June 8 - June 10: Yunnan, China

The Tiger Leaping Gorge (Part II)

Tina's was a great place to stay! She was extremely nice and the accomodations were better than expected on a mountain trail. The food was hearty and tasty! We even had hot showers the night we arrived. They have a system all rigged up for showers. The shower is a big concrete box set into the side of the mauntain. When it's time to shower, they boil water in their wood-burning stove and put the water in a pail. They put one pail of hot water and one pail of cold water above the shower. Then they put tubing in the pails, run the tubing into the shower, and with a little valve thing inside the shower you could can the flow of water that runs down because of gravity. Ingenious!

A cute bunny came to say goodbye to us before we left on our hike.
Nancy clearly didn't get enough sleep ...
What a beautiful morning! Here we are at about 8 am after a half an hour hiking our way up the mountain after bidding a fond farewell to Tina and her Guesthouse.
Here's another slippery waterfall we had to cross, this time with no plank to walk across. But it was shallow and Bryan stopped in the middle for a photo.
Nancy's about to make her way across. Careful, Nan!
Here you can get a glimpse of the precipice just a few steps downstream from the crossing. One small slip could be disasterous!
Of course we made it across without a hitch, and as we turned a corner we came face to face with a really spectacular waterfall.
Continuing on the trail wrapped around again as it followed the countour of the mountain range and we had a good look at the waterfall from a distance.
It's lucky that someone carved out the trail that you see here, otherwise it would have been considerably more difficult to make our way around the mountain.
If you look closely you can see Nancy making her way down the trail.
These mountain goats didn't bother staying on the trail.
The river is once again far below us.
Bryan scampered up onto a rock to get a better look at the mountains. Some fog was just starting to roll in over the peaks.

There goes Nancy ...
... about to step off the edge of the world.


Throughout the hike, streams and waterfalls were abundant. Here, the farmers of a nearby village have made the best use of the situation by rigging up bamboo piping to catch the water and lead it all the way down to their field. You can see the beginning of the pipe in the center of the photo; the water is collected from a small waterfall at the right and is carried, with the help of gravity, towards the left.
The pipe is in front of Nancy, following its way around the mountain face. It became narrower and narrower as water was lost at various cracks and junctures ...
... but enough water made it through at the end to supply a nice steady flow to the small village below.
The sun is starting to shine through the fog.

There were horses up on the mountain slope, too, grazily contently amidst the peace and tranquility.

The sun has finally broken all the way through. The clouds cleared and by noon or so, the sky was bright and blue.

Here we are passing through a pine forest. The best part about this hike (which covered approximately 15 kilometers this second day with multiple ascents and descents of 1,000 feet or more over the course of 11 hours) was the various conditions that we experienced. At some points the wind blew fiercly and the skies were foggy, and we felt like we were all alone high up on a mountain pass. At some points it was very hot and sunny; sometimes we passed through pine forests, with the heavy scent of alpine pine trees; at other times, we passed through quiet bamboo forests, while at other times, the landscape was rocky and barren. Sometimes the path was narrow, sometimes wide, sometimes we were ascending on twisty switchbacks up sheer faces of rock, and sometimes we were descending wide dirt paths. We experienced such a wide range of conditions, smells, sights, sounds, and moods over the 11 hours - it was absolutely fantastic! But always, there was the next step to take, either up, down, or straight ahead, as our legs became more tired, or backpacks heavier, and the day wore on and on.

As the clouds dissipated we got our first glimpse of snow on the higher peaks.

Gorgeous! Tiger Leaping Gorge-ous!


We were happy when we finally made it to this rock. This rock marked the highest point of the hike - we felt like we had been climbing forever and were looking forward to some movement downwards. Next up: the 28 bends on the way down.
Nancy takes a well-deserved break.

Somewhere down there is the town of Qiaotou, and a bus to take us back to Lijiang.


This is the best photo of the whole trip. You owe it to yourself to click on this to get a larger view. Go ahead!




Well, we thought that once we reached the rock at the summit, we'd have an easy hour descending down into Qiaotou. After one false alarm - a village that looked like it might be Qiaotou but wasn't - the path just kept going on and on. Nearly three hours later, we were wondering whether Qiaotou had packed up and moved somewhere else.

Ah. We finally made it to Qiaotou. The trail led into a high part of town, and turned into a gravel road that wound its way down, past homes, schools, and small shops. A couple of popsicles helped boost our spirit but we were still a good 45 minute walk from the center of Qiaotou and the last bus back to Lijiang was leaving in half an hour. We started walking faster but things didn't look good for us. A few minutes later, our prayers were answered when the only car we'd seen on the road thus far - a little "bread box" minvan - pulled over and asked us if we needed a ride into town. Yes!!! OK, so we cheated on the last kilometer, but at least we can say that we hitchhiked in China. We also made it to the bus station with just a few minutes to spare, and were back in Lijiang by evening.

