I admit this picture of Mike being rescued is a little over the top compared to what actually happened. It has lured you in though, so before talking about the amazing three days we spent walking the Tiger Leaping Gorge in China's Yunnan province, I'll explain how Mike ended up being piggy-backed to safety by a local. He's fine by the way mums - a few scratches. It was worrying for about five minutes and then blooming hilarious for the next twenty.
It was day two of the trek, we had been walking for three hours in the morning and stopped for lunch at lovely guesthouse overlooking the gorge. Refreshed and carbed up, we started the afternoon trek at about 2ish and that's when Mike had his wobbly.
It was at exactly the moment that a whole load of workmen were paving a new road on the trail which meant that we had to walk on some precarious bits of plastic where the trail should have been. Five minutes before, Mike had felt light headed but hadn't wanted to stop walking. Instead, he decided to save up his fainting for when we were hobbling along the side of this new road with freshly laid sticky cement on one side and a steep hill on the other.
We aren't sure whether he slipped or fainted. I think he did both. Either way, arms flailed all over the place and plants were ambushed as Mike pulled them from their roots in an attempt to stop himself. He did come to a halt about a metre later, head first down the mountain.
By the time I had realised what had happened, a local Chinese workman, who was as high as a kite, had rushed to Mike's rescue and fireman lifted him from the bushes. He was so sweet and stayed glued to Mike's side for the next five minutes until he was fully satisfied Mike was OK and well.
An antiseptic wipe and snickers bar later, we were on our way and you can see from the picture below that in hindsight Mike decided to faint at a good spot. On the last day, the sheer drops from the trail down to the gorge were pretty extreme. It is completely safe to walk this trail without a guide but you do need to concentrate on your footing. The last day, as you walk to Tina's guesthouse to catch a minivan back, you also have to cross a few streams and waterfalls which can make the rocks slippery.
The Tiger Leaping Gorge gets its name from a legend about a tiger leaping across the gorge to get away from a poacher. Everything in China has a legend or mythical story attached to it and you can even visit the rock the tiger leaped from. The gorge's upper trail is 16 km long and a wopping 3,900 km from the Jinsha river (which leads into the Yantzi) below.
In true us style, we decided not to rush this trek and spread it over a leisurely three days. There are a few guesthouses along the way that you can't miss from the trail. They all do good food and have clean rooms, warm showers and electric blankets - all essentials after a full days walking. The guest houses also have great views too. Try and avoid staying at Jane's, Tina's or Sean's as these are all on the main road at the bottom of the gorge.
Our favourite was Half Way House which had incredible view and the nicest WC and toilet spot we've ever seen. Check it out below. Also, Mike found a piping friend! There aren't many around but it did mean Mike could talk about all sorts of exciting things like sweepolets and nippoflanges for a good half an hour. I love the random people you meet travelling!
China has some amazing hikes and some of the most spectacular and impressive scenery I've ever experienced. This trek along the Tiger Leaper Gorge was one of the best I've done mainly because of the lack of other people and the extraordinary scenery of the gorge itself. It's a fact that Chinese people, although very health conscious, aren't walkers or runners. Most Chinese tourists will take a bus trip from nearby Lijiang to a viewing point along the gorge rather than walk the Upper trail. Along the trail, it was pretty quiet apart from a dozen or so other Westerns who quickly overtook us on the trail leaving us completely alone again.
You really feel the forces of nature in the gorge like nowhere else. The wind, pressurised and squeezed, rushes and howls past you with such force that it makes the mist in the valley swirl around you. One minute on the trail, the sun would be beaming making us sweat through our t-shirts, the next the mist was rising towards us until we were so deep in it you could no longer see the scenery at all and had to put a jacket on.
Deep below, the strength of the water rushing through the gorge was actually scary. You could hear it from the upper trail and when we went to a viewing point next to the water, the spit and hazardousness of the water crashing into and through the rocks made us want to hold onto something incase we got swept up. There are stories about brave Chinese men who have attempted to canoe down the river and lost their lives. It sounds bloody stupid rather than brave to me. In this case, in the nature vs man game, there can only every be one winner.
The viewing points down the water can get very busy with Chinese tourists but it's still worth seeing to help understand how this great gorge formed. The upper walking trail is well worth doing for some peace and quiet and the best way to experience the gorge.
The trail varies in difficulty but we found the first day the toughest, probably because we'd travelled from Lijiang that morning and didn't start walking until the afternoon. The sun was also beating down on us as we climbed up from the road to the upper trail and then up again to the Naxi guesthouse where we were sleeping. The second day is meant to be the toughest, with a gruelling 28 bend climb but we did this fresh and first thing and it was completely manageable. Once you reach Halfway Guesthouse, you've reached the top height of the trek and it's flat all the way until the climb back down to the road. This last bit is where you experience the best views, the narrowest trails and the greatest drops.
You don't need to take supplies apart from water and suncream and try and get hold of a good map before you get there. The one we had was literally a line with a few guest houses dotted along it. The distances and the timings weren't really accurate either. It generally took us an hour or two more than the map suggested so well worth waking up early (rich coming from me, I know!), getting going and not being over ambitious when it comes to distances you want to cover each day. If you have time and can do it over a few days, take your time and do lots of sitting and gazing in this amazing place.