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.

Terraced fields on road to the gorge

Bridge over the Yangtze River

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. 🙂

Delicious multi-course lunch

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.

All that’s between us and a few-thousand-foot drop

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.

Starting the descent into the gorge

Halfway down the mountainside

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.

Made it!

At the mid-point of Tiger Leaping Gorge

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.

Beware of the suppy rocks

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.

View from top of second ladder

Matt found a bamboo walking stick

We didn’t fall into the gorge!

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.

Back at the entrance to the Shuhe village


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.

Naxi dancers in traditional costumes

Dancing in the village square

Anna’s secret recipe!

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!)

5 Comments on “Day 8: Lijiang”

  1. OMG!!! What a fabulous trip you guys are having. The pictures are incredible! You could have left me with the Pandas while you were climbing your mountain ladders. (I would never be able to do that – would much rather die in my sleep).
    Can’t wait for the next blog. So much fun following you.

    The food looks amazing.

    Love ya,


  2. Geezzz! Congratulations to you both for ‘making it alive’! (Do they issue certificates of courage/commendation when you finish the trip?!?!) That tour might make the rest of the trip seem kind of tame!! Considering how you(Matthew) used to taunt/tease me nervously watching you kids go out by the edges of cliffs, etc in places like the Grand Canyon, I have to conclude that this was truly hair raising!!! (that or you are getting old!) The picture on the ladder is great although I personally would have not encouraged one to be putzing with a camera during that climb!! Matthew, I can see why you might have lost your hat during such a trip and I love Nicole’s jubilant ‘didn’t fall into the gorge triumphant’ pose!! The little village you are staying in seems so inviting – what a town square – and those Naxi costumes/girls are beautiful..How come we have no pictures of you two dancing? 🙂 Keep the blog coming!! xo, mom

  3. Wow, this day looked amazing! How long were your hands permanently stuck in the position of gripping the ladder handles after you made it to the top? I like the picture of you starting the descent into the gorge. It looks like you found the only pink flowering tree on the whole mountain to stand by. Matt you can stop reading here…Nick just think of how much more fun you would be having if your sister was with you…on a sister trip! 🙂

    Can’t wait to see more.
    Love, Kate

  4. Hello mountain climbers! Sounds like this trip has warmed you up for the next mountain climb in Hangzhou. I can’t imagine the climb up that ladder; in America there would have been 50 safety regulations plus harnesses and signing your life away if anything should happen to you. In China, it’s go for it if you’re willing. The views were fantastic, but it’s the food that had me drooling.

    Dad says, “Don’t forget to visit two quaint villages on the outskirts of Hangzhou: Wun Hunglo and Woo Flungpoo.” He wants a full report and pictures on those.

    I can’t wait to hear more about the inkeepers as I’m sure they had lots to tell you about living there. Mom and Dad

  5. Hi you courageous travelers!!! All I can say is WOW!!! Your pictures had me holding my breath – they are both beautiful and amazing! What lovely people and places (and the food, too). I am so in awe. Loved the pandas – they look like toys! There seems to be something to enjoy every minute, and the gardener in me is drooling over the trees in blossom and the “green”. Your blogs are such a treat after seeing snow all day. Looking forward to the next one!!

    Love & continuing safe journey!! Aunt Julie R.

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