, thus giving the narrow gorge its name. To be sure, the hike, and especially the decent down to the water, is no Disney World or US National park. Often I found myself crossing bridges that wouldn’t have won any engineering awards or sidling down ladders held into the side of the canyon by wires, sticks, and an unsettlingly small amount of iron. Still, I managed to make it out alive and make this post - now it's time to get back to work.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Beautiful pictures. Glad you got to do this. While you were enjoying that, we were enjoying the "natural" beauty of Vegas with the flashing neon lights, constant dinging of slot machines and air hazy with smoke. Need more posts...I miss you.