scene. Small farm houses and villages, spread out amongst the sloping green blanket of trees and brush, are the only signs of life out here. Winding our way further and further up, we finally find the main trail head. The gorge itself is a massive ravine - narrow, rocky and steeped on both sides by Jade Dragon Mountain and Haba Snow Mountain. Climbing along the twisting dusty path that clings to the side of the sheer cliff face, we marvel at the spectacular sights of the snow covered peaks mirroring our ascent. What started out as rolling fields and sweeping wide open views quickly turns into sharp vertical stretches of unrelenting trail and narrow crags as the looming mountain ranges press in on one another. It's a taxing hike. The altitude and steep grade take its toll on me as I strip layer after layer, sweating, my heart pounding in my chest. Before long, I’m down to just a shirt and pants and still drenched from exertion. It’s a good feeling to push my body to its limits and beyond. I savor the challenge and welcome the test of endurance and wills. It reminds me of the struggle I went through to
reshape my mind and body at a young age. Always finding the threshold of what I think is within my ability, then pushing myself just a little bit farther - inch by inch, day by day. The burning sensation in my legs shoved to the back of my mind, my body moving in machine like precision, I press onward ahead of the group - no thoughts but the shifting rocks under my feet and the calculated placement of one foot after another. We reach a section of the hike called 28 passes, aptly named for the number of times the trail doubles back on itself as it zigzags its way up the mountain. The hardest stretch yet, and by the end of it, taking every ounce of strength and determination to force my body up and over the crest. Reaching the summit of the pass, all that effort and hard work pays off. The views from the ledge overlooking the precipice of the gorge below and the sharp rocky crags of snow flecked peaks in the distance is breathtaking. It felt like we were standing on top of the world, seeing the full majesty of natures creation on a scale reserved for gods not men. An elderly local woman selling fruits and snacks from
the edge of the earth smiles a toothless grin at us as we purchase an Asian pear and proceed to devour it to stave off hunger. One of the members of our group who spoke Chinese soon learned the astonishing fact that she was 75 years old and climbed this path every single day to sell her wares to passing tourists and hikers. If that’s not something to aspire towards and tout as a benefit of healthy living and vigorous exercise, I don’t know what is. The difficult part behind us and our bodies sore from the painstaking climb, we all welcomed the slow gradual trek that followed our reach of the summit. Soaking up the views and stopping frequently to take pictures, stand over the edge to gaze down at the gorge below and place another rock on a marker pile left by other hikers, we were surprised when we turned a corner and realized our stop for the night hung on the horizon. Halfway Guesthouse stands perched high above the valley floor with a large wooden deck that juts out into the void of nothingness. Offering heart stopping views of the majestic cliffs, so close you feel like you can reach out and touch them, we see why this is
such a popular midway point for travelers attempting the two day trek. After a raucous night of incredible food, cold beers and boisterous company, we all settled in to get some rest for the second half of our hike tomorrow. Already so overwhelmed at the magnificence of this place and all it has to offer, I can hardly imagine what else could possibly top the memories I’ve made today. Kissing the necklace that goes with me everywhere and keeps me safe and in the heart of someone special, I drop into an exhausted motionless sleep as my mind lets my subconscious soar high above the clouds and peaks I walked amongst today. Tomorrow we descend back into the valley and end our journey by the river that gave this landmark its legendary name: The cavernous gorge the tiger leapt.
We rise before the sun. It's 7 am and the cold dark hours of the morning slow my efforts to a crawl. Gathering my things and wrapping myself in every layer possible, I finish just in time to see the shuttle pulling up in front of our guesthouse. The bleary eyed group of travelers are all heading for the same destination: Tiger Leaping Gorge, a thirty kilometer hike through some of the most gorgeous and scenic countryside China has to offer. Between reading "Atlas Shrugged" and drifting in and out of sleep, the two hour ride goes by in the blink of an eye. Strapping on our day packs and leaving the big bags behind, the three of us start the long journey into the entrance to the valley. In the lowlands, terraced rice paddies and the slow ambling river at the foot of the mountains provides a quaint