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Published: October 2nd 2012
Before you read this blog please take a breathe and make sure you can give us your full attention, you don't want to miss a second of this one. I can't even start to explain how excited I am to share this with you!! Put your hiking shoes on, don't forget your water and let's conquer this together 😊 eeeeeeek!!! xo Becs
Tiger Leaping Gorge is the deepest gorge in the world, the snow covered peaks at the top of the mountains are about 5500m above sea level while the bottom of the gorge is sub-tropical weather. This diverse landscape creates it's own little micro-ecosystem. The river that flows through the gorge is China's largest, the Yangtze river. TLG is another one of those “must visit” places when you are travelling through China. Due to the huge amount of tourism in the area, there are two routes you can take. The lower trail is a road that tour buses drive along; you get a great view, can see the whole thing in a day and save your knees some agony. As you can guess, this is far too touristy for us so we opted for the
high trail which is about a 16km hike along the mountainside. You can do the whole thing in a day if you like but most people find a place to stay for one night and take two days to complete the trek. We have time on our side so decided to actually do the hike in three days. There are guesthouses scattered every few kilometres along the way so getting a room for the night isn't too difficult.
Getting to TLG we left Shangri-La and took a wonderful 2 hour bus ride along real roads all the way to Qiaotou village. There was a transport truck that apparently thought he could go off-roading that created a bit of a delay but it was okay (the truck in the ditch had to be lifted out with a crane before we could pass safely); what's a road trip without a surprise? Qiaotou is where many people start their hike since Jane's Tibetan Guesthouse is so full of information and it stores your bags for as long as you want for less than a dollar. We spent one night at Jane's before taking on the gorge.
We woke up in Qiaotou at our leisure since we only planned a couple hours of hiking for the first day. When we got up it was drizzling a bit but with so little hiking planned, we had time to spare. After breakfast we just chilled out and did a bit of reading to pass the time. As it got closer to noon (check-out time) we were sort of forced to decided if we wanted to stay another night at Jane's before heading out or just push through the rain. We decided to rough it, two hours in a little rain never hurt anyone.
To our luck, it stopped raining and the sun even started to shine as we headed towards the trail. The first section of the hike is a concrete path until you get to the real trail. About an hour in we didn't feel like we were going the right way; we seemed to be heading up, but away from the gorge. A man walked up to us speaking Mandarin and handed us a letter written in English that said we were going the wrong way but he could help us get to Naxi Guesthouse (where
we wanted to stay the first night). The letter was written by a traveller who he had apparently helped out before. We were fine continuing on our own and weren't totally convinced he was honest so we walked a bit more before finding someone else to ask which way to Naxi. It was definitely the opposite way.
We turned around and headed back down the road. Tyler had to scare off a gang of ducks in order to retrace our steps. A group of ducks is probably not called a gang but when they are bully's, they have to be called a gang. They put their heads down and pretty much sprinted at us while hissing before Ty gave one of them a nudge with his shoe and we got passed. About half the way down we saw a guesthouse we had walked by earlier. The lady pointed us in the right direction and off we went. Immediately it was evident we were on the right path and about ten minutes in we were snapping pictures of the beautiful gorge!
Either we spent all of our energy climbing up the first road or the trail was a much
more difficult climb. At this point the trail is kind of narrow, very rocky, and usually near the edge of a steep drop. All along the way there are donkey droppings (since you can hire one to carry your things if you wish) and thanks to the rain it was pretty muddy. Also unfamiliar to us was the humidity. We had become sort of used to the altitudes and cooler temperatures but now at a lower altitude, the humidity made it just as difficult to catch your breath. It really sounds like we are complaining a lot but it's not actually that bad. We took water breaks when we needed to and just kept going. When all is said an done, the gorge-ous – sorry, I had too – views are totally worth a little strenuous activity. (And it's still way easier than the Bukit Lawang jungle trek)
We came up to Naxi village just over an hour after getting on the proper trail and found a great cheap room. Dorm beds are 30 yuan each, but there were only two beds in our dorm so it was basically a double room for 60 yuan (aka super cheap –
Oh! We forgot to tell you we had to stop and buy a snickers bar along the trail from a nice lady who over-charged for the chocolate bars but did it with a smile. For that reason, we weren't too hungry when we got to Naxi Family Guesthouse. We read, played some spider solitaire and did a crossword before having a yummy chicken and greens stir-fry. Rebecca has been eyeing apple pie for weeks now but when restaurants want to charge 30 yuan (the equivalent of most of our combined meals), it really isn't in the budget. Our guesthouse only charged 10 yuan so it was a must and it was worth every mouth-watering penny. Maybe the trail is a little harder than we would like because of our eating habits, but whatever, when you love food you love food.
