Hiking in China – Tiger Leaping Gorge

Tiger Leaping Gorge is a scenic canyon on the Jinsha River. It is located 60 kilometers (37 mi) north of Lijiang City, Yunnan in southwestern China. According to Wikipedia the maximum depth of the canyon is 3,790 meters (12,434 feet) from river to mountain peak. The gorge is about 15 kilometers long, and the hike is doable in one day, but I do not recommend it. The name of the canyon comes from a legend which says that in order to escape from a hunter, a tiger jumped across the river at the narrowest point (still 25 meters (82 ft) wide). Of course we wanted to see if a jump like this would be possible 😀

We started out from Lijiang with a local bus. The hostels in the city all help you to book tickets and show you where the bus goes from. If I remember correctly the price was around 50 yuan (45 there, 55 back). The price for entering the valley itself was 60 yuan.

In Lijiang we were discouraged to do this hike as the weather prognosis said it would rain for the next three days. This was also perhaps the reason for there being so little other hikers on the trail. Despite the weather forecast, we decided to go, after all we had packed our rain clothes with us and a little rain has never killed anyone.

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The best available map of the trail.

We arrived to Qiaotou where the trail starts around 10 o’clock. The beginning of the trail was really not well-marked. Our strategy was just to go to the right and avoid all the roads that turned left. At one point we must have had looked pretty confused or uncertain, as a truck driver passing by pointed out the correct direction for us. The trail started on a asphalt road between the houses in the small village. Before we even got away from the asphalt road, we had changed clothes five times! On with rain clothes, off with rain clothes, on with jacket, off with jacket, on with rain clothes again…. It did rain, but not really much and as it was warm climbing upwards in rain clothes was just not comfortable. After an hour we packed away our rain clothes and used regular clothes. Which actually worked really well, except in a rainsower lasting for 30 minutes later in the day. At times it was even warm enough for shorts, but not wanting to change clothes yet again we just went on in long trousers. At the end of the asphalt road and before the huge construction site, there was a house where we could buy some drinks and water and even refill our thermos with hot water for free. The last part we only knew because Elias was able to read the chinese sign that said so. It was very convenient, since we had instant noodles with us for lunch. The woman in the house also wanted to sell us bamboo sticks for walking. It is slippery she said. We did not buy any and did not regret it afterwards.

The real trail started right after the house. It was a steep dirt trail, at the end of it there was a little sitting place with a roof, that we chose for our first lunch/breakfast. At this point we were actually hoping that we had done the climb and that the path would even out, but we were wrong. The path kept going upwards and it was hard to spot it at times. Again when we were about to go in the wrong direction a local mushroom/herbs picker pointed us to the right direction. On the three-hour path to Nixi village, I could count 4 stands where we could buy snickers, water, fruit and even local weed!! We disappointed most of the sellers, since we were had enough food and water with us.

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On top of the first hill ready for lunch

All in all the first 3 hours of the trail I was really disappointed. I tried to not show it, but I know Elias felt the same. One thing was that we were not prepared for such steep climb, but that was not the main issue. The problem was the huge construction down in the valley that completely destroyed the view. I am not 100% sure what they were building, but it looked like two tunnels for trains, and a bridge over the river to connect them. Because of this it was not quiet, and the river was all brown. Considering that this canyon is supposed to be in world heritage list, I could not understand why they would destroy it just for better train connections (and more tourists).

The trail from Qiaotou to Naxi village was as following: We climbed a lot of high meters, it was quite steep, and we kept seeing the construction site and the destruction of nature in the valley. More or less the moment we got up, the trail started to go downwards again and ending up in the Naxi village. From the village one needs to climb all these high meters up once again. So therefore if I would do it again, I would start the hike from Naxi village (There were actually some Russian girls doing that). Luckily after the Naxi village we could not see the construction anymore, only very tall and steep mountains on the other side of the canyon, hence our mood got much better.

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View to the Naxi Village

The Naxi village itself was not really something special, it is a village not a touristic site. I do not know what exactly I was expecting, but I guess it is nice that it is authentic and not glorified for tourists. From the Naxi village one has to climb the 28 turns. We did not count but, it was a long and steep climb. There were of course several places where you could buy food and drinks, as before. After the 28 turns we did some downhill hiking again and ended up in a the Teahorse guesthouse.

Here we ordered some proper lunch which was chinese noodles with vegetables and tea. We also met a couple from Belgium who were doing the same hike and who were planning to travel for three years!! For me that sounds quite crazy. I guess I like being home too much. The couple from Belgium decided to spend the night in the guesthouse. We were a little tempted to do the same, but it was only four o’ clock, and too early to end the day. We estimated it to be another two hours the Half Way Inn guesthouse and decided to go on. The path to Half Way Inn from the Teahorse guesthouse was very well marked and easy to follow. It was also the prettiest part of the hike, I would say. Now we were finally just walking on the side of the canyon, not climbing upwards and could enjoy the views in front of us! Soon after the Teahorse guesthouse we walked past a temple, sadly it was closed.

