Day 8: Lijiang
Today we took a trip to Tiger Leaping Gorge, a canyon on the Yangtze River 40 miles north of Lijiang. One of China’s deepest gorges, it’s supposedly named after a tiger escaped hunters by leaping it at its narrowest point. The peaks on either side reach an average of 13,000 feet, the canyon reaches a depth of over 9,800 feet, and an 18-mile trail that runs along the ridge is extremely popular among hikers. The two-hour drive took us to the middle part of the trail along a winding mountain road.
We stopped for lunch halfway and being the only two Westerners in the group, we were offered forks with our meal which we did not use. 🙂
After lunch, we switched from our large coach bus to smaller vans for the rest of the drive.
Matt here… let me take this one. Holy s**t. That ride was insane. Hey, driver, sure you don’t want to use the extra foot-and-a-half of open road to your right before it drops straight off into the 9000-foot canyon? Good thing it rained earlier today for the first time in a month. Judging by the sounds this bus makes, I bet you have new tires circa 1995. Oh, wow. Now it’s a gravel road. Just be careful to avoid those day laborers and random piles of gravel as you seem to be practicing your drifting technique on those hairpin turns. OK. We are there now? Thank god.
We’d been catching glimpses of the gorge looking out the van’s windows, and when we finally arrived at our starting hiking spot the views were even more impressive. Our guide motioned for everyone to follow him, and we started the hike unsure of what we were in for. The descent was immediately steep, with “steps” sometimes of stone and other times just dirt carved into the path. Amazingly, some of the Chinese tourists in our group were dressed in skirts and heeled shoes, while Matt and I were lamenting our tennis shoes and wishing we had hiking boots.
The views were incredible, but we had to concentrate so hard on our footing that we only looked up once in a while. Earlier rains made some of the rocks slippery, and chains strung along parts of the path helped a little but not much. We safely reached the river and were awed by its roaring rapids and beautiful turquoise color.
In the middle of the river near where we’d ended our descent was Tiger Leaping Rock, a large rock supposedly used by the legendary tiger to cross from the east bank to the west bank. Looking at the width of the river we doubted a tiger could have made such a leap, but who knows? We stayed for a while at the bottom of the gorge, taking pictures and enjoying the views.
What goes up must come down, or in this case, what goes down must come up, and we headed back up the same path, stopping to rest often; the steepness and unevenness of the steps made for a rather exhausting trek. About halfway up, our guide gathered us all for a brief discussion (in Chinese, of course), pointing to one path and then to another. Luckily, there was an English speaker in the group who told us that from where we stood, there were two options for the rest of the way up: one was apparently a shortcut, but we didn’t understand which was which.
We opted to stay with the guide and about half our group, and our helpful translator asked us if we were afraid of heights, which should have been a sign of things to come. We walked for a while along a relatively flat path before coming to a ladder made of short planks and thick metal wire that went up the mountainside at approximately an 80-degree angle. (If this was their idea of a shortcut, a little more explanation would have been nice.) One at a time, we slowly climbed up – I could not look up or down, only straight ahead, and I have never concentrated so hard on anything in my life. There were no guardrails or safety harnesses of any kind – if you slipped, that was it.
After about fifty steps, the ladder ended (to my great relief). However, about twenty feet further along the path, we came up on another one. Fifty more steps straight up, another short walk, and one more ladder and we’d made it back to where we’d started, tired but exhilarated. We estimated we’d climbed about 4000 feet from the bottom of the gorge to the top, though we’re not really sure.
The drive back was equally winding and nerve-wracking but uneventful, and we arrived back in Lijiang around 5:30 PM. We wandered through the village, enjoying some street food snacks and checking out the souvenir stalls.
Every night in the village square, there is a bonfire and a performance of Naxi singing and dancing. Some of the people in the large crowd joined hands and danced along – it was sort of like Chinese line dancing. Afterward, we came back to the inn for a lovely meal of fried rice before turning in for the night.
What an incredible day – the guidebooks describe Tiger Leaping Gorge as an impressive site, but words don’t do this place justice and we’re so glad we made the trip to see it (and lived to blog about it!)