Posted by: Brian | June 6, 2009

Tiger Leaping Gorge. Epic.

Our new best friend, only not.

Our new best friend, only not.

My time in China is now around 60% over, give or take a few days. In that time, I’ve got to say that my absolute, hands-down, favorite part of China has been Tiger Leaping Gorge. It was epic. It was gorgeous. It was moderately dangerous, due to inclement weather. It was China minus the noise, the (bad) smells, the teeming hordes of people that populate most of it. It was two days of rainy, slightly cold hiking, trying to take photos without my camera getting wet or the lens fogging up, meeting other backpackers, and taking my laptop with me to one of the sorts of places that a laptop has absolutely no business being. Here’s how it all went down:

Friday morning we took a two-hour bus ride from Lijiang to a small town called Qiao Tou, which would probably be even smaller were it not for Tiger Leaping Gorge attracting visitors to the area. After trying to convince a local man that no, we didn’t need a guide to hike a clearly marked path, we paid our entrance fee – half off for students! – and entered the park.

Guest houses are awesome.

Guest houses are awesome.

I say park in a very broad sense of the phrase – park in that you’re charged to get in, and it’s scenic, but not so much a park in that there are guest houses dotting the trail, a road several hundred meters below you at the bottom of the gorge, and locals trying to convince you to wimp out and ride a horse. Who does that? Who embarks on a two-day trek along a foot path and then decides that a horse is better? Not us. It was a little difficult at times – notably an area called 28 Bends, where you climb up, up, up a steep zig-zagging path for the better part of two hours – but nothing someone in decent shape can’t handle.

After the first couple hours of hiking, we stopped for lunch at the Naxi Family guest house (Naxi is the name of a local minority). My German friend had the unfortunate and ironic tendency to mispronounce this as “nazi” instead of “na-shi” which is correct. The other three of us aren’t going to let her live that down for a while, I think.

Afternoon was when it started raining. It wasn’t bad – a slight drizzle, more like mist than actual rainfall, but enough to get me thoroughly soaked after several hours of trudging through the stuff. It also made everything very, very slick, and portions of the path turned completely to mud. This, paired with a lack of safety on most of it and a half-meter-wide path that at times wrapped along the edge of a mountain, made for a rather thrilling experience, if not one I would relish repeating.

This? Not normal behavior for me.

This? Not normal behavior for me.

Most of the time, I’m not too fond of heights. I start questioning the logic of why I’m up so high in the first place, what the safest way to get down would be, and why I allowed myself to be conned into whatever adventure I happen to be on. For some reason, this time it was nothing less than thrilling. At times, we would go running down the path just for kicks, ignoring the very dramatic, very steep drop to our immediate right *note to my mother: I promise to never do this again, or not tell you if I do*. It might sound a bit crazy, and it was, but hey, the weather was a nice change from the heat wave Kunming had been experiencing, the view was gorgeous, and the exercise was positively invigorating. You can’t blame us, right?

I feel required to point out that most of the hike was merely a journey, however enjoyable it might have been. The actual point that most people go to see is called “tiger leaping rock,” and it’s at the very end of the hike, at the bottom of the gorge. The way down and back up were fun and incredibly exhausting since they immediately followed three hours of hiking, but worth it. The bottom? Not entirely sure what all the fuss is about. Stories say that a tiger leaped from said rock across the river to the other side, but it’s entirely too far to be true, and the rock itself isn’t particularly special or awe-inspiring.

I shot some footage along the way back up – the path was steep, slippery, and would have been completely impossible were it not for lengths of metal chain and cable that provided a handhold along the side. After getting home, I was disappointed to realize that the viewing the footage wasn’t nearly as exciting as actually climbing it – somehow the incredible lack of safety doesn’t translate. Suffice to say that we were soaked, muddy, and exhausted at the end, and quite proud of ourselves for having made it without dying.

On a final note, I’d like to mention that this is, in a sense, part of a vague series: the oft-mentioned Wei is heading home for Australia soon, so we’re squeezing in as much travel as possible before that happens. Next up is our incredibly relaxing trip to Xishuangbanna, from which I’m currently writing this. After that? We’re climbing Haba Mountain. Should be fun.

Waterfall. It was cool.

Waterfall. It was cool.

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