Saying that hiking the in Tiger Leaping Gorge was the reason for my trip to China would be an overstatement but it was definitely at the top of the list of things I wanted to do while exploring this huge country. The gorge is one of the deepest in the world. It is located between Jade Dragon Snow mountain and Haba Snow mountain and towers approximately 3,500 meters above the Jinsha River, a primary tributary of the famous Yangtze, the longest river in Asia.
The legend of the gorge says that a tiger jumped across the river at its narrowest point, which is still a massive 25 meters, to escape a hunter. When I first read about this dramatic scenery and the story behind the name I got hooked on the idea of getting there and finishing my travels around China with an epic hike.
The owner of the Mama Naxi guesthouse in Lijiang booked a bus for me to Qiaotou, which is a village situated at the start of the trail. I also agreed with her that I leave some of my belongings behind and pick them up in few days since hiking with my full backpack would be a nightmare. I heard from other travellers that Tina’s Guesthouse in Qiaotou offers similar help with storage.
All the tips, which I received about the Tiger Leaping Gorge were about following the upper trail and for sure I would recommend doing it too. Although the trail begins uphill it is worth sweating over that initial steep hike to enjoy the vistas along the small villages and look deep down inside the gorge.
After a while when I stopped to have a small break and something to eat two girls from my bus, Celine and Mas, joined me. We tackled 28 Bends together – a much talked about part of the trail. It was almost like a spiral staircase! Despite leaving some of my stuff back in Lijiang I still carried around 8 kilograms so it was not a walk in a park for me. Mas struggled in her running shoes but managed in the end and Celine with her small bag, appropriate shoes and language skills was the best equipped and prepared for this party.
The view of the gorge from the most upper part of the trail was literally breath-taking and I must admit that I was scared when I reached the edge of the cliff in one spot, which one local lady guarded and demanded money for taking pictures. She let us pass on a condition we leave our big cameras behind. I considered taking a sneaky pic with my iPhone but when I got to the edge I freaked out. It was so high!
At the end of the long day we stopped at Halfway Guesthouse and stayed in a freezing dorm for a night. Falling asleep with a view of majestic mountains in front of our window was pretty incredible.
Next morning offered us steep walks under the waterfalls, more rural life and a quick break at Jane’s Guesthouse. From that point we entered the middle part of the trail. Since I planned on staying in the gorge for another night I was not pressed for time. Celine and Mas had to catch the bus to Shangri-La so we parted half way down to the river.
Getting to the Tiger Leaping Stone was thrilling as I climbed the stones and walked on a rickety bridge to finally set my foot on it. There was no one in sight, my heart was pumping like crazy and the only thing I could hear was the roaring sound of the river next to me. It was an incredible experience.
Later that day I found a small guesthouse situated at the end of the trail where I decided to spend my final night in the gorge. Tired but happy I was taking in all the beauty that was surrounding me.