We enjoy China for all its exotic names. How can a traveler pass up sights with names such as the Dragon’s Backbone or Tiger Leaping Gorge. And thus, after our stay in Lijiang, we made our way to Tiger Leaping Gorge. A legendary tale, the gorge gets its named from a tiger that leapt the middle gorge while escaping hunters. The gorge itself 16 km long and 3900m deep. The tiger is said to have leapt from rock to rock, crossing the Yangtze river and escaping to the other side of the gorge.

From Lijiang, it’s and easy 2 hour bus ride to the start of the trail. Bus rides in Asia all bring their fair share of vomiters.It really perplexes us—how can so many people be sick at once? This bus ride was no exception with three people vomiting into the wastebasket. Oh, the smells! We watched in amusement as the other foreigner on the bus moved back our way, only to realize we had two curled over wastebaskets by us; she quickly moved her way back to the front!

Anyhow, soon enough we arrived at our destination.We chatted with Jane, the friendly host of Jane’s Guesthouse. She gave us clear instructions on the trail and sent us on our way. Our first days hike wound high up into the hills through grain fields with views of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain directly in front of us. We climbed for about two hours during the heat of the day until we reached the Naxi Guesthouse. The sight of our hosts for the night was a welcome reprieve from the trail. The hike itself wasn’t difficult but the heat drained us. The Naxi Guesthouse sits among surrounding grain fields with panoramic views of the Tiger Leaping Gorge and Jade Dragon Snow Mountain range.

We arrived as the household was collecting what looked like lima beans from the grains. Two women beat the grains with a paddle like whip, one after the other. We’ve seen this all over the area; people working in the fields pulverizing something with their sticks, but it was interesting to see up close. After the women whacked the grains to mere shreds, the little beans/seeds were collected.  We ate these same seeds/beans the night before at our guesthouse in Lijiang; they’re very similar to a lima bean but probably a distant cousin or something.

Later that night, we watched the sun set over the valley and enjoyed a simple meal of fried rice and sauteed vegetables. This is our meal more often than not; sometimes we’ll get adventurous and add tofu and tomatoes to the mix. We had one bad chicken experience early on in China that we haven’t quite recovered from, and thus we’re not that adventurous when ordering meals on our own anymore.

The next morning, we rose with the sun. Unlike the day before, it appeared we’d enjoy a cool day on the trail. Clouds hid the mountains from us, so we were happy to have enjoyed such fantastic views the day before. We ordered an omelette and apple pancakes for our breakfast, but received something very unexpected instead. Both were more flatbread like than omelette and pancake like. Don’t get us wrong, they were good but nowhere else does it seem like things are up to interpretation than China.

We hit the trail early in order to conquer the notorious 28 bends before the heat of the day. Before we started this trail, we heard all sorts of different things. Some fellow trekkers acted like the 28 bends were excruciatingly strenuous while others said they were nothing. The extremes about this trail were as wide as the gorge itself. Some folks mentioned the treacherous waterfall while others said it was a mere trickle of water. So, where in lies the truth? Well, as we found, it lies somewhere in the middle.

Starting off from the Naxi Guesthouse, we reached the 28 bends in about 15 minutes. As soon as the trail started up, we decided to count the bends. In truth, there are more like 40 bends (we sort of lost count as some of them are really long). But, give or take two, there’s no way there were only 28 bends! It was strenuous but nothing unmanageable. Within two hours, we reached the top of the bends and the highest point on the trail. If clouds and haze didn’t mask the gorge, views from this point would have been stupendous. Nonetheless, we still shared wonderful views. Since we started early, the viewpoint was all ours; there wasn’t another soul in sight.

After rewarding ourselves our most coveted trail treat, snickers, we started down the other side. The trail wound through pine forests hugging the edge of the gorge. We originally planned to only walk 4-5 hours on our second day but the guesthouse in which we chose to stay for the night had no rooms available. We walked on a further few minutes to another guesthouse but their bathrooms reminded us of the Longsheng bus station. We were faced with the option of peeing over a smelly, cement trough again or walking another three hours to the next guesthouse. We chose the latter.

On this section of the trail, many mountain goats crossed our path. The trail took us under rock overhangs and along the cliff side. It was a pretty part of the trail. Eventually, we came upon the much anticipated waterfall. Like the 28 bends, many different perspectives exist with this waterfall. Some make it seem like a treacherous crossing while others liken it to walking through a small stream. The truth is somewhere in the middle. It’s definitely a waterfall, but not necessarily a dangerous one to cross. Sure, it’s on a sheer cliff and if you really tried you might go tumbling off of it but most people step with sure footing across this fall. Perhaps during the rainy season, this is a dangerous crossing but not this time of year. Funny enough though, we met up with some folks coming off the trail a few days after us and they relived their horror of the waterfall crossing. They were terrified, and we just listened as they recounted their experience. It just goes to show that everyone’s perspective about this trail seems to be different. But trust me, those raised in the Pacific NW will have no problem with this trail!

Take note of the size of our packs below. Chris and I disagreed on the value of raincoats for this trip. Since I insisted they were an important piece of safety equipment, he felt I needed to carry them. Thus, along with our raincoats, I carried all of our toiletries and clothes as well. Chris would like to point out though that the only extra clothes he brought was a T-shirt (but that doesn’t change the fact that I carried far more than him—just look at the packs). More pictures from our Tiger Leaping Gorge trek can be seen on
Jodi’s and Chris’ flickr pages.

Comments are closed.