Try The Yak Balls! Tiger Leaping Gorge, Yunnan, China

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 entrance fee is 65 CNY (around $12 CAD per person), which seems a little steep given that its not a formal park. Hopefully the money goes to protecting the area, rather than to one of the government’s huge construction projects in the area, of which there are many.

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 horses and donkeys are impressive climbers, but they don’t come cheap.  Its 400 CNY ($80 CAD) to get to the top of the path.
Emily met plenty of fuzzy friends along the path, but these ones were the friendliest.

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.

The viewpoint at the top of the first section of of the path.  Behind is Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, with a peak of 5596m.  The air around us was surprisingly hot, but the mountains have snow on the peaks all year round.

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.

The Naxi are the local peoples in the Yunnan Region.


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.

When we got to this hut we thought we were well into the bends, but little did we know we were just beginning the most strenuous.  The next hour was intensely uphill, and unfortunately we went through at the hottest part of the day.  The steep path combined with the increasing altitude left us quite short of breath by the time we reached the top.
A little tired, but feeling very accomplished. This section is around 900m higher than where we started about 3 hours earlier.

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.

Spectacular views of the upper Yangtze River (Jinsha River) that open up stunningly along the second half of the trek.  The cliffs are around 2000m high in this section, and the trail is right at the edge. Its definitely not a trek for the feint of heart.

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.

A welcome view as we approach Tea Horse Guesthouse (the buildings on the left side).
Oh, and how about the view from our room?  The photos don’t do it justice.  Nearly 3800m vertical, from the river to the top of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.
The guesthouse has a rooftop patio area where you can sit back and enjoy the view.
Sunset on the mountain.  Its approaching a full moon, so the sky was bright even when the sun went down.  If you are lucky enough to hike here during a new moon, we suspect you’d see some amazing stars.
Yak meat pizza! There is yak meat for sale all over this Region. It seems to be used wherever beef would typically be used.  We didn’t try the pizza, but we did try some yak meatballs at our next guesthouse.

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.

The path on Day 2 was mostly flat, with a major downhill at the end as we approached our destination.  The cliff edges were still very steep, and there were a few sections where we really had to watch our footing.
There are fewer trees in this section, resulting in a great view of the gorge downtsteam. Only a few years ago, the Chinese government had plans to build a massive hydro electric dam downstream, completely flooding the gorge much in the same way the Yangtze River’s Three Gorges area was flooded in central China.  The government has since backed off these plans, and instead has embarked on building roads and a train line through the gorge.



We reached the Halfway Guesthouse around 2 hours into Day 2, and stopped for a rest and some drinks. Despite being called Halfway, the guesthouse is not actually the halfway point on the typical gorge trek.  Rather, it is halfway if you are doing the entire gorge (in total 22km, including the upper, middle, and lower sections. The lower section is also called Walnut Garden).

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.

There are a few small waterfalls on the trail. This one seemingly comes from a spring up above the path.
Watch your step in this section. Its a very long way down.
Crossing the waterfall was an exercise in balance and care, and having good shoes. The water actually flows over the trail, leaving you to hop between the few dry stones.

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.

Tina’s Guesthouse.

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 Tibetan Guesthouse is, perhaps unsurprisingly, run by a Tibetan family.  They were incredibly friendly, and the homemade food was quite good.  For dinner we tried the deep fried yak meatballs, which tasted more like chicken than beef.
Spending a second night in the area was a great decision.
Not a bad place to catch up on some journaling and blogging.

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




6 thoughts on “Try The Yak Balls! Tiger Leaping Gorge, Yunnan, China

  1. Some of the most amazing views yet. Loved the photo of you and Emily on the rocks – one of the earlier ones and love the photo of Emily on the rocks – later photo. I am blown away with what you are seeing on your adventure….


  2. Hi Emily,
    I asked Nancy (Hartwell) to send me the link to your blog. So wonderful to read of your adventures and hope to hear more – you do your mom proud!
    Kathy (Thompson)


    1. Hi Kathy, it’s so nice of you to say that. I think of her often, especially when we’re defying what I know more conventional travelers will do. But, that is the point of this trip.
      Thank you so much


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