A Journey to Tiger Leaping Gorge
Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of China’s best kept secrets. Boasting breath-taking views and epic hiking trails galore, it is a must see for anyone passing through or living elsewhere in the province.
The Gorge begins where the raging rapids of the JinSha River (a major tributary of the Yangtze River) pass between the imposing twosome of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and HaBa Snow Mountain. Both of these permanently snow-capped mountains are approximately 5,500 metres above sea level. Even a relatively laid-back hike along one of the well-paved trails can prove very demanding at that altitude but it all feels worthwhile when you arrive at one of the multiple awe-inspiring spots that are so commonplace in this area of outstanding natural beauty.
Whether you are exhausted because of the 10 hour bus journey or because of the mere prospect of what your hiking-crazy buddies have planned for your time in the Gorge, you’ll probably want to throw your bags down, grab a bite to eat and bask for a while in your new surroundings. Unless you plan to thrust yourself immediately into a several hour hike to the nearest hostel, the best bet is to drive into the ‘Middle Tiger Leaping Gorge’ where you can touch base at Tina’s Guesthouse. This part of the gorge is regarded by many to be the most splendid though there are a large number of people who would point to the ’28 bends’ as the way to go to get the most out of your trip.
Perched 400 metres above the water below, tackling the 28 bends of Haba Snow Mountain is no walk in the park. It takes around three hours to complete the hike, which is seven km in length. The trail is narrow at times, and hazardously slippery in wet weather. While you don’t have to be super-fit or dare-devil to enjoy the 28 bends – concentration and a reasonable level of fitness are required.
The spectacular views of the gorge below are truly mesmerising, none more so than what can be seen from the window of the bathroom at the Halfway Guesthouse. You’d be hard pressed to find a more picturesque spot to do your business anywhere in the world. Sitting amongst and above the clouds, you can even see the rock 400 metres below, from where the mythical Tiger leapt across the Gorge. The sun glistens gloriously off the water and rays of light force themselves through the twists and turns of the gorge, creating an unforgettable image to take away.
It was hard to resist checking out the 28 bends, but for this trip we decided to trek the Middle Tiger Leaping Gorge.
A particularly beautiful trek starts not far from Tina’s guesthouse, and it’s one that is usually recommended to those of us who don’t want to exert themselves too much but would still like to feel the burn the next day. It takes about an hour to get down, two hours to get back up, is relatively safe – but do not attempt this in the dark – however experienced you may be.
On the way down, we saw a sign which stated that we should turn right for the ‘Safe Path’ or left for ‘The Ladder’. We looked at each other for a few seconds then looked back at the sign. We were definitely going to take the Safe Path. We came across the bottom of the ladder on our ascent back up the trail, and here there was no sign. We were already flailing in the heat, and one of us decided that he would rather climb the ladder to save some energy. We took one look up the ladder, which was around 15 metres in length, and appeared to be stuck into the rock with a combination of damp sticks and rusty screws. 10 minutes later, when the rest of us had huffed and puffed our way to the top of the ladder, we expected our fellow hiker to have already arrived. We peered down the ladder from above, and saw our man frozen to the spot, halfway up the ladder. Slowly and not so surely, our friend arrived at the top of the ladder and climbed up to where we stood. He looked as if he had seen a ghost and was visibly shaken. He was obviously surprised at how vulnerable he felt once he couldn’t turn back, so keep that in mind when you reach this point. Our advice: if there is a ‘Safe’ option – take it.
The trail leads all the way down to the furious water below, where the true scale of the gorge and the ferocity of the river really become obvious. It’s impossible not to feel tiny and insignificant in the presence of these surroundings and most people, us included, were speechless – the landscape is truly stunning. The walk back up to the main road is very tiring due to how steep it is but anybody who is in half-decent shape shouldn’t have any serious problems.
Moving around in Tiger Leaping Gorge is not something that even the locals take lightly. As two friends and I gazed out of the car window as we drove from the entrance, we spotted a car at the bottom of a terrifying cliff-side, smashed and beyond repair. The driver noticed as our jaws dropped.
“Some stupid driver from outside Yunnan province was too complacent. Even though I know these roads inside out – if it’s raining at night I don’t even consider driving in or out. Rockslides are very normal and if you are not completely alert you can be swept down into the Gorge in an instant. That’s what happened to that guy…but you know what? He escaped without serious injury!”
To look at the distance the car had fallen was to find what we had just been told unbelievable. Sufficiently shocked, our conversation stopped abruptly and the next few minutes in the car were passed awkwardly. Before long, though, the irresistible allure of the sheer beauty we found ourselves immersed in had us hypnotized, and I struggled to think of anywhere else I’d rather be at that moment.
Entrance fee: 65RMB
As published in the Beijing Review