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Published: September 17th 2015
One of the reasons we visited Lijiang was to do the 'gruelling' 2 day trek to Tiger Leaping Gorge. The legend tells the story of a tiger that leapt from a rock across the raging gorge to the other side. One thing we now know for certain though - There are definately no tigers on the trek.
Getting up extra early so we could grab our regular order of baba & bao zi for breakfast we then followed one of the guys from our hostel to the awaiting minibus. The minibus takes you from Lijiang to a small town called Qiatou about an hour away where we were to begin our trek. During the hour bus journey, we got chatting to a couple of others on the mini bus.
There were 10 of us in total, 8 of us doing the same trek and the other 2 (a swiss couple) doing the trek in reverse. On average the 1st day of trekking takes around 6/7 hours and the 2nd day is around 5/6hrs. We were considering doing 9hrs on the first day in order to get us further, making the following day easier but decided to see how
we fared during the first days trekking.
We were first dropped off at the ticket office in Qiatou so that we may purchase our entrance ticket (¥80 each) before hopping back into the van for short ride to the starting point.
Weather wise we were lucky (dependent on how you looked at it) as the clouds were clearing and the sun was shining. The past few days the rain had been terrible, we'd even delayed our trekking by one day to avoid heavy rain, lightning and thunder.
We waved the swiss couple off and as a group of 8, started the trek. Within our group we had a mother and son (from the UK althpugh the mother has lived in China many years), 2 solo travellers (from Norway & Israel) and a couple of young french guys with a ridiculous amount of energy.
The first hour of the trek was probably the hardest on day one as it was a steep uphill ascent up a rocky trail that zig zagged across a mountain. It was not very steep compared to previous treks we have done (think cameroon highlands, el nido and the great wall) but steep
enough given the altitude to make us want to stop every so often.
The sun was warming up fast and the high altitude resulted in a lot of heavy breathing all round. Thankfully every now and then there were small rest stops in the shade with local women selling water, energy drinks, snickers and marijuana. Yes weed!! At first we thought it was just tea until we saw the woman loading some into a pipe for the french guys to try. It was so bizarre, of all places to sell "ganja" - as the local women called it. There were even signs at one station proclaiming that it would help you tackle the trickiest parts of the trek.
Somehow we highly doubted it. Although saying that, we dont think it slowed the french guys down one bit as they marched on as the rest of the group took another well deserved rest. The rest of us decided to stick together from there on as we generally enjoyed each others company.
Very early on Ofirule - the Israeli solo traveller - tucked into his 2nd snickers bar. We didn't blame him this wasn't the easiest trek we've done
plus he didnt have any breakfast. A local on a horse who had followed us from the begining seemed to have spotted his opportune moment and asked Ofirule if he wanted to continue the trek on horse back. He kindly declined. We did stop a few others who had chose this option. We personally didnt think it was necessary but guess it may add to the experience for some.
Alyssia - the british mum - was struggling the most, taking it easy going uphill and tended to stay at the back. Her 16 year old son, Will, was the complete opposite; running & jumping straight past us. Nothing like a young energetic teen to make you feel old. I mean we're fairly fit but even we really felt the effects of the altitude (being ... )
One of the most trickiest parts of the trek is the 28 bends. A steep upward trail much longer than it looked on our map. It was a cruelling upward and twisting trail. This was the point our legs burned and ached the most.
Just when you thought it was over there was another bend. ANOTHER BEND. As if climbing
was not enough alone someone thought of the genious idea to add bends into this altitude sickness inducing climb.
Changing direction was harder then you may think when its all upwards. We all stopped frequently. Each making the excuse that the scenary alone stopped up or that it was a mere water break. Ha. As if. Sweat drippping from each one of us, breaths panting. It was clearly the climb.
We wasn't even half way there and were sweating ridiculously, the little rests we took were beneficial and also provided us a chance to take photos and get to know our companions a little bit more.
