Tiger Leaping Gorge - Day 2, Living on the Edge
Trip Start Feb 03, 2010
56Trip End Jul 09, 2010
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Where I stayed
Mama Naxi's Guesthouse
Woke up from under my huge Duvet – looked out to the mountain vista anticipating a bright blue sky and……..the mountains were gone and the sky was not. It was raining! My worst fear – slippery rocks. Just the day before, the New Yorkers and I were saying how impossible this would be to do in the rain…..the path was difficult as it was, add rain and paths would turn to mud and the bare rock parts would be too slippery to walk……..thoughts of Margot at the bottom of some gorge…..
I came out onto the balcony and looked at the swirling clouds. Mountain weather can be so unpredictable and the clouds looked like they were thinking of doing something – I just couldn't figure out what. The French kids were already up and running around being kids so I knew I couldn’t stay here…….taking a chance on the path seemed like the only option. Screaming kids or a chance at a slippery slide down the side of a mountain into the World’s deepest gorge….the decision was easy. Take more stupid chances and head out. I unloaded all my candy and a book I had brought in an attempt to make my pack lighter to give my boobs a break. Hit the trail around 9:30. My plan was to get to Halfway Guesthouse for breakfast, or maybe brunch.
Hitting the trail at the same time was a French engineer expat and his wife. They were on a very tight schedule as their driver!!!! (It is good to be an expat anywhere!!!) was waiting for them at the end of the trail to take them to Shangri-la. I asked them where they were staying in Shangri-la and they looked at me dumbfounded and told me that their 'agent’ had arranged all lodgings and they had no idea – they went where their driver took them. I didn’t want to spend my day with them. Anyway they rushed off to complete the ‘task’ of Tiger Leaping Gorge. It was raining lightly so I hiked along with my umbrella. Must have looked completely goofy – me, alone on the side of a cliff, walking along slowly yet gingerly, trying not to slip, tucked under a bright yellow umbrella. I have become one of those eccentric women I used to see and wonder about. I chose not to do the rain poncho thing because they become little saunas in no time.
At the first ‘Y" in the road, I chose the lower path and looked up to see the French couple way above me on the higher path….hmmm. Along came a herd of goats and eventually a goat herder and I mimed ‘the right path????” and for once got the affirmative nod I usually lack. I continued on and eventually the French couple caught up to me. They were really motoring – had done an extra bit and had to backtrack and now, and in true engineering fashion, had recalculated to increase speed to accomplish mission. I was truly thankful I had the time to meander. Truth is, I give thanks daily for having the luxury of time that most of the world does not. It makes a huge difference not to have a timetable and I am grateful for this fact.
So, again alone on the mountain as the rain fell lightly and the path got narrower and narrower. Again, I don’t think the pictures can really portray how precarious this path became. It was as narrow as 18 inches in places with the vertical drop below – 2000 meters.
And the stones were wet and I was afraid. Again, the realization of how incredibly stupid this endeavor was – to do alone, flooded my head. But then again, what difference would it be if there was a group? If you are going to fall, you fall. Sort of like life. Mountaintops and danger and solitude make for many deep thoughts – try it sometime – really – you are truly alive in these moments and it is exhilarating.
I had to continue as it was just as difficult to go back. The narrow path then joined up with the water pipes and became even narrower…….talk about living on the edge.
As I got closer I realized the waterfall fell directly on and over the path and then I got even more frightened. Now what? The stones I was on were already wet and slick, now add a friggin waterfall. This is when I figured there would be value in numbers. Maybe others did it roped together??? I continued, hoping for another traveler to show, or maybe a horse guy?? Nope. Just me and the waterfall and a very very narrow path. I picked my way under the flow and through the stream and again, had time for those ‘truly alive’ moments that you savor. I know why people climb mountains and jump from planes and walk tightropes between buildings…….there is such a high from the accomplishment it keeps you going till the next challenge. I was really proud of myself for not freaking out.
The next few hours were much calmer than the first couple of the second day and consisted mostly of the descent. I ran into only a few goat herders, lots of goats, a lone horseman and a couple of travelers.
I never did stop for brunch as the journey seemed to beckon more than did a leisurely lunch. My toes jammed into the front of my shoes and my knees screamed as I picked my way down the switchbacks. I definitely prefer going up to coming down. As hard as the climb up is you know there will be a reward at the top. Coming down is just punishing on old body parts and a reminder of the marvel of knee joints.
As soon as I rounded a corner and saw the road and the town and the sign for "Tina’s Guesthouse”, I knew the challenge was over and wished I had taken it slower. Funny how that always happens. So many hard things you just want to do and then you want to go back and relish in the difficulty.
As I stepped into Tina’s, planning to have a restful lunch, two couples were just leaving. They seemed to be the only ones around so I asked them if they were going to Qiao Tou. They were and offered me a seat in their negotiated minivan and before I could even have a pee, we were off on our way back to Jane’s. What I didn’t know is that the lower road was still being blasted – this road, just above the Yangtze,, is another Chinese engineering marvel. The gorge is so deep and the river so narrow, to carve a road into the rock without blocking the river is an incredible undertaking. My new buddies told me that the trip back to Janes - about 30 kms, could take anywhere from 1 hour to 6 hours as others had been delayed by massive blasted boulders, had to get out of the vehicle and climb the boulders to get in another minivan and carry on. Hmmmm….new information and I was glad to be sharing this part with some really nice interesting folks. In the van were two German girls – one currently studying in Beijing and the other a Lufthansa flight attendant. Both could speak Mandarin fluently. The other two were a Swiss guy and his Japanese, Ecuadorian born, girlfriend who did her university education at UBC and now lives in Switzerland doing Post doctoral studies. All very cool and fun people. We shared our experiences of the gorge and they all thought a solo trip was more admirable than stupid.
As we bumped through the road construction and blast zones we shared our gratitude for being able to see the gorge now before the road is completed and hordes of Chinese tourists descend from massive busses and the cable cars get built and the wild and danger of the trek is paved and ‘civilized”.
Our trip back took us about one hour and we got dropped off at Jane’s, collected our bags and negotiated a price for a ride back to Ligiang. Together we decided to go to the same Guesthouse – Mama Naxi’s in Ligiang. This leg of the journey took just over two hours where we shared our stories and helped the Germans understand the difference between Americans and Canadians, why Swiss hate Germans and the flight attendant told us funny stories about different nationalities of passengers she encounters on the different routes Lufthansa flies. A perfect conclusion to a challenging yet exhilarating journey.