Trekking the Tiger Leaping Gorge
Our final adventure in China was a trek through the Tiger Leaping Gorge. We had been ecstatic about hiking the gorge and seeing the powerful Yangtze River at the base of the Himalayas and we were definitely not disappointed! The trek provided us with some of the most stunning views I have ever seen.
The start of the trek we passed several men with donkeys saddled up and ready for passengers. Despite our guide insisting that there would be no need for donkeys, the men still chose to follow us the entire day in hopes that someone would collapse from exhaustion and want to pay for a donkey ride after all.
The beginning of the trek was relatively easy and slowly zig zagged up a road through terraced agricultural land, steadily climbing higher and higher above the mighty Yangtze below. I loved walking by the fields and homes that had courtyards with chickens and cows and corn drying from the rafters.
One of the things we noticed throughout our China trip, both during our fun bus rides as well as hiking through the agricultural fields, was that marijuana grows everywhere. People have it growing in pots in their courtyards, growing in fields, growing in their front yard, and it also grows wild. In it is legal China to have as many plants as you want and use it for making tea, use the seeds for salad dressings, or use the fiber to make rope and cloth. It is not legal to smoke it though, and if you are caught smoking it, you will suffer the same punishment as if you were doing heroine or other “hard” drugs.
As we continued hiking, we passed a number of stands, usually operated by a little elderly Chinese lady. Her goods would be neatly displayed on a table and would range from bananas and Snickers bars, to bracelets and ganja, and it always seemed that out all twelve of us in the group, Ronen would be offered the ganja. I think it must be his long hair and board shorts.
We eventually came to a guesthouse to have lunch AKA re-fuel before the most grueling part of the trek, climbing the notorious 28 bends. The 28 bends are switchbacks that alone would be challenging but when you climb them after two hours of trudging uphill, they are just plain brutal.
The reward to reaching the top of the 28 bends makes it well worth the pain and effort it took to get there.
Ironically, the best viewing spot is guarded by a man who will let you walk down and look for free, but if you want to take a picture he will charge you 8 Yuen, even though its public land. Ronen and I decided that the view was worth the 8 Yuen and we forked over the cash and ended up with him jumping and climbing all over the rocks taking pictures of the two of us together and then wanting a picture of Ronen and himtogether at the end.
The rest of the day seemed easy after our steep climb and we reached our guesthouse with stunning views of the Jade Dragon Mountains.
The next morning we began our long and mostly downhill journey deeper into the gorge. We passed more farms, more marijuana, more cows and pigs, and unfortunately more garbage and pollution.
Hiking past piles of garbage left behind by other hikers was one of the most upsetting and disappointing things for me on the trek. I have always abided by the pack out what you pack in rule but apparently, not everyone does and this results in piles of plastic bottles on the side of the trail. Ronen and I both wished we had garbage bags with us and that we could have paid the donkeys that were following us the whole time to carry out the garbage rather than leave it there to wash into the river when the rainy season comes.
I wish I could say that this was the only pollution we saw on out trek, but that would be a lie. There is quite a bit of tungsten mining in the mountains above the gorge and this leads to pollution of the streams and thus, eventually pollution of the Yangtze River.
Other than the garbage and pollution, we saw some beautiful things and hiked through a waterfall before reaching our second guesthouse. The view at this guesthouse wasn’t quite as spectacular as the first but it was from this spot that we got to go on one of the best hikes of my life down into the gorge. This hike was not an official trip activity and required an additional waiver to be signed prior to us going on it. The trail is maintained by local families that have built ladders, railings, and bridges in order for people to hike all the way down to the river. The families charge 10 Yuen per person to use what they have built in order to help make up the cost of installing these “safety” systems for hikers. When we reached the first family run ladder/bridge and forked over 20 Yuen I was happy to pay to use the bridge and trail. The trail cut through the side of a cliff before dropping down to the riverside where you could walk across a suspension bridge to the Tiger Leaping Rock and feel the mist and power of the Yangtze below you. The amount of water moving down that river was unlike anything I have ever seen before. It moves at 1800 m3/ SECOND! Holy sh** that’s fast.
To get back out of the gorge you need to climb a ladder. Climbing a ladder sounds pretty straight forward but when I found myself climbing a rusty ladder several hundred feet tall at almost a 90 degree angle and with rungs held up with what looked like wire hangers, I realized why we needed to sign an additional waiver and why this was definitely not a part of the tour. It was a one of the sketchiest things we have done on this trip and we rappelled down the side of Table Mountain so that says something.
The rest of our adventures hike was uphill and fast because we were avoiding the rain. The rain was moving quickly down the gorge towards us but it did provide some incredible photos though.
We made it back to our guesthouse walking only a few minutes in the rain, took a nice hot shower, drank beer (although Chinese beer can hardly be called beer since its only 2.5% Alc. Vol. As Chris, one of the Australians in the group said, “It’s like sex on the beach beer, f**king near water!”), ate dinner and went to bed exhausted after a long day of hiking.
The next morning, we drove out of the gorge and stopped at a government run park that has access to the river. It was beautiful but both Ronen and I were glad we did the hike the day before because the view of the gorge was much better from the rickety bridge than from a glass platform.