After dinner we walked around the village a bit. Unlike a typical village, this one is situated on the side of a mountain so it doesn't have the random streets to walk down, just one road that curves up and down with a dozen or so households that make up Naxi village. Everyone has their pigs,
chickens, donkeys and yaks, they also grow things like corn, bananas and pumpkins – we told you it's a crazy climate, we also saw cacti. The one thing that we didn't love were the spiders. There are hundreds of them in every tree. They make spider apartment complexes and all hang out together. They are pretty big with ugly bright yellow buts.
Back at our guesthouse, we played cards, wrote the DAY ONE blog and called it a night praying that it wouldn't rain too much overnight.
It ended up raining most of the night and we woke up to a thick fog. The fog was so thick it was impossible to see past the roof of our guesthouse; the mountains could have just been a figment of our imagination for all we knew. However, as the sun rose, the fog lifted and it proved to be a perfect hiking day. We waited a few hours for the sun to dry the wet paths before setting out just before noon.
The plan for our second day was to get through the toughest part of the trail, the “28 Bends” before stopping for
a bite at a guesthouse along the way. Our final destination for day two was Halfway Guesthouse (which isn't even close to being halfway on the map, it's much closer to the end) and according to all the maps, it should take about 5 hours of hiking.
We started off on the uphill climb; most of day two was uphill and probably the hardest day for us. The “28 Bends” is supposed to be the most difficult section of the trail but we aren't really sure when it started. We had been climbing up on a bendy path before coming to a lady who offered us “Water? Apple? Ganja?”. She encouraged us to refuel before starting the “28 Bends” so we bought an apple and some walnuts; we fed the apple core to her donkey then continued on the trail. It's hard to explain what the “28 Bends” were like after the fact. At the time, we realized it wasn't a completely impossible feat to get to the top, but we were also pretty exhausted. We stopped every 5-10 minutes to catch our breathe and every 20-30 minutes to have a water/snack break. Obviously hikers can trudge through and
get to the top much faster than we did, but we weren't in a hurry and resting made it much easier to enjoy the spectacular vistas of the gorge. We came around every bend to see an incline steeper than the last and took it one step at a time until reaching the “Summit”.
It was at this point that the Tiger Leaping Gorge we had been looking for really started. The mountains and hillside seemed to transform into a perfectly photogenic landscape and we took picture after picture of true natural beauty. The area is China's richest for plants and flowers which also gave us something new to look at on almost every step. The path started to head down and our leg muscles had to do a bit of a 180 in order to work properly. From the “Summit” we walked down for about an hour to get to Tea-Horse Guesthouse where we took a load off and ate some food. When we were assessing what we had just done, most maps say it should take about 3 hours to get from Naxi to Tea-Horse; it took us 3 and a half. We were sort of being
slow pokes, but taking time to enjoy every moment.
After Tea-Horse (and a delicious chicken and rice curry) it should be about 2 more hours to Halfway Guesthouse. We set out on the path that quickly became our favourite part of the trail. As we walked, we snapped pictures of the mountains, the gorge, waterfalls and the river down below. It was stunning. A fellow hiker passed us as we joked that we were being slow pokes and he seemed to understand the reason for all of our picture stops; he said “it's like a dream”. It really is. This hike is a dream come true for us and it wasn't one of those things that you build up excitement for and then get let down, it exceeded our expectations around every bend.
