Hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge
During the few weeks I’ve been in China, I’ve gone on a couple great treks. My first one was through the beautiful lush rice terraces of Longsheng outside Guilin, and the other was the Tiger Leaping Gorge trek in the Yunnan province, a three hour bus ride outside of Lijiang. The Tiger Leaping Gorge trek is one of the most popular treks in China. Whenever anything is “popular” in China, there are usually hordes of camera-clutching, flag-waving Chinese tourists which usually puts me off. I find it slightly distracts from the beauty and remoteness of it.
Not the Tiger Leaping Gorge Trek. Lucky for me, the Chinese typically aren’t avid hikers. There were literally no other trekkers we came across, other than one group of Japanese tourists, a few locals and the occasional horse. Other than that, it was desolate. I had been warned about the dangers of this hike. There are steep cliffs and precarious waterfall crossings which can be quite dangerous, particularly after a rain. Each year, several tourists who aren’t paying attention fall to their death into the gorge. I had also heard of cases of foreigners being attacked or mugged, so for this reason I didn’t want to do it alone.
I was banking on the idea that I would meet people on the bus ride over to the beginning of the trek, and that panned out wonderfully. I ended up meeting a great group of intrepid souls from all over the world, and we all got on really well. Our group included a Belgian, an Israeli, a South Korean, two Spaniards, two Brits, an Indian, and another American. The ten of us took on the gorge together, splintering off through the trek but catching up with each other during rest breaks.
I like to play it tough (I am tough), but I can’t lie, this trek was strenuous! The first day was a 7 hour hike including breaks, but mostly all uphill. A couple of these hours were straight up hill. As in, straight up hill. The physical exertion, along with the high altitude, made it a a challenge. We all had to stop every now again to catch our breath and re-gain sensation in our legs. But the scenery and views were incredible.
Considering its popularity, I was surprised at how non-touristy this trek was. The only signs on where to go were spray painted on stones, which could easily be overlooked. Only every several hours would we come across a local woman perched on a cliff, selling water, apples, and marijuana. Really. Each woman had a basket of weed for sale, a dollar for about an eighth. I don’t smoke, but I thought fondly of my loved ones back home who would go ape shit for this. Each woman strategically placed herself at a scenic view, and screamed at us that if we wanted to take a picture we must pay her. I pretended I didn’t understand Chinese, which in actuality wasn’t much of a stretch, but I knew what she was getting at. I played dumb and walked a few meters away to snap a photo as she grew furious and yelled louder. She clearly wasn’t smoking her own grass. And if she was, Chinese weed is shit.
By the time we reached the lodge we were to camp out at for the night, The Halfway House, I was completely knackered. The group and I sat around a wooden table, played some cards, had some laughs, stuffed our faces with some tasty dishes, and called it a night. I didn’t sleep well. I battled mosquitos most of the night, and woke up each time anyone walked around, as the entire lodge shook as if there was an earthquake. (Which, looking back on this now is ironic, because there was in fact a 5.1 earthquake nearby the following morning at 5:00 a.m. We didn’t feel it, but another 5.9 earthquake hit the following day that shut down this trek due to danger concerns with landslides).
The next morning we ate some breakfast of sweet honey Naxi bread (delicious!) and tea, packed our small bags and carried on. We continued on for a few more hours until we reached the bottom where we could catch the bus back to Lijiang. The group and I sat around and shared another meal and sipped on green tea. They were all off to Shangri-La, and I was headed back to Lijiang for another night. But alas, it was not the end, as it usually never is. My plan was to head to Shangri-La the following day, so I bid them farewell and told them I would see them on the Tibetan side.
For anyone who mysteriously finds themselves in the Yunnan province in China, and wants to do a short, challenging, beautiful hike, the Tiger Leaping Gorge is your guy. Although the views are magnificent, there are jutting cliffs and sudden drops, so make sure you wear your hiking boots, pay attention, and pass on the grass!