As part of our stay in Yunnan, a province in Southwestern China, Andrew and I decided to spend two days hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge, a scenic canyon on the upper Yangtze River. Tiger Leaping Gorge is famous for its breathtaking views of snow topped mountains, lush mountainside pastures, and the narrow, steep, and winding trail that goes up and down the cliff side, offering views of the gushing river far below.
We caught a 7:30am bus for a 2-3 hour drive to the Gorge, having left all but our day pack, camera, and snack bag back out our hostel in Lijiang. When we arrived, we were very surprised at the lack of other tourists save the 15 or so others on our bus. During the day hike, we saw almost no one else on the road save 2-3 water and snack vendors, two other clusters of 2-3 hikers, and a cranky old woman at the trail's high point who failed to sell us a special "scenic view" for 10 RMB.
The first 2-3 hours of the hike, which we did during the hottest part of the day because our bus ride was so long, were extremely strenuous, and included a 90 minute section called the "28 bends"- basically a windy uphill climb on a narrow, rocky pathway. The second part of the hike had wider, flatter trails with more shade but the wearying climb up and down steep vertical paths for the first section of the trail plus the high altitude left us winded and sore for the second half of the day.
One might call the hike a pretty effective relationship-tester, and I was overall pretty proud that we managed the physical and emotional stress of the climb well and as a team. For instance, we took regular breaks and let one another cool off when the strain made us short tempered. Andrew in particular helped a lot by carrying our heavier bag and cheering me on through the final stretch of the hike. Reaching the end of our first day felt like an important accomplishment, not only for finishing the hike, but for doing so to mark the day of our two month wedding anniversary.
Around 4:30pm, we arrived at our lodging for the night. That evening we watched the sunset over the gorge from the rooftop porch swings and really enjoyed the company of our fellow travelers (mostly Israelis)- the sparseness of tourists on the trail and difficulty of the climb created a more social and convivial environment with other travelers than we had experienced elsewhere so far.
The following morning we woke up to the sunlight streaming through our bedroom and slowly brightening the view of the gorge across the way. After breakfast, we set off with a group of about six other hikers and arrived at at the bus departure point after 3 hours. Along the walk we watched mountain goats gingerly scampering up and down the sides of the steep mountain trails and walked through waterfalls which ran through the path.
By the time we arrived, my left knee was giving me trouble, so I sat in the bus stop cafe, but Andrew walked down another steep path to the river with the other hikers. We shared a mediocre Chinese food lunch and clambered aboard the bus to return to the nearby city of Lijiang where we were staying.
Tiger Leaping Gorge was a highlight of our China visit. The views were unlike anything we'd ever seen, we loved being so far from the urban pollution, and formed better (albeit still temporary) friendships than we have so far on the trip. That said, I don't think we'll make such strenuous hikes a major part of our round the world trip.