Lions and Tigers and Gorges, Oh My!
Trip Start Oct 24, 2005
331Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
Five Fingers Guesthouse
Two hours later, we were back in Qiaotou, the jumping off point to Tiger Leaping Gorge, the next stop on our Tour de China. We clambered off the bus, collected our bags, and made our way to the trail. The fee here too had been raised since our book had been published, so once again we grumbled as we dished out the dough (only 50Y a piece - about $6.50). Once inside, we found a guesthouse near the trailhead where we could store our big packs for a few days, and we were off
Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the (if not the) deepest gorges in the world. It was formed by the Yangzi River carving its way through the terrain, eventually "nestling" itself between Haba Mountain and Yulong Xue Mountain. The creative name derives itself from the fable that a tiger once leapt across the river near the middle of the gorge. The gorge stretches for about 16 kilometers, and at one point, the peaks tower above it at an elevation of more than 13,000 feet. The area has become somewhat popular with travelers who can hike through the mountains lining the gorge. We were interested in doing just that, which was what had brought us to that point. In the past few years, a road following the lower of the two paths along the gorge has been paved, enabling the people living in the area easier access to the rest of the world, but also providing people who don't want to or can't walk the path a way to see the gorge. Unfortunately, as seems to be the case everywhere in China, the decision has been made to dam the river. There is work ongoing to start this process, which will eventually mean no more gorge (the waters will rise thousands of feet, submerging the areas we visited on our hike).
We started the hike around 11:00 in the morning with the goal of making it to Bendiwan Village, some six hours away, that afternoon. While in Zhongdian, the weather had been gorgeous: cloudless blue skies and sunny weather. However, when we woke that morning, the sky was full of clouds, blocking out the sun. Not a good sign. It hadn't cleared much by the time we began the hike, which meant that our views of the mountains lining the gorge were obscured. However, as we progressed, the clouds cleared a bit, making way for some sunshine, but never completely dissipating
We stopped for lunch about an hour and a half into the hike at the same place everyone else had decided to take a break. The food was tasty, cheap, and quick. Due to a lack of seating, we were joined by the Chinese man who was using the donkey to carry his belongings. We had noticed him having a very difficult time on the trail, and we were wondering how long he'd be able to continue. Perhaps one of the hindrances to his completing the trek was his chain-smoking, which we were treated to during our lunch.
Food in our bellies and ready to roll, we returned to the trail, knowing the most difficult section was yet to come. As we made our way to the demanding Twenty-Eight Bends, we passed the man with the donkey, and noticed he was really struggling. We refused offers to stop and have tea at a few spots and finally arrived at the Twenty-Eight Bends: some very steep twists and turns that took us to an elevation of more than 8,000 feet. It was a strenuous stretch, but rewarding, and once we made it over the hump, we knew the rest of the afternoon would be much easier (which it was). It was around this time we saw the Chinese man riding the donkey and his guide carrying his pack
Between the Twenty-Eight Bends and Bendiwan, we started chatting with the couple from Montana and the four other westerners. The couple from Montana, Clare and Rod, are also English teachers. They teach at a university in Changsheng in China and were at the beginning of their Spring Festival holiday (which would carry them into Vietnam). The other group was comprised of two Swedes (sisters, Carin and Charlotte, one of whom is studying Mandarin at a university in Shanghai), a Canadian (Jean-Phillipe, who had studied Mandarin at university and had traveled to China to try out his skills), and a Norwegian (Joor, a poli sci Masters student at the same university in Shanghai as Cara). The eight of us decided to shack up at the same guesthouse in Bendiwan, which we arrived at around 5:00.
Upon our arrival, the family who ran the guesthouse (of which we were to be the only guests that evening) presented us with tea and some nice (crunchy!) pears. We chatted a bit and relaxed our legs. As the evening progressed, we started on the homemade plum wine that had been the main attraction of this guesthouse for many. I wasn't terribly fond of it and switched to beer (no worries, there were plenty enjoying it who were happy to pick up my slack). The food (while it took a loooonnnng time to prepare) was tasty and we partook of rousing discussions into the wee hours of the morn, finally heading to bed around 12:30.
I woke the next morning, looked out the window, and groaned. What had evolved into a pretty good weather the day before had since turned into thick and heavy fog. I couldn't see farther than maybe forty feet in front of me - not very good conditions for hiking along narrow mountain paths
The hike that afternoon was mostly downhill, which worked my poor, feeble knees a bit more than the uphill had. We passed slews of mountain goats, and were in turn passed by some of the locals. After an hour or so, we had a choice of following the road or taking the high trail the rest of the way to Walnut Garden. We chose the high trail, which was far more interesting, taking us through farm fields and lots of gorgeous greenery. We arrived at Walnut Garden, our stopping point for the day, around 4:00. We made ourselves at home and marveled at the luxurious accommodations: western toilets, electric blankets, and an extensive menu (containing lots of tasty western food). After a lengthy lunch/snack, Konrad and I set out to explore the area. Shortly after, we were joined by Cara, Charlotte, Joor, and Jean-Phillipe. The six of us walked along the road until we found the path to Tiger Leaping Stone (the place where the tiger supposedly crossed the river). Unfortunately, due to our late start, I didn't think we had time to hike all the way down to the river (it was already 6:00). Nonetheless, we set off on the trail, snaking our way down to the river. Near a picturesque pool, we paused to soak up the scenery... well, some of us paused. Joor and Jean-Phillipe decided to carry on. After a bit, I checked my watch and decided if we were going to make it up before dark (none of us had any lights) it was time to ascend the path
Back at the guesthouse, we chatted a bit with the other groups that were lodging there as well: all of them English teachers from around China (during the Spring Festival, which coincides with the Chinese New Year, the universities are given five weeks vacation, so we ran into lots of teachers on holiday). As we huddled closer to the fire, we pondered our next move. Both of us were enjoying ourselves immensely, but we hadn't planned on being gone longer than two nights, which meant we were going to have to be content to be dirty. We decided to wait and see how the weather was the next morning before making our decision.
The weather was still grey and cloudy (maybe even a bit drizzly) the next morning, so we joined the others (save Joor) on the minibus back to the trailhead. We were quite sad to be leaving as we both felt that The Gorge had been the best thing we'd done in China, hands down. It was so nice to be back to nature, out of the polluted cities, befriending others along the way. But we hoped our next stop, Dali, would be similarly satisfying, so we hopped into the van and sped off along the low trail.