Speaking of dreams and turns, the next corner we came up to had a little surprise of it's own in store for us, but you don't get to know what that is just yet.
After running into the fellow hiker, we found a nice rock to sit and take a break. We had just finished saying how perfect the day had been and how
amazing the weather was when we started walking again and heard thunder. Both ends of the gorge had blue sky, but the point we were at with the highest mountain peaks seemed to hold the clouds in place so they couldn't pass. Where we were walking was sunny but we could see a misty foggy drizzle along the river in front of us.
We picked up the pace until rounding the next corner where a beautiful perfect rainbow was waiting for us. That folks, is a day maker.
Even writing this right now, it doesn't seem real; the rainbow stretched perfectly from one side of the gorge to the other like a colourful bridge. After the rainbow, we walked passed waterfalls. We walked along a path that at times had steep cliffs looming overhead and other times crumbling under our feet. The sun followed us the whole way to Halfway Guesthouse.
The hike from Tea-Horse to Halfway was our very favourite part of the whole trail. It's really impossible to describe how we felt or what we saw. The only word we can describe it with is perfect. It was a perfect day, along our perfect journey
with the perfect person at our side.
More rain. Again, we woke up to fog and a sprinkling rain. At this point we were pretty used to the gorge climate (or like to thinks so anyway). We watched many people gather their things and head out in the light rain while we casually got up, ate breakfast, read for a bit and finally packed up. While we were packing we looked out the window to see clouds rising from below us. It was almost like the gorge was steaming. The sun decided to peak through the clouds and that caused the lower moisture to ascend very quickly, it was something we have never seen before but really cool to watch. We high-fived knowing we picked the perfect time to leave three days in a row.
The third day started out a little cooler than the last two. After leaving Halfway we were right back into the rocky mountainside. This part of the trek was slightly more rugged than the other two sections we had completed. We found ourselves walking on rocks more often than mud and had to make our way through a
Day Three - Waterfall
one of the many we crossed
few waterfalls to keep on the path. With the amount of rain we had the previous few days, the waterfalls were just a gushin'. Some of them had clear cool mountain water while others were a brownish tinge due to the clay we saw quite a bit. Walking along the trail we came to a part with the usual steep drop off the side, but the trail was blocked by two horses. We tried to get them to move but they wouldn't budge so we had to sqeeze between them and the cliff and pray they didn't move
The mountains became smaller and the path took us further and further down as the breathtaking views continued. While the second day will probably always be our favourite, the rest of the hike is just as stunning and proper credit should be given for the gorgeous landscape of Tiger Leaping Gorge.
A couple of hours of hiking later we had made it to the main road. It is here that we were planning on catching a minibus back to Jane's (where we had booked a night and stored our larger backpacks). We started heading in the direction of Jane's Guesthouse.
The road while much flatter, was still a constant decline and our shins were getting tired when we came across a number of minibuses parked on the side of the road. As we walked further along the road we saw that a landslide had taken out the road. There was no road anymore, just buses on either side dropping off or waiting for passengers. A driver asked if we needed a ride and we told him we were going to Jane's. He said Y80, we said “no, Y60”. He laughed and we said “that's okay, many buses over there will drive us” pointing to the other side of the fallen rocks. He said “okay, Y70”, we said “no, Y60” and kept walking. As we approached the narrow path to cross the landslide, that same driver ran up to us and said “okay, Y70” and we were like “no, Y60”. Finally he agreed to our price and we followed him across the landslide to his vehicle.
We knew landslides could happen, but in TLG it must happen a lot! The first half of the drive back we were weaving in and out of sections of mountain that had collapsed or
at least where a couple large rocks had fallen. It was actually sort of nerve racking so we were happy to make it safely back to Jane's.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon resting. Rebecca did some yoga, Tyler caught up on the NFL game scores (GO EAGLES!).
What a fantastic three days!
Today we made it to Shaxi, a village near Jianchuan. Since Qiaotou didn't have a bus station we had to basically flag down a bus going in the right direction and then switch to a minibus three quarters of the way along. It worked perfectly and so far it's spectacular! We'll get you another update in a few days.
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