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It was cloudy the whole first day, after several hours finally the mountains showed themselves!

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At the next village we were not sure how to find the Half Way Inn guesthouse. There we walked past several guesthouses and already started to consider entering one, just because it also looked quite nice but luckily we didn’t. After passing five or six guesthouses we saw the Half Way In. I still remember the view and the excitement I felt when I entered it. This is by far the nicest mountain hut I have stayed in! The owner spoke perfect English and told me that he had run the guesthouse for 25 years. When I told him that I am Estonian, he said that I was in fact the first Estonian staying in Half Way In. We took a bed in dormitory and were not expecting much, as it was 45 Yuan per person (The most expensive room was 250 yuan). But this is how the dorm looked which we btw. had all to ourselves!!

If anybody has stayed in a dorm with better view, please let me know where 😀 There was a trick to get that dorm thought. We specifically asked if they had a dorm. If you don’t ask, they will not tell you that they also have a dorm (as long as they still have other rooms left). I noticed this when other hikes were checking in and I guess this was the reason for why we were the only ones in that dorm.

After settling in we went to the roof terrace to read and enjoy the view. It was way too easy to daydream and forget the time on those rocking chairs facing the huge mountain ridge right over the canyon.

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Then we were told that the kitchen closes at eight and that we had to order dinner if we wanted some. We moved down to the open courtyard in the center of the guesthouse and ordered some dinner. While sitting there enjoying my tea and food I really started to daydream. I could imagine myself living in that place for a year, perhaps writing a book or something. I could help out in the kitchen and write during evenings. With a room cost of 5 euros a day, that would be much cheaper than living in Munich!!

We sat outside until it turned dark. Back in the dorm I changed my head position, so that I would wake up to the mountain view and left the curtains open. I could not have been happier, even the beads in Half Way Inn were soft. (Or at least softer that what is normal in China).

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View from Half Way Inn Guesthouse

We woke up at 7 so that we could have a lot of time to down in the gorge. I had very good banana pancake for breakfast (that is Chinese pancakes, not crepes). The trail from Half Way Inn was at times very narrow, but we did not mind that at all. We could now see all the way down to the gorge and the river on the bottom of it. We also walked pass several small mountain rivers and waterfalls.

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This is how narrow the trail got – we loved it!

The hike down to Tina’s Guesthouse took us about 3 hours (with a lot of picture breaks). Down in the gorge we had to exchange our bus ticket from Half Way In to the one from Tina’s guesthouse. There is only one bus from Tina’s to Lijiang which leaves at 3.30. It is a strange inconvenient system. After exchanging the tickets, we took the free shuttle bus to the place where one could go down to the gorge and the river.  

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Tina’s Guesthouse, not even comparable with Half Way Inn

Getting of the shuttle bus it turned out you had to pay 15 yuan to enter the trail down to the gorge (yes, even when you had already paid 60 yuan just to enter the gorge itself). We decided to take another path which we drove past, just because I do not appreciate this kind of trickery! 😦

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View of the gorge

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I think the best trail would have been not after the bridge from Tina’s Guesthouse but before it, but I could only see people walking there when we were already down in the gorge. Another disappointing thing was that the paths in the gorge were not connected, so we  only used 1 hour on our gorge tour and then had still 5 hours until the bus left. I even tried to ask if there were more buses, but apparently there was only one. Therefore, if I would do it again I would not rush from the Half Way In Guesthouse to Tina’s Guesthouse. The trail between these guesthouses is very scenic and I would just take my time, perhaps sleep in a little and enjoy a long breakfast in Half Way In. There are tourists who just take a bus to the Tina’s Guesthouse in the morning, walk the gorge and then go back. I do not know what they use their time on, because there is not enough to do or see in that gorge for 6 hours. Luckily we had some books with us so we were not bored to death before finally the bus came. The ride back to Lijiang was on very bad roads in a small bus. Apparently they want to avoid the highway in order to avoid to pay for it. So a set of podcasts saved me on this bus ride. There was also a possibility to take a bus from Tina’s Guesthouse to Shangri-la, and we probably could have had our luggage transported to Tina’s by the bus, but as we left parts of our luggage behind in Lijiang, we needed to get back to Lijiang.

This was our second “real” hike in China. There were no stairs and no guides! Just beautiful nature. During our stay we also hiked in Four Sisters Mountains, which you can read about here.

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