Final Exam, Yunnan, Part 4: Tiger Leaping Gorge

This is part 4 of a 7 part series on our recent travels in the Yunnan province of China:

  1. Introduction
  2. Good Night, Vietnam – Hanoi to Nanning to Lijiang
  3. Biking Around Lijiang
  4. Tiger Leaping Gorge
  5. Relaxing in Dali
  6. A Step Back in Time – Shaxi
  7. Seven Legs of Transit – Lijiang to Shenzhen to Hong Kong
Tiger Leaping Gorge

Tiger Leaping Gorge

After a phenomenal, but full, day exploring Lijiang, we headed out of town to nearby Tiger Leaping Gorge (TLG). TLG is one of the deepest and most spectacular river canyons and is  3790 meters (12434 feet) at its deepest point. A main branch of the Yangtze river runs through the gorge and is roaringly loud. Most travelers spend 2-7 days exploring the gorge. There is a series of trails that run along the mountain ridge to the center of the gorge to the main road, and another series of trails that start from the main road and descend to the bottom of the gorge. There are a series of guesthouses along the trail and the main road that allow you to do hikes for as little or as long as you want.

The hike down

The hike down

Unfortunately, we were short on time for so could only do a one-day trip. The drive from Lijiang is 3 hours, and the mountain hike takes a minimum 8 hours, and the last van ride back to Lijiang was at 3:30 PM, so that option was out. Instead, we bypassed the mountain hike and went directly to Middle TLG, near Tina’s Guesthouse. From there, we set out to do a 3 hour hike on “the ladders” that would take us down to the river below.

The hike down was one of the few “real” hikes in China, unlike most trails tend to have paved steps with pretty easy routes. The beginning was walking down rocky steps, but by the bottom you had to descend ladders and climb over reasonably sized rocks. Along the way several entrepreneurial locals set up little shops where you could buy drinks, food, and other libations, including cannabis.

Roaring Yangtze River

Roaring Yangtze River

The hike down took about an hour, and we were rewarded with fantastic views (and sounds) of the Yangtze. We spent about an hour going out to different rocks overlooking the river and listening to the powerful sound of the river forming around the giant rocks.

The hike up was much more tiring, as it finally got a bit warm (we hiked down in our newly acquired gloves and hats), and the uphill climb was more intense. The scariest part was climbing Tiante, or heavenly ladder. The ladder is about 100 ft tall and, while secured well to the rock, was still a frightening ascent looking right down into the river. We made it, though, and after another half-hour of hiking returned to Tina’s, ate lunch, and took the bus back to Lijiang.

That night, instead of staying in Lijiang, we decided to head directly to Dali in order to get a head-start on the next day. This leg was our biggest challenge to date. We had no ticket booked to Dali, and planned on showing up to the train station and buying one for the last train, at 8 PM. Again, our hostel, Garden Inn, came through for us and wrote out “I want to go to the train station” and “I want to go to Dali” for us. We started to worry when our bus from TLG dropped us off at 6:30 on the other side of Old Town from our hostel. Fortunately, we had a phone with GPS and offline maps with our hostel bookmarked on it (a trick we had picked up after China the first time). We turned that on and did a 20-minute jog through the windy streets of Old Town, and actually made it to our hostel 10 minutes earlier than planned!

The taxi went fine, and we were able to get to the train station around 7:15, bought tickets without issue, and made it on our train with over 15 minutes to spare. It was a big accomplishment for us to navigate a tough hike, race through the back streets of Lijiang, and get on a train without any language skills all in a day. We definitely passed this day of our test and were ready to conquer our next destination, Dali.

A few more pictures:

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