We met up with some other hikers whom had been on the trail at the same time as we had (although we hadn't seen them since leaving Tina's in the morning). They were two Canadian students who were travelling in China for an extended period. We had a great dinner at our favorite Naxi family restaurant in Lijiang. Even with one vegetarian in the party, we found fantastic dishes to order.

The next day we were debating hopping on a bus to Dali, thinking we had nothing more to do in Lijiang, when we ran into another pair of hikers whom had been on the bus on the way to the gorge, but who had quickly outdistanced us on day one of the hike. They told us their unfortunate story of becoming separated - as the woman went ahead of the man, who had stopped to take some photos, she accidentally went the wrong way at a fork in the path. He came along a few minutes later and took the correct path, and from that point on they were each trying to catch up to the other. She ended up on the "low road", which is a gravel road lower down the mountain, while he stayed on the "high path" (which was the one we had taken). Eventually they were reunited when they each arrived at Qiaotou six hours later. What an unfortunate way to spend the hike - worried and on the lookout for your partner!

They were interested in something that they had read in the Lonely Planet travel guide concerning a cable car ride up to a meadow high up the mountain where it was possible to rent and ride horses. We decided to extend our stay in Lijiang one more day and go along with them. Unfortunately, the Lonely Planet's description of this outing left a lot to be desired. We hired a taxi driver to take us there but we ended up at the wrong place. The more we read the Lonely Planet's description, the less sure we were about what it really meant. Finally we came to the conclusion that the Lonely Planet had mixed up two different day trips: one involves a cable car up the mountain to a vista point. The other is some 25 kilometers away, over twisty mountain roads, and is an alpine meadow where horses indeed can be rented. But they are not one and the same place, as seemed to be suggested by the travel book, and after having spent over an hour trying to figure out how to get to this nonexistent single destination, we finally realized what the confusion was all about. Our taxi driver told us that the meadow in question was a good two hours drive away, and wouldn't give us enough time to really enjoy the sight, so we opted to try out the other half of what we were led to believe was a single place: the cable car up to the highest point on the Jade Snow Mountain. The residents in the area can enjoy the snow capped peaks of these mountains year-round.

The cable car starts at the bottom (naturally) and takes its passengers up to a station about 14,500 feet up the mountain. Here are some photos from the station.

At this altitude the temperature is just below freezing and there is snow and ice everywhere.
There are actually permanent glaciers near the top of the mountain. At first these looked just like sharp rock formations, but we soon learned that they are glaciers - frozen mountains of ice.

From the station, a wooden plank walkway extended up the mountain for another 600 or 700 feet. The walk up the walkway was very hard - at this altitude you very easily become out-of-breath and dizzy. We had to stop every 50 to 100 feet for a few minutes to rest before continuing on. They actually rent out air bags that you pump up at the base of the mountain and take up to the top. Should the air seem too thin you can breathe the air that came from the mountain below. Eventually we made it to the platform at the end of the walkway, which is the highest you are allowed to go.

Here you can see definitive proof that they really were glaciers - the blue-green tint is caused by light being reflected around inside the ice, and emerging with a blue tint due to the absorption of other spectra of light by particles in the ice.


This was Bryan's twenty-ninth birthday. Happy Birthday, Bryan!



On Bryan's 29th birthday, he ascended to the highest point altitude that he's ever been on land. There's the proof - 4680 meters, or 15,354 feet. Brr!! It was frigid! It's not often we hang around outside in below freezing temperatures in just a pair of pants and a thin sweatshirt. Where's that down overcoat!
Back in Lijiang, Bryan celebrated his birthday with two cold bottles of Carlsberg beer ...
... and some fresh lychees ... yum!
That evening we had dinner with our new friends at the same Naxi restaurant - even the same table! We ate at that restaurant three times while we were in Lijiang - it was that good! They had an amazing dish of simply scrambled eggs with squash blossoms!! Fantastic! If you follow food fads, squash blossoms were the new "in" food before we left. They've probably been using them to cook for hundreds of years here in Yunnan.

That evening we stayed at a nice, cheap Naxi family hotel, with hot water available for a shower when we wanted it! The family running the hotel was great and so we are providing their info here for anyone who would like to stay there on their next trip to Lijiang:

ChaMa Naxi Family Guest House
Jishan Lane #9, Xinyi St.
Lijiang, Yunnan, China

After a long, nearly 9 hour bus ride, we arrived in Kunming with just enough time to contact our previous travel agent to arrange air transportation back home to Beijing. It is exceedingly convenient to fly in China as plane tickets can be purchased at the time of departure, provided that there are seats available.

Somewhere underneath those clouds is Lijiang, the Tiger Leaping Gorge, and all of incredible Yunnan ... we bade a fond farewell to this wonderful part of China from the seat of a 747 on the way back to Beijing.

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