We set off early from Mama Naxi's for Qiaotou. The drive took our packed minibus through some gorgeous scenery. We stopped at a lookout where there were fantastic views of high peaks in the distance. We arrived at the small town of Qiaotou and stopped to buy our entrance tickets for the gorge. We had heard from other travelers that you could present any form of id and get the student discount. I showed them my CO drivers license and sure enough it worked. After picking up our tickets we drove a bit further and then we were let out at the trail head.
The hike began with a moderate climb up through a small village. We stopped for a snack at a great sunny spot with our first view of the Yangtze as it entered the gorge. We ate and put on sunscreen before starting a much steeper climb as we followed the Yangtze into the gorge. As the trail continued along the hillside we had spectacular views of the river far below and the impressive snowcapped peaks of Jade Dragon Snow mountain ahead of us. As we hiked we periodically came across men with horses who offered
to carry us up hills (for a fee of course). We'd just smile and say 'boo-yao' and they'd generally leave us alone.
As the day wore on it became quite hot. There was little in the way of shade, so we were often stopping for water. Eventually we came to a fork in the path with signs for the Naxi family guest house and another place advertising organic food from their garden. We decided to check out that place for lunch. The trail took us through some fields and into a small village where we eventually came across the guest house. It was deserted when we arrived and we had to track down someone to give us a menu. We were excited by the prospect of fresh produce and we both ordered chicken with mixed vegetables. When the food arrived we were rather disappointed to find two plates of tough chicken and onions as the only veggies. We finished our lunch and headed up the hill to find the Naxi family gh. It wasn't far and it was immediately clear that this was the better place to stay.
We got a room with one of the largest bathrooms
I've ever seen. It probably measured 12' by 12'. The shower and sink were on one wall and the toilet was on another with a ton of space in between. After settling in we had some more food, which was a LOT better than lunch. We also went for a short walk and sat admiring the view of the mountains. Sunset was stunning, although I went back to the room because I wasn't feeling great and Jen had to come and get me for the even more impressive moon rise.
We ended up spending two nights at the gh and we had a very relaxing second day just hanging out. The next day we set off around noon. Shortly after leaving the gh we were confronted with the hardest stretch of trail -- the 28 bends. It took us a couple hours to make our way to the top of the bends (switchbacks). There were quite a few horses here for rent and some people were taking advantage of it. This meant that we often had to stand aside to let the horses pass. We paused at the top for a photo before beginning a steep descent.
descent was through thick vegetation and it was nice and shady compared to the baking ascent. Eventually the descent bottomed out and we continued along past a village and the Halfway gh. Eventually we made it to the Tea Horse gh, which had stunning views from its courtyard. We got a room with a view (and a bathroom thankfully). We ate dinner in the courtyard. I was craving a pizza, but I was disappointed with the soupy concoction I got. Plus, the drinks weren't cold since the power had been out. After eating I felt quite ill and had to lie down for a while. Jen went back to the courtyard and chatted with people for an hour or so. When she came back we talked about plans for the rest of the year and then we watched a gorgeous full moon rise from our window before calling it a night.
The next day we got a late start. It was after noon when we left and we walked straight into the midday heat. Our third day of hiking was a marked departure from the previous days. The trail often clung to the side of cliffs with large drops
greeting any misstep. The hairiest part of the entire trail came when a large stream passed over it. It was a waterfall above and below the trail and the footing was tricky getting across it. We made it through and the trail improved a bit from that point. The drops weren't as sheer and the hillsides became more gentle. At several points during the day we came across livestock on the trail, but we didn't encounter any other foreigners.
The trail began a descent towards the lower road until eventually it joined it at Tina's gh. We were planning to stay at Tina's, but after having a look at the stark, modern building we decided to press on the remaining 2k to Sean's gh. It was well worth it. There were several people at Sean's and despite the lack of electricity, they had cold drinks (they were using a bit of water diverted from a stream to cool them). We got dinner and it was the best food of the entire trek. An english guy bet me a beer that I couldn't finish two plates of burritos. Ha! I easily finished the second plate and could have eaten a
We ended up spending two nights at Sean's. We spent our second day hanging out. I walked back up the road to Tina's to send some text messages where there was cell reception. I also walked over to a small stream and collected some cool rocks along the way.
On the morning of our 6th day in the gorge, we decided to leave. Storm clouds were rolling in before noon and so we were very wary about spending another day especially since any rain would be likely to cause more rock slides making it even more difficult and dangerous to get out of the gorge. At this point I should mention that although you can exit from the gorge at either end, due to rock slides the end closest to Sean's had been closed for some time leaving a long drive through the gorge to Qiaotou as the only means of exit.
Our trip out of the gorge was a harrowing experience. We caught a minibus which took us along the road for about 20 minutes crossing over some small rock slides that hadn't been cleared. Eventually we came to a large slide where we had
to get out and cross it on foot. There was a steep drop off and the footing was precarious so it was quite scary. On the other side we hopped into another minibus with a driver who looked about 16. Again we drove over several slides covering the road. At one point the driver leaned forward and craned his neck to look up at a hillside covered in loose rock as we drove below it. Very disconcerting! Soon we came to the second big slide where we got out to walk again. That slide was no better than the first and we were happy to be on the other side.
Once again we had a new minibus waiting for us. Before we got in we decided to take a detour down to the river. We joined the tourist horde (their tour buses were able to make it this far) and descended several hundred steep steps to the river. We arrived at a series of viewing platforms perched next to some impressive rapids. We spent quite a while entranced by the sheer power of the Yangtze before beginning the arduous climb back to the top. It didn't help that e
were carrying the full packs, but eventually we made it up without having to be carried in a basket!
The road was much better from this point and we were soon out of the gorge and back in Qiaotou. We picked up our stored baggage and caught a van to Zhongdian.
Stay tuned for the next entry.
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