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Throwback Thursday: Tiger Leaping Gorge, China (July 2010)

May 23, 2013

I’ve appropriated the recent social media rage #throwbackthursday to start a new weekly series!  Throwback Thursdays share pictures and information from some of my earlier travels between 2007 and 2010 that have yet to make it onto this site.  After a long blogging hiatus, this series is to catch you, my readers, up on these past travels, while using the rest of the blog to recount my more recent trips.

Last week, reading Alex in Wanderland’s coverage of her adventures hiking in Batad, I remembered my own rice paddy experience in China’s Tiger Leaping Gorge.  This is where one of my funniest and most memorable stories traveling in China took place.  It is also where I did something pretty stupid and (in hindsight) dangerous.

So, here is the story of how I ended up completely lost, thousands of feet above sea level, in a Chinese farmer’s backyard after hiking up an unmarked goat trail.

View from the banks of Tiger Leaping Gorge

View from the banks of Tiger Leaping Gorge

In July 2010, my roommate at the time and I were traveling around Yunnan Province in China.  High on most backpackers’ lists of to-dos in the region is hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge.

Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the deepest gorges in the world (almost 4000 meters above the Jinsha River) and measures 16km long.  Most travelers take two to four days to hike the Gorge, stopping at the many guesthouses just off the main hiking trail along the way.  However, we had only allotted a day.  We planned to only hike part of the way into the Gorge to experience some of the breathtaking views and then to drive out and head back to our hostel Lijiang.

View from the bus ride to Qiaotou.

View from the bus ride to Qiaotou.

Most hikers use Lijiang (about 80km away) as their jumping off point.  It is what many seasoned China travelers would refer to as a “Disney version” of China, with its sometimes claustraphobia-inducing crowds, cobbled streets, and kitschy shop houses.  From Lijiang, you can take a bus to Qiaotou, the town just outside the entrance to the Gorge.  Bus tickets can be purchased either from your guesthouse in Lijiang or the bus station for around 20RMB ($3).

The ride to the Gorge is itself extremely scenic.  The bus we took was very nice, and I quickly settled into my seat with my iPod and watched the landscape unfold out the window for the duration of the two-hour journey.

View out the window on the bus ride to TLG.

View out the window on the bus ride to TLG.

Once you arrive at Qiaotao, the start of the trail is deceivingly easy to reach.  This is where we made our first mistake!

Guides say that if you follow the road, there are an abundance of signs and arrows that point you to the start of the trail, which is about 1km away from the bus station.  Sadly, I cannot verify this because while taking pictures and chatting with newly made friends and hiking companions, we inadvertently missed the turnoff for the trail.

Tiger Leaping Gorge (27)Tiger Leaping Gorge (19)Tiger Leaping Gorge (16)

By the time we realized we had made a mistake, we had walked far down the paved road for cars driving through the Gorge.  There was absolutely no one around except for trucks and motorcycles