Trekking the Tiger Leaping Gorge

Trip Start Nov 06, 2009
Trip End May 28, 2011

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Flag of China  , Yunnan Province,
Thursday, December 17, 2009

Set off on the 8.30am bus to Qiaotou village, 60km away from Lijiang, where the gorge trek begins. We were joined by Freddie who we met at Panba hostel - lovely guy, 18 years old, travelling aroud China solo on a gap year before going to Nottingham Uni to do Chinese Studies.  A girl next to me spent most of the journey throwing up into the bus spit bin so it was quite a relief to finally pull into Qiaotou just before 11am. 

The Tiger Leaping Gorge canyon, arguably the world's deepest river canyon, is on the Yangtze River (locally dubbed the Jinsha Jiang, or Golden Sands river). It 16km long and sits between where the river passes between the snowcapped 5596m Jade Dragon Snow mountain and 5396m Haba Shan mountain. Legend has it that a tiger jumped across the river at the narrowest part (although still 25m wide) of the gorge to escape from a hunter.

There are two trails you can do - the 22km old 'high' road, known as the 28 bend path, and the shorter newer 'low road' which is (usually) concreted and which tour buses take groups along. At the moment though they are dynamiting the lower road, I think to widen it, probably something to do with the crazy crazy plans to damn the gorge, so it's technically closed. Before we started we had to read and agree to a bit of paper stating that we understood that we were entering the area on the understanding that we risk death and injury. We planned to do the more interesting high road trek anyway so didn't think the lower road being closed would affect us too much... more of that later...

As we are in a hurry to get back to Kunming in order to catch our flight to Guilin on Sunday we didn't have as much time as we would have liked to do the trek. Everyone we'd spoken to who had already done it, and the guide book, said that you need at least three days to do it - two days to get from Qiaotou, the starting point, to Walnut Garden at the end, and then back the third day. We could only afford to take 2 days in total to get there and back to Lijiang where'd we'd left our bags, and then back to Dali on Friday and Kunming by Saturday night. We therefore planned to just do half of the trek, sleep at a guesthouse at Bendiwan village, which is about halfway, and head back to Qiaotou, Lijiang and Dali on the second day.

We started walking bang on 11am. The high road trail is pretty tough, a steep, constricting and crumbling path, but with beautiful views that start off with farmland lots of terraced cornfields. The cultivated land becomes more fragmented as the land steepens further into the gorge and is gradually replaced by the imposing mountain faces of Jade Dragon Snow and Haba Shan, which make the river look almost like a little stream at the bottom as you're so high up.

The first 4 hours trekking are pretty much vertical and rather gruelling. After an hour and a half we reached the Naxi Family Guesthouse so stopped there for a brief rest and cold drink in the sunny courtyard.

After another hour or so we reached the beginning of the famous and toughest '28 bends', part of the trail, pretty much vertical and particularly tiring at the hottest part of the day. We stupidly hadn't checked the temperature and had layered up so were sweating profusely about 5 minutes into the hike and ended up carrying about 5 layers of unneccessary clothing in our backpacks for the duration of it.

By around 3pm we'd reached the 2600 summit of the 28 bends (relief!). The path then went quite steeply downhill for a bit before flattening out a little. A friendly dog appeared at Yacha village and accompanied us for about half an hour.

We reached the Halfway Guesthouse at Bendiwan village at around 4.30. This is where Freddie had decided to stay the night before meeting friends at Sean's Guesthouse in a couple of days, as unlike us he had wisely planned to spend more time completing the trek.

It was also one of the places that we had originally planned to stay at as we'd thought we wouldn't be able to get much further before dark. However, as we'd got there a lot earlier than expected and had seen several notices painted on the rocks advising that Sean's Guesthouse at Walnut Garden village (almost the end of the trail) had '50% off drinks Happy Time 4-8pm' only 2 hours away, we decided have a brief stop at the Halfway for a refreshing drink and to use the 'scenic view' loo with the most awesome view over Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, then plod on to Sean's.

At Halfway we found Vince and Tor who we'd previously met at the Jade Emu in Dali, and who were spending their third night on the gorge. So stayed chatting with them and Freddie for a little while before leaving them at about 5pm and resuming the trek to Walnut Garden on our own.

This part was the most precarious - we were pretty high up by this point and the view was awesome, although we couldn't bear to look down too much as the windy path around the mountains was incredibly narrow (about 50cm at some points), with several mini waterfalls running down making it quite slippy in parts, and with a very scary sheer 2000m drop off the side of the cliff. It was a relief to get to Sean's in under 2 hours from there.

