Our journey to trek the Tiger Leaping Gorge began with a four hour stint crammed into very narrow beds on the sleeper bus, we arrived at Jane's Tibetan Guesthouse around midnight. The staff seemed quite confused to have guests arriving so late, even though the bus appeared to go on a pretty regular basis from Dali to the Shangri-la (which is an actual, real place, not just a chain of hotels as I formerly thought..) After a fair amount of door knocking and phone calls, we eventually found refuge from the chilly mountain air.
After fuelling up on breakfast at Jane's, we headed for the start of the trail. The temperature difference in this area is really incredible. At night it must have been around zero degrees, at 10am the temperature shot up, easily reaching the mid-twenties by noon. It was the same in Dali. During both days of this trek, at exactly 10am, we had to strip down to shorts and t-shirts.
Prior to the trek, we had heard of annoying touts who tend to latch onto hikers in the hopes that you will tire and hire their horses. This is very much a thing, and was more annoying than I anticipated. The mules have bells hanging off them, so whilst you are walking up the very steep slope in the baking sun, you are constantly tortured by the constant ringing of these bells. Luckily, they do give up.. eventually.
I got off to a bad start with the Tiger Leaping Gorge. Almost as soon as we started going uphill, I had a pretty bad bought of altitude sickness. Although it was pretty scary at the time, it didn't last too long. I had a rest, re-fuelled from a nearby stall (the snickers and red bull worked a treat) and was good to go. It seemed strange as we had been at high altitudes for two whole weeks (even Dali stands at over 2000m above sea level) and I hadn't had any problems until now. I think it may have been aggravated by cat allergies, (I had breakfast surrounded by a number of cats in the hostel at breakfast), the sudden temperature change and physical exertion.. I took it slowly after this, and wasn't affected by it again.
The first day of the Tiger Leaping Gorge was tough. Really tough. The whole trail is exposed to the baking hot sun and you are mostly going up a steep incline. Difficulty aside, the views are incredible.
There are some interesting plants growing all over the place, too..
We made it to the half-way house just as night fell. We were amazed at how modern and comfortable the guesthouse was, especially in comparison with the monastery on Mount Emei. I had an amazing night sleep that night. I felt much stronger the next day, when we descended down to the gorge itself.
Going down to the foot of the gorge in some ways seems like a completely separate part to this hike, you come down from the mountains and into the little village where everyone catches a bus from Tina's. We booked our bus to Lijiang here and got a free lift down to the start of the descent. The slope down to the gorge is really steep, the kind of steepness which brings you all kinds of dread at the thought of having to go back up.
You eventually come to a rather precarious rope bridge, that brings you out to the middle of the Tiger Leaping Gorge. It is well worth the small fee, as you can get really up close to the amazing power of the water and see where, legend has it, a tiger jumped over the gorge trying to escape a huntsman.
After admiring the powerful gorge for some time, we finally brought ourselves to start the dreaded walk back up. However, we were quickly directed towards a short cut - another rather precarious feature of the trek, as this sign warned us.
Here we found a really, really long ladder, which brings you out quite close to the village. It wasn't too bad once we started going up, but one thing's for sure, you certainly do not want to let go. Keeping yourself attached to that ladder is entirely your responsibility.
(Definitely a strained smile from me there)
Weak kneed, we made it back to Tina's. We caught a bus back to Jane's to pick up our luggage en route to Lijiang. From here we commenced our journey to Xishuangbanna, our final stop in China.