Two hours north of Lijiang, the upper stretch of the Yangtze River cuts between two huge mountains, creating Tiger Leaping Gorge. Local legend says that a tiger jumped across the river to escape a hunter, hence the rather dramatic name. We didn’t see any tigers on our 2 day hike, but what we did see took our breath away – both literally and figuratively.
The gorge is divided in to 3 sections – upper, middle, and lower. Most people hike the upper gorge, finishing in the middle section. For the less keen, new roads have been built along the length of the gorge down at water level. But this is really only popular for bus tours.
The hike begins at the town of Qiaotou, at the southwest end of the gorge. We took a bus from Lijiang to Qiaotou for 40 CNY each ($8 CAD). The bus dropped us off at the start, and then took our big bags to our finishing point at Tina’s Guest House, about 20km down river. We hiked with only our small day packs, carrying some warm clothing for the evening and several litres of water.
We heard the first day on the upper trail was the hardest, and sure enough the path started to go up right away very steeply. For the first hour or so there were plenty of locals camped along the trail with horses, trying to sell us a ride to the top.
The first hour to 90 minutes is really vertical, and we gained somewhere around 700m in elevation. It quickly becomes apparent as you gain elevation that the air is getting thinner.
After the viewpoint at the peak, the trail descends into a village and at the 2 hour mark, we reached the Naxi Guesthouse. The Naxi Guesthouse is the first of several guesthouses along the path. We arrived around noon, and happily enjoyed some lunch and a brief rest.
After lunch the path started upwards again, towards the infamous “28 Bends” section of the trail. This is the steepest section of the trail, where it reaches the maximum elevation of 2670m.
Our goal was to reach one of the guesthouses by mid-afternoon, hopefully beating the rush and having some time to relax and enjoy the scenery with a beer or two. Thankfully, after the 28 Bends the trail became easier, as it gently descended over several hours.
We reached the Tea Horse Guesthouse just before 4pm, and we decided to spend the night rather than continue on to the more popular Halfway Guesthouse. It turned out to be a great decision, as we ended up with a reasonably priced (90 CNY / $17 CAD) private room and a surprisingly hot shower.
The guesthouse didn’t seem very full. There were maybe 10-15 Chinese tourists, and a handful of westerners. The westerners all grouped together the next day, and set off together around 9am. Our group included 1 English guy, 1 French guy, a Polish brother and sister, 1 Chinese guy travelling with the Polish people, and 1 Australian girl.
Leaving Halfway Guesthouse around noon, we had around 1.5 to 2 hours of hiking left before reaching our end point at Tina’s Guesthouse. The sun was high and it was starting to get really hot again. The locals have since told us that the last few days have been hotter than normal for this time of the year.
The last section of the trail is sharply downhill, and the dust and loose soil/stones made it quite slippery. So, after over 20km of hiking, we finally reached Tina’s Guesthouse around 2pm on Day 2. We were thankful to find our big packs stored safely in their luggage room.
Everyone we hiked with was leaving the gorge on the 3:30 bus, but we decided to stay another night to enjoy the breathtaking scenery. One of the staff at Tina’s gave us a lift a few kilometers down the road, to the village of Walnut Garden where we stayed at the Tibetan Guesthouse.
The Tiger Leaping Gorge delivered in every way possible. The trek was amazing, the accommodation has some of the most breathtaking views we have ever seen, and the people were lovely. But we are already been in China for more than a week, so on we must keep moving as we head closer to the Tibetan areas.
As a bonus, here is a short video taken during the bus ride out of Tiger Leaping Gorge. There are no barriers on the cliff edge, and it must be around 1000m down to the water. But the drivers treat it like a race track, so it made for a hair raising 20 minutes.
- Doug and Emily / June 9, 2017 @ 8:11pm / Shangri-La, Yunnan, China @ Kevin’s Trekker Inn