We were shown to our 3 quid a night room which had an awesome view overlooking the gorge and a teddy bear on the bed, ordered some much needed food and drink, showered, and settled in the living room to watch BBC World.

Then all of a sudden my guts decided to turn on me, bigtime.

Usually I have the opposite problem when I go abroad so had left the emergency Immodium Instants in my big backpack back at Panba Hostel. Doh! We switched rooms to one with a bathroom as our original basic room was a few minutes away from the communal loos, down two lots of stairs. This would usually have been absolutely fine but by this point my guts were explosive and I was about to decamp to the bog for the rest of the night.

The new room was double the price (but still only 6 quid each), and far more luxurious with an en suite and telly. Worth every penny as I spent the whole night up and down from bed to bog, feeling totally wretched and panicking about how my bowels would cope with the 7 hours of travelling we were due to do the following day.

In the morning, having had zero sleep and depriving Chris of most of his too, I felt no better but a girl at the guesthouse gave me a handful of charcoal tablets and some Chinese immodium type pills.

We'd arranged for a minibus to take us back to Qiaotou along the low road - although it was being dynamited it was apparently still just about possible to drive along it, although we'd been told the earlier the better in order to start whilst there were fewer workmen on the road. The girl at the guesthouse kindly explained to the driver for us that I was feeling very fragile so it may be necessary to stop at short notice for me to jump out and 'use the loo', and we set off.

In hindsight had we realised quite how blasted up the lower road was we would probably have decided to hike all the way back along the high road afterall and miss our flight to Guilin.

Although only about 20km in distance, the journey took over an hour. Precarious is an understatement. Most of the road had been reduced to rubble, 5 tonne trucks of hardcore and explosives were maneouvering around each other on a crumbling cliff road, inches away from sheer 200m drops into the rapids below. Workmen were drilling holes into rock faces where dynamite would then blow them up. At one point where recent dynamiting had caused a landslide we decided to get out of the van and walk whilst the intrepid (maniac) driver cleared enough rubble to just about get the van around it. As we bounced along I tried hard to not look down and clenched my buttocks so tight I now have buns of steel.

Located a loo as soon as we got to Qiaotou then hopped straight into another minibus headed for Lijiang. Fortunately this trip was a lot quicker than on the way down as we'd paid over the odds (fiver each instead of 2.50) to a private minibus driver rather than wait for the public bus as we didn't know when and where it was due to leave from as there is no proper bus station in the village, no one speaks English, and we were desperate to get back to Lijiang asap.

Picked up our bags from Panba Hostel, Immodiumed up and jumped on the third bus of the day for the 3.5 hour trip back to Dali. The Immodium so far seemed to be helping, although I was feeling increasingly nauseous. I'd deliberately eaten nothing all day to avoid worsening my condition, not that I had any kind of appetite anyway, so only water and a few sips of hibiscus tea had passed by lips. A few minutes into the bus ride I'd thrown the water and hibiscus tea up into the bus spit bucket. Nice. Serves me right for being disgusted at pukey girl on the way the Qiaotou.

Still felt rough but was hugely relieved to eventually be back in Dali, and the familar surroundings of the Jade Emu, and the same dorm room as before, and Jeremy the Dutchman was also still there. We all wrapped up in blankets in the common room and watched a couple of films (The Darjeeling Express and Lord of War), and felt better and better. Salivated over Chris' dinner although he would only let me have a teeny bit of plain rice and popcorn in case anything set me off again.

After a decent night's sleep I now feel - touch wood - fine and much happier after a bellyfull of breakfast. It's a lovely sunny morning in Dali so we're chilling out here for a while before catching the 1.30pm bus back to Kunming where we'll stay tonight, then off to Guilin on Sunday morning.
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Wendy on

You poor, poor thing! Hope you're feeling a bit better now! What a nightmare.

Where will you be for Christmas? xxx

loli on

Oh my God!!! que te puedo decir??? mi estomago se hizo tripas al leer lo que hicieron en ese lugar tan peligroso!!! Pero Dios es muy grande y me los cuido!! por favor cuidense mucho no hagan cosas tan peligrosas, no dejo de dar graciasa dios que llegaron salvos y sanos a ljiang y que te sientes mucho mejor, no vuelvas a dejar la bolsita de las medicinas, tienes que cragar con ellas todo el tiempo!!! te adoroxxx

ristohannah on

much better thanks! Will be on Hainan Island for Xmas. Have you got snow? x

ristohannah on

don't worry, we'll be careful, promise! x

Wendy on

So much snow that I may be spending my first Christmas with the Jacob clan.... Eek!

ristohannah on

ah, enjoy, wherever you spend it! xxx

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