Once we were at the top we all congratulated each other knowing we were at the highest point of the trail at 2700 meters. This was high although the highest points on either side of the mountains is a breathtaking 5000 meters. It was amazing to gaze both up at heights and down to the depths of the gorge.
The views from the highest viewpoint were truly breathtaking. We could see the Yangtze river below casually flowing through the valley and the green rolling hills stretching on for miles. You
had to pay to access the views here but we all considered it to be completely worth it. It did traumatise Alyssia (who suffers from vertigo) a little seeing her son perched on the end of a rock posing for pictures but we were all safe enough.
Good on her though for doing this trek. A mammoth achievement.
As we rounded a corner we got a lot closer to the towering behemoth we seen from a distance in Lijiang at the Black dragon pool.
It was the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. We couldnt stop staring at it as it glared down at us with its snow capped peaks. Its size was immense. To date only one person has reached its summit. We could even make out a huge glacier at the side of it. Picking our jaws back up off the ground we continued our walk, the incline a little more manageable now. The further we walked the more the scenery kept changing, it was almost like we were passing through completly different countries altogether. It went from overgrown greenery to sparse rocky forest, even the species of trees and plants were changing.
We'd read the
path can be treacherous as you walked alonside the edge of a mountain with long drops down the side. But compared to our Great Wall expedition, this was nowhere near as frightening. plus you couldnt really see the trop next to you unless you hung over the edge. Certainly would not have braved this trek in the heavy rains though, slipping would be fatal.
At around 3.30pm we made it to a restaurant with amazing views. It was time for lunch. A late one at that. The french guys were just finishing up as we arrived. We were astonished at the speed they had made it up, what was even more impressive was that they were attempting our original plan - to make it to Tina's guesthouse an extra 2/3 hours beyond the 'halfway point'. There was no chance we would be able to make that, plus we found it better to take our time anyway and take in the amazing scenery as opposed to marching right past it. We all ordered our food, nothing special just something to fill a hole and give us a bit more energy for the rest of the trek.
After an hour
recharge we set back off on our journey. After 2 more hours we finally made to the Halfway Guesthouse - its in the name. A pretty popular guesthouse with a majority of trekkers stopping here for the night. We were no different. It took us 9hrs in total including our hour lunch. Tired wasn't the word. The terrace here was impressive - rooftop views of the mountain range, home to snow dragon jade mountain. Even the toilets came with a spectacular view! We quickly ordered a big dinner and all ate together as the sun went down before retiring for the night around 9pm.
Waking up slightly later than planned as P had woke up with a horrible headache, we ordered breakfast; naxi bread with honey. It was actually quite tasty. With the group all packed and checked out, we continued on our mission to tiger leaping gorge. Prior to coming here, we'd read that a lot of trekkers, exhausted from day 1 would skip the day 2 trek and catch a bus to the gorge. Not us, we're hardcore! We sid overhear some others saying they were finished and would take the bus. We wanted to interrupt them
and tell them the second day was even more picturesque than the forst day, but bit our tongues.
Unfortunately we spent the first 10 minutes of the second day going the wrong way. Oops. Seemed the path wasn't clearly signposted outside the guesthouse.
Back on the path, the weather was still in our favour. Our trekking party slightly redder than the previous day, now covered head to toe in sun cream.
Once again the scenery was completely different, this time it was more rocky with dramatic cliffs and long drops into the valley. In one plce it almost reminded us of the lake district in the UK. Almost. We passed by a beautiful waterfall that we had to cross. We all stopped for photos and refilled our water bottles from the waterfall. Nothing like fresh mineral water.
We stopped a few more times along the way to admire the stunning scenery and attempt some daring pictures before reaching our destination 2 hours later. We finally made it to Tina's - This is where our minibus is supposed to pick us up from at 3.30pm. But first we need to go and see what we came for
-Tiger leaping Gorge.
There are many ways to trek down to the gorge, all of which are roughly a 3hr round trip from Tina's guesthouse. We chose to walk to the furthest path that led down to the gorge and exit at the one closest to Tina's. Thanks Maps.me.
