My pack sat heavy on my shoulders as I set off along the road, squinting up against the sun to see the path snake up the hillside. It would be a tough hike, that first day at Tiger Leaping Gorge, but not an overly long one. I’d decided to spend two nights in the Gorge, so I was in no rush. It would be a mere 2.5 to 3 hours to my first stop, and I was perfectly fine with that.
I wish that all of nature’s magnificence, the emotion of the land, the living energy of place could be photographed.” – Annie Leibovitz
Day One at Tiger Leaping Gorge
I’d just come from the Old Town of Lijiang and — while I’d enjoyed the cultural and historical experience — was keen for a return to Nature and her blue skies.
After I reached the trail-head, the path began to climb up a treeless slope. I was soon drenched with sweat, and when the trees finally appeared I breathed a sigh of relief. While the trail wasn’t at all crowded, I still encountered groups of other hikers. Some of them rode mules, which were exciting to pass on the narrow, precarious paths hugging the sides of the gorge.
Once I found myself in the shelter of the forests, I came across a special kind of comedy: signs making a valiant effort to provide English translations. These were some of the best.
Day Two at Tiger Leaping Gorge
The first day at Tiger Leaping Gorge had been fairly easy, but the second day promised to a strenuous one. I would hike from the first village to the last — past the official end of the trek and on to the village of Walnut Grove. I got an early start, not wanting to have to rush in order to reach my destination before dusk.
In the crisp cool of the morning, a thick shroud of fog hung low in the Gorge — obscuring all surrounding mountains, even the river far below. Instead of jaw-dropping scenery, I trudged through a world of white mist — swirling and mysterious. It was awesome.
A collective gasp escaped from us all, followed by a flurry of shutter clicks. I couldn’t stand the jostling, so I carried on and found a quiet spot further up, where a waterfall cascaded across the path to tumble down to the valley below. It was the kind of view that never leaves you. It was the kind of view that makes you feel small and incredibly blessed. It was the kind of view that makes you fall in love with a place.
Daylight began to dwindle before I reached Walnut Grove, though a 30 minute long detour in the wrong direction did me no favors. The terraces seemed to glow in the golden light, and shadows lengthened along the folds of the hills. It was a magical hour, but I pressed on until Walnut Grove at last came into view.
I stayed the night at Tibet Guest House and — to be completely honest — wouldn’t recommend the place to anyone but an enemy. The service was nearly non-existent and disinterested, the room was dirty and smelled of cigarettes, and the food was mediocre at best. But hey, better than sleeping outside, yeah?
Day Three at Tiger Leaping Gorge
My plan for the third and final day at Tiger Leaping Gorge was to hike down to the river and work my way along before climbing a Sky Ladder up the cliff-face to Tina’s — the guesthouse my bus to Shangri-la would be departing from. After a bit of detective work to find the start of the trail, I was underway. The trail itself is maintained by locals, and there are payment stations set up along the way to give you access to each section. Each costs anywhere from 10 to 15 RMB. I paid for the first section — the Ray of Sunshine Trail — and the first Sky Ladder section, which deposits climbers at Sandy Guest House, a short walk from Tina’s.
Were they worth it? You be the judge:
I remembered it within seconds of leaving the ground. The bulky bag snagged on branches and metal ‘safety’ rings, forcing me to descend a step or two to disentangle myself before continuing. As I neared the top, I was exhausted. My hands felt weak and sapped of strength — perhaps because I was so terrified I was striving to wring water from each rung. About 75% of the way up, a voice called out encouragement up to me, and I glanced between my feet to see a French hiker literally right under me. At least if I fell I wouldn’t die alone…
After what seemed like an eternity, I made it to the ledge above. I slouched against the cliff-face for a while, until my body stopped shaking and I could breathe normally. Never again.
It was time for a freshly cooked meal, something cold to drink, and a promise to myself that I would avoid ladders for a very, very long time.
Noticing a dearth of useful info? That’s because this post by Alesha and Jarryd of Nomadasaurus fame contains everything you need to know for hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge. Check out their post and follow them — their blog is awesome!
Ever been to Tiger Leaping Gorge? What was your experience there? Any thoughts or wisdom to share? Let us know in the comments below!