June 8-9, 2009
After our brief 1-night stop in Baishui Tai, we continued to Tiger Leaping Gorge. The bus dropped us off at the eastern end of the trail, not far from the small tourist village called Walnut Garden.
Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the star attractions in Yunnan and a big magnet for western (and local) backpackers. It claims to be the deepest gorge in the world, but we’re not so sure. Only a couple of months ago we were hiking in the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal, and there was a similar claim that the Jomsom side of the trek was the deepest in the world. In terms of numbers, Jomsom is surely deeper because it has 7+ km tall mountains on both sides. But the Tiger Leaping Gorge definitely feels more gorge-like: there are sections with near-vertical stone cliffs, and the water below is incredibly violent (we haven’t seen water this powerful since Murchison Falls in Uganda).
What’s with the name? The legend goes that a tiger once escaped pursuit by leaping across a narrow section in the gorge. There are three sections along the gorge where this may have happened – upper, middle, and lower. In each one the canyon is very narrow, the water very gushy, and there’s a large boulder in the middle of the current that a tiger could have used to get across.
It took us two days / one night to do the hike. We went east-to-west, which is the less common way to go because there’s more uphill (you’re going upstream). The trek started on the road until we reached the small touristy village called Walnut Garden. From there we took a detour and climbed down to the bottom of the gorge to see “lower tiger leaping rock”. The path downhill included a few long ladders on the side of a cliff – very fun. And when you reach the bottom you really notice the force of the current. Then we headed back up and took a trail the rest of the way towards Qiaotou. Overall it was a very good trek, though it rained pretty frequently and it was too hot to wear a rain coat comfortably.
OK, on with the photos…
As our bus approaches the trailhead, we start to see the gorge:
Pnina with Pan Yujie, a Chinese backpacker we met on the bus. She was our hiking partner for the next couple of days:
Don’t know why, but I found it interesting that so many of the trucks in Yunnan had exposed engines up front:
At the end of the bridge is Tina’s Guest House (Walnut Garden), where we stopped for lunch before descending to the bottom of the gorge:
Going down long ladders:
One thing that was kind of annoying about Tiger Leaping Gorge, is that people nickel-and-dime you along the way. It’s not enough to pay the entry ticket for the park (30 yuan). If you want to take one of the ladder-rich trails down to the bottom, you need to pay another fee (usually 10 yuan). And once at the bottom, if you want to walk over a small wooden bridge to the tiger-leaping rock, you need to pay another 5 yuan. The actual fees aren’t big, but it’s annoying to keep paying them, especially considering that the people collecting fees are now basically getting money for nothing (there’ no real work to do to keep a little wooden bridge up). When we reached the bottom, I forked over the 5 yuan to climb the rock with the good view, but Pnina said “screw that” and marched off to find her own rock to climb. But all the other rocks here were very steep and slippery, and if you make a wrong move you can easily end up in the gushing water below, certainly dead. It scared me to watch her prance around like that, but luckily it all worked out.
Pnina prancing around on huge boulders, looking down at the gushing water below:
The aforementioned gushing water:
Pnina and I on her rock (OK, yeah, I joined her):
Walking back up, this time a different route:
More ladders, yay!
Back at the top, we get off the road and start hiking along the trail. Some parts of the trail were blasted through rock:
Jagged peaks poking through the clouds:
Hanging out with some other backpackers at the Halfway House hotel – Evan (Chinese), Pan, Pnina, Max (from Oregon), and Eli (French):
There must have been something very interesting on this branch because all these bugs were duking it out to claim this territory. We saw the larger beetle (the black one) pick up the other one and toss it off the tree. It was real National Geographic action:
Corn husks hung out to dry – a very common sight in northwestern Yunnan:
While we hiked, we had some interesting discussions with Pan; interesting both for what Pan knew and for what she didn’t know. For example, that week, high-school students around China were freaking out because they were about to take the huge college entrance exam (things get pretty competitive when you’re in a country with well over a billion people). Pan, who is already a college sophomore studying Sociology, told us about her experience taking the test and getting into university. She knew a lot about that and her English was very good. On the other hand, she didn’t know that China blocks certain websites, she was surprised to learn that Pnina and I ran into complications when we wanted to keep traveling in China after leaving Tibet, and she knew surprisingly little about the Chinese election process. That in itself tells us a lot about what schools in China teach and don’t teach, and I guess we’re not surprised.