Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the world’s deepest gorges. So named because due to legend a tiger leaped across the gorge to flee a pursuing hunter. The Yangzte River (or Jinsha river as it is known locally) flows–and in some places rushes down rapids– in between the two towering mountain ranges of 5,596 meter Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and 5,396 meter Haba Snow Mountain. Both sets of mountains are aptly named with majestic snow capped peaks. I didn’t see any Jade Dragons but hey it’s China they gotta be lurking somewhere in those vast ranges. There are two paths you can choose to take through the gorge. The first is the trekking high path ,23 km long, which winds through the diverse terrain. The trail snakes through verdant forests , goes along precipes–which loom thousands of meters above the ground–, climbs steep hills,passes by guesthouses, meanders through calm farmland , and at one point runs underneath a thundering waterfall. In short this is one of the best hikes through some of the most diverse terrain that China has to offer. The low path is just a road alongside the river. True it does offer many great views of the river , gives more of a sense of being in a gorge, and is a bit less strenuous (but the high path isn’t kick your ass then kick you while you’re down tough) but really c’mon people just climb the high path! At one point the high and low paths converge near a guesthouse and then you can take a short path down to the riverside.
The area is populated by the Naxi minority group. They make their living off of grain , tourism , and selling ganja to foreign hikers. The gorge is a very famous spot and an absolute must do in Yunnan province. It came very close to being lost forever as the government was pushing to dam it up and irreversibly damage the gorge but thankfully wiser heads prevailed and it’s safe.
The first stop in Tiger Leaping Gorge is a disembarkment from the bus to purchase tickets and then we were off to a guesthouse to deposit our bags. Something like 5 or 10 rmb to store our bags (no way were we hiking with all that stuff) grab a bite to eat, and play with the little newborn puppies. The next goal was to find the start of the high trail. I love the directions on the internet , ” From the ticket office, walk along the road till you reach the school gate. Stay on the road, following the schools grey-white wall till its end where painted arrows point up an embankment at the beginning of the trek.” Don’t worry it’s pretty easy to find and once actually on the path there are constant blue and yellow arrow signs pointing out which direction to go. Along the path there are occasionally entrenprenuers who have set up shop catering to hiker’s needs. Cries of Apple!, Water!, ring out through the day. And if that fails to elicit any response the next cry is “Ganja!” to try and attract the hiker’s interest. At around two hours into the hike we found the Naxi family guesthouse. We stopped for some incredible mint tea and said farewell to our Canadian hiking buddies we had met with earlier that day. The next stop was at a Jia you zhen (literally Add Oil Station) to buy some peaches. Looking at the table laid out with goods I noticed bags of herb on the table , haha right out in the open like that, with a hilarious English advertisement. Try the best Naxi smoke , it was give you an exhilirating and uplifting feeling that will leave you feeling floaty alll day. Some elaborate description seemingly best fit to be in California and Amsterdam , not on this dark green seedy little bag. Some hiker was obviously asked to provide an English advertisement. I tried to snap a photo but the lady wouldn’t let me. So I settled for a picture of the robot made from Red Bull cans instead haha.
Continuing on at about the 5 hour mark we passed the Tea House Guesthouse and at 6:30 we finally made it to the Halfway House Guesthouse. We were running out of daylight and getting very tired of walking and made it just in time! I recommend staying at one of these guesthouses if you don’t have enough time to make it to the next guesthouse about 2.5 hours away. The path after this goes underneath a waterfall and then descends down a rocky and rough path. It can be quite dangerous to undertake this in the dark so carefull!
The Halfway house is huge and can be noisy at times but it’s a good place. Extremely cheap food and beer did well to recharge us. This guesthouse also has an awesome toilet! The sign (in Chinese) proudly proclaims “The Best Toilet Under the Sky!” This may not be true as it’s a not too clean (but not too dirty) squatter trough but the view from the toilet is perhaps the best view from a toilet ever. As you do your business you can peer out at the clouds swirling over the majestic snow capped mountain peaks while the river thunders along beneath. Pretty incredible. Later at night on the balcony overlooking the gorge (underlooking the mountain haha)I was chatting with some American hikers we had met earlier in the day. One my newfound friends said that he had one perfect word to describe the scene. It was “Mordor” Thinking of Mt.Doom and looking at the scene I couldn’t help but wish I had a sword , some magic potions, and was brutally slaying orcs while trying to save Middle Earth. The grandeur of the view, the exhiliration of the climb, and maybe a little bit of Gandalf’s special mix all swirled together and had me thinking maybe I really was in Lord of The Rings. Nothing this cool could possibly be on Earth , right? Oh , wait a second, LOTR took place in New Zealand that’s right haha.
The next day we set out and eventually came to an amazing waterfall. The waterfall roars down from the mountains above and rushes right across the path. You must pick your way through the ice cold mountain water to get to other dry path again. This made for some great pictures and a nice spot to cool off and relax for a while. After about 2.5 hours total the high path descended down and met the low path. A guesthouse is located here as well as a path to reach the river. You can go further on through the Gorge to eventually reach the end village of Daju but our hike ended here. There are plenty of maps with the trails leading onwards and I’m sure it would be cool to go the rest of the way but the part we just did was the most recommended part. We were pretty tired , my leg was aching, and our stomachs were still a bit off from the explosive good times of three nights ago. So we called it quits and organized a trip back to the starting point in Qiaotou to grab our bags and hopped the evening bus to Shangrila!