June 6 - June 7: Yunnan, China

The Tiger Leaping Gorge (Part I)

Early the next day we caught a bus to Daju at one end of the Tiger Leaping Gorge trail. It was a small bus and our fellow travellers were all twenty-somethings like us intent on hiking the gorge. The bus ride was one of the more harrowing experiences that we have ever been through. As we winded our way up and up the mountains the road became steeper, bumpier, twistier, and more dangerous. At many points all that separated us from a drop down thousands of feet to our certain deaths was the skill of our driver. It seems that he had driven this route many, many times because he was very casual about the danger and was chatting unconcernedly with his buddy next to him.

At the top, we started descending again, down the other side.
In the distance we could see our destination - a valley between the mountain ranges where begins the Tiger Leaping Gorge.

At the bottom of the mountain we disembarked our bus, had a short rest stop, and then bought tickets for another bus to take us the rest of the way to the gorge.

Guess what we found in the village? Yep - more pigs! These are the miniature variety that we will some day own!

Finally, we've arrived - we set our eyes on the Yangtze river for the first time since our cruise from Chongqing to Wuhan a few months before. This time we were much closer to the beginning of the river, where it winds its way down from the mountains, and the water moves quickly and forcefully, compared to the wide and slow-moving current that we experienced near the Three Gorges in March.

We started here and hiked down about 1,000 feet to the river.
At the river we paid for a ferry to take us to the other side. The ferrymen had to skillfully maneuver the boat against the strong current to avoid being swept downstream. This is one of those situations where you are at the whim of the ticket collector. There is NO other option.
On the river.
On the other side we started back up again. This gave us the first taste of what was to come over the next two days: lots and lots of steep hiking up and down the mountain face.
We're gaining altitude ... the river is below us now ...
Bryan's sweaty and tired but enjoying it.
Nancy takes a short break.

After a little more than an hour we reached the road. This gave us an opportunity for some easier hiking on level ground, and for the next two or three hours we made our way slowly towards our day 1 destination: Tina's Guesthouse.

Although we were the only people around (the other hikers had outdistanced us already), we weren't alone - there was the occasional herd of wild mountain goats to keep us company.
Bryan takes a moment to stare in awe at the fantastic scenery from underneath his batik hat.

There were small farming villages here and there along the way. The stepped fields must be hundreds of years old, at least. It seems like a peaceful life, very far away from noise and pollution and just about everything else. Since farmers live all over this mountain, they use this trail for transport between villages. These farmers walked the trails like the mountain goats.

Hey - a waterfall has washed out the road! Fortunately, there is a way across ...
... unfortunately, it's just a narrow board with rushing water underneath leading to a precipitous drop. When you cross this narrow board, in addition to seeing the water rush by, you hear the roar of the water and know that one wrong move and ... Don't look down, Nancy!
It's hard to get an idea of depth from these photographs but it was definitely a long and deadly way down.
But, we made it.

A few minutes later a man and woman came the other way with two horses to lead across the water. Their technique was interesting: the man waited behind with the horses while the woman walked across the plank. Then she called to the horses while the man threw rocks at their rumps. This motivated them to cross the rushing waters; it was a little hard to watch because they struggled step by step against the current and at one point one of them slipped and for a split second looked like it would go over the edge, but ... they both made it across safely and the man followed on the plank, and down the road they went.

By mid-afternoon we had made it to Tina's Guesthouse, which had come highly recommended by some other hikers in town.

We were certainly not disappointed with the view from our room - straight out to the mountain face with the rushing water far below.

What to do after five hours hiking? Stop for a rest? No way - how about another three hours down to the river and back! Most of the hikers that had been on the bus with us had stopped to eat along the way and arrived just a few minutes after we finished off our lunch that Tina made for us. We all decided to hire a local guide to take us down to the river to see the famous rock from which the Tiger Leaping Gorge got its name. The story is that a tiger once leaped across the river from one bank, to a rock, to the other bank. The rock is the Tiger Leaping Rock and the gorge became known as the Tiger Leaping Gorge.

Our descent started behind the guest house, and down we went.
Nancy pushes some foliage out of the way as we descend. The weather was beautiful - in the upper 60's/lower 70's F and sunny. But it felt pretty hot as we were hiking at a decent pace.

Look - we're halfway there!
Sometimes you have to go up to go down ...

What a beautiful setting.

We're getting closer ... the rush of the waters is now plainly audible.
Just before reaching the river we came to another waterfall.
The water was so cool, and clean, and refreshing-looking. It looked like the purest water in the world. But knowing how filled with microbes that untreated water tends to be, we decided against having a drink or a wade in.
Finally we made it to the river. There's the tiger leaping rock. Er, which rock? We don't know. It's our theory that the river has at least a few tiger leaping rocks - whichever rock happens to be nearest your guide's territory is the tiger leaping rock.

It was very loud and the water was rushing by very violently. Nobody rafts this river and we could see why.

Hey Nancy - don't fall off!
Here we are, on the very edge. And that's our guide down below us. He was a chain smoker - he must have smoked an entire pack of cigarrettes on the way down and back from the river. And he had a pretty nasty cough - but, he didn't seem phased by the hike that pooped us out pretty well. We were all donned in our hiking gear and there he was wearing his cloth shoes, dress pants and blazer.
If only we'd brought our swimsuits, this would make a perfect shot for Sports Illustrated.
The mountain started to fall over but fortunately Nancy was there to hold it up.
One last look at the mountains down the river that we were going to traverse the next day, before we climbed back up to Tina's for a nice meal, and conversation with our fellow hikers, and then to bed early in preparation for the next day's hike.


Back to: Kunming and Lijiang

On to: The Tiger Leaping Gorge (Part II)

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