At the entrance of the trek down we had to pay ¥10 each as it was built and maintained by the locals, which we had no qualms about. The locals have to make money somehow. The descent to the gorge was steep with large winding steps to navigate. However the scenary was stunning. A very rocky terrrain leading down to the gorge.
It took us a lot longer than we thought it would, until eventually we made it to raging river 40mins later.
In the middle of the gorge is large rock, the rocks said to be where the tiger had leapt to. Connecting the cliff side to this rock was a rope wooden bridge. Again, this was built by locals so carried the small fee of ¥10. The river was fierce and powerful. Anbody who was unlucky enough to fall in wouldn't survive at all.
Walking across the swinging rope bridge with the deadly river below was a slighty terrifying experience. That was until we made it onto the rock, large enough to manoeuvre about fairly safely but the only thing seperating us from a watery death was a couple of thin cables around the perimeter. There was another rock about a minute away which we were also brave enough to clamber over some rocks for a few quick pictures.
After our fill of pictures we set off again on the path towards our exit up the river along the cliff. The path was pretty straight forward and we made it to the other side fairly easily. Another toll gate to pass through, this one ¥15.
We started our journey up the steep hill side panting and breathing heavily again until we reached the dreaded ladder. This ladder was huge, it looked like it stretched on for miles, we couldn't even see the end. Alyssia scared of heights took the alternative route with steps whereas the rest of us took on the ladder challenge. Its only ladders we thought given we were not afraid of heights.
In truth the steel ladder was
definately taller than a 2 storey house with most of it vertical but with a slight curve at the bottom end. Orifule went first with Chris right behind him. Chris casually climbed up stopping to take pics of P as she shakily made her way up below. P saw Chris looking all confident above and so decided to look down herself. Big mistake. She was only half way up but she nearly wet her pants. Looking down was unbelievably scary. As you could see the decent all the way to the gorge. Her hands were sweating profusely and she immediately went into panic telling Chris she couldnt make it. Hyperventilating and nearly crying. She froze and clung to the ladders, arms wrapped around it. She was too scared her sweaty hands would fail her. After some wise words from chris P slowly progressed to the top making sure very hand and foot grip was locked into the corners.
Will the energetic 16 year old lad was the last up. Somewhere between the bottom and middle section, like for P vertigo kicked in. He must have been terrified by the way he was still trembling and clinging to the floor
when he made it to the top of the ladder just like P.
After everyone composed themselves and guzzled more water we continued our mission to the top. It was very steep the rest of the way up with high steps and the relentless sun beating down. Chris with his energy sapped, struggled on the ascent stopping every now then to catch is breath and cool down. Even Will surprisingly, was lagging behind. The last 30mins of the climb seemed a lot harder than the first hour of the previous day. P determined to make it to the top to get back in time practically sprinted the last few steps making it up first.
We were all tired, hungry and sweaty by the time we got back to Tina's but we'd made it. Over lunch we discussed personal challenges, shared photos and swapped contacts details. Everyone, despite the fatigue really enjoyed it. It really was one of the most challenging yet most rewarding and amazing treks we have ever done. It was breathtakingly stunning throughout.
Challenging but not dangerous. We were never terrified except tor P on the optional ladder climb. It is generally safe although that
is not saying accidents cannot happen.
Saying that we did see a half rotting goat dangling off a tree branch. We however concluded it must have got stuck and unfortunately died up there. Unfortunate for the goat, clearly fortunate for the vultures.
Hopefully our pictures do this trek an inch of justice. The skies were not always clear making photography slightly harder. Although when trying to chose some of the best photos, we found it very difficult to cut down our pile.
We don't know when but we are 100% positive we'll do it again. Luckily the abundant Chinese tourists who are good at finding these spots were no where to be seen. We hope the small numbers here remain and that us sharing this blog does not change things. Hopefully the sound of trekking for 14 hours or maybe the fear inducing pictures will do the job.
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