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Published: August 7th 2007
There are 2 routes you can take from Qiaotou along Tiger Leaping Gorge - the high road, which is a genuine hike, and the low road, which is a surfaced road built to convey buses of tourists to various look-out points and hence doesn't really qualify as a hike. The 2 meet at a point about two thirds of the way through the gorge and there's then a single path to Daju. We decided we'd take the high road then, at the convergence point, return along the low one, as it seemed that there was no particular advantage to continuing all the way to Daju.
It's almost impossible to get lost on the high road due to the profusion of coloured arrows pointing the way, not to mention the guesthouse advertisements daubed all over the rocks. We had a mix of overcast and sunny weather, meaning we made good time due to not having an excess of photo opportunities as well as not being enervated by the heat. The scenery up until the Naxi Family Guesthouse was nothing spectacular - green hillsides with the brown Yangtze burbling along at the bottom of the valley - however things changed rapidly for
the better from that point on. The river acquired considerably more life as it was forced into the narrow gorge, and the hillsides rose up over 3,000m to their snow-dusted peaks (making Tiger Leaping Gorge comfortably deeper than the Grand Canyon). In fact the gradation from brown foaming river to green hillsides to scrubby uplands to bare rock to snowy peaks half hidden by drifting gauzy clouds to brilliant blue sky - over the space of 3km - was one of the more breathtaking aspects of the gorge.
After the Naxi Family Guesthouse came the 28 Bends, an uphill slog of over an hour that left me gasping. We overtook a local woman on the way up, but she was about 90. The top of this section, marked by a covered stall selling drinks and chocolate bars, represented the highest part of the trek, and the hiking afterwards was considerably less strenuous. We stopped for a break at the Tea-Horse (sic) Guesthouse, meeting Maya from San Francisco who joined us for a good chunk of the rest of our trek.
Having heard and read bad reviews of Half Way House (where Palin had enthused about the view from
the men's toilets), we opted to spend the night slightly further along the trail at Five Fingers Guesthouse. Fortunately the view was great, as every other aspect of the place was lacking - I can only assume the glowing comments in the guestbook were written at gunpoint. Without going into an extended rant, let me just say that Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of those places in the world where all guesthouses have colluded to each advertise the presence of hot water when in actual fact you're lucky to get water of any temperature, let alone hot. We also met Nathan from Hong Kong, who joined us for part of the next day's hike.
My breakfast tomato sandwich turned out to be grilled tomatoes between 2 chapatis, an improvement on what I was expecting (though Nathan said it would normally have contained tomato ketchup but they'd run out). The trek to the convergence of the high and low roads was straightforward, involving similar scenery to yesterday plus a couple of waterfalls and a photogenic selection of goats. At Tina's, the guesthouse at the meeting point, we bade farewell to Maya and Nathan and started heading back towards Qiaotou on
the low road. After a short walk we reached Zhang's Guesthouse, from where you could descend to the floor of the gorge and see one of the places where a beast of the species Panthera Tigris supposedly jumped across the chasm.
This turned out to be arguably the most strenuous part of the entire hike. The descent involved a few sections where chains had been installed to act as bannisters. Up close, the Yangtze was wild and violent - I don't know if anyone rafts it, as the experience would have to fall somewhere between exciting and fatal. The gap at its narrowest would have defeated even the most athletic tiger. The climb back to the top was a brute, and it was a great relief to reach Zhang's Guesthouse, knowing there were no further climbs in my immediate future.
The low road turned out to only be partly surfaced, and in some places was no more than rough gravel. It had been hit by umpteen landslides of varying degrees of severity. We had just passed one exposed piece of hillside when, looking back, we saw a flurry of rocks bounding down the slope, onto the road, and
into the gorge - not big enough to kill but definitely to maim. About half way back to Qiaotou, we encountered a serious landslide which had blocked about 30m of road. We'd been warned about this, but it was still a little nervewracking climbing over it when you couldn't be sure of the stability of any of the rocks. By this point we were both a little knackered so we took a shared taxi the rest of the way to Qiaotou.
The lukewarm shower felt heavenly after the dust and sweat of the hike, and my tired muscles and a couple of beers ensured I slept well. Dull but possibly useful info Stayed at:
Five Fingers Guesthouse. Cost 40 yuan for a double. Slow service and little water of any temperature. Would not stay here again.
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