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Madison, WI, USA
Last updated 10/2/2012
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Hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge

Hiking in the Tiger Leaping Gorge was an incredible experience. The Tiger Leaping Gorge is the canyon where the Jinsha River flows between the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and the Haba Snow Mountain. It’s deeper than the Grand Canyon, but not as wide. The name comes from an old legend about a tiger jumping across the gap to escape from a hunter.

The views along the trail were??unbelievable. In a way, it was like being in New Zealand again. Sometimes we would stop and just look around at the endless mountains surrounding us. Occasionally we had to step aside for other hikers or herds of goats, but for the most part it was just us. The path itself was well maintained and average difficulty, except for the climb at “The 28 Bends” and a loose, gravelly, steep descent to Tina’s Guesthouse towards the end. Because there are guesthouses along the way, the hike is perfect for people who (like me) enjoy the outdoors, but prefer a warm meal and a roof over their heads at night.

Most tourists only spend two days and one night in the mountains, but we wanted to take our time, so we spent two nights there. The first day we took a two and a half hour bus ride from Lijiang to the beginning of the trail in Qiaotou. From there it was only a couple hours hiking to the Naxi Family Guesthouse, where we spent our first night. Despite our dinner order getting lost in translation (which has happened more than once in China), we really enjoyed the food and scenery there.

The next day we left before it got too hot out and did the most challenging uphill part of the hike. At the top, there was a lady in a “toll both,” charging eight yuan to walk down a short??side-path??to a lookout.??We almost skipped it because of the stupid fee, but I’m glad we decided to go check it out. The path led to a ledge overlooking the thundering river thousands of feet below us. The wind was whipping at our clothes and the sun was shining right in our eyes, messing up the visibility, but even so, standing there was a fantastic, surreal moment.

After enjoying lunch (the food here is amazing; I could write a whole post about it) at the adorable Tea Horse Guesthouse, we continued on to the Half Way Guesthouse, which is actually more than halfway to the end. Our room there looked out on the mountains and that night we drank with a Dutch couple and a few Germans. (The best quote from the night: “I was talking with a Chinese man and he asked where I was from. When I said Germany, he asked, ‘Oh, do you know Hitler?’”)

The next day we came across the hairiest section of the trail, the downhill section to Tina’s Guesthouse. Like I said earlier, the path was slippery and we both fell, but not off the edge of the cliff, luckily. Along the way we passed a couple of waterfalls and Brad told me all about some interesting rock formations. Finally we made it to Tina’s, but our day wasn’t over. We still wanted to hike down to the river where the tiger (supposedly) leaped.

I didn’t think much of this extra hike until we started it. We decided to take the “Sky Ladder” trail made by the locals. It was a long, long ways down to the river and my legs were getting sore just going down. At one point we reached a fork in the trail. The sign gave us two options: “Ladder” or “Safe Path.” We went with the Safe Path and eventually made it down to the river. I couldn’t believe how powerful the river pounding through the gorge was. We sat there for a while, getting sprayed and listening to the gushing water.

On the way back up we decided to take the Sky Ladder. We haven’t been able to figure out exactly how high the Sky Ladder is. It starts quite a ways up from the river and is at least “as tall as a silo,” according to Brad. I went first and didn’t have any problems, besides getting winded by the time I reached the top. Brad, however, is afraid of heights. He started climbing the ladder, but at about the halfway point, he was shaking so much he had to stop. Then he faced the??dilemma??of continuing up higher or going back down. He decided going backwards would be even worse, so he kept climbing, wrapping his entire arm around the ladder and clinging on for dear life as he went. Finally he reached the top, safe and sound, but we had to wait for him to stop sweating and shaking before we kept walking.

There were a few more guesthouses further along the trail, but by then we decided we had done enough hiking, so we took the bus from Tina’s back to Lijiang. My legs were sore for days afterwards, but I’m so glad we were able to see the Tiger Leaping Gorge. Taking in its enormity and majesty was one of the best parts of our trip.

4 comments to Hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge

  • Uncle J

    Sounds like you guys are becoming the most Cosmopolitan people I know.
    Brad you have no idea how much more esteem with which I have for you by continuing on in the face of acrophobia.
    I hope Hayden does as good when he has to face his phobias as you showed.
    Nikki, always the good Raconteur, but you still owe me a personal one when you get back, or maybe a dedication in your eventual “Travels” book.
    Keep up the fun, I’m living vicariously through you guys.

  • Lisa

    Once again, beautiful pictures! Although I don’t understand why you needed to be standing so close to the edge of the cliffs! Funny how you never mentioned that in our phone conversation! I was getting nervous just looking at the pictures! I agree with Jay, hats off to Brad for continuing up the ladder!!! I am pretty sure I could not have done that.


    Yes.. Brad, I don’t think I could have done it! Just looking at the picture at the edge of the cliff made my palms sweat. Yikes! You’re a better man than me! I think I would have just sat there and cried and thrown up! So great job…just don’t ever do that again! Right! Easter with the Acker’s yesterday at Anita & Jim’s new house. Everyone was asking about you guys:) Miss you guys!

  • Aunt Sandy

    More amazing photo’s…..I agree with all of above though, STAY AWAY from cliffs, they don’t have an effective ’911′ system over there. I did toast your achievement though Brad for making that climb. I find myself thinking about you kids alot and the adventures you are having. See you in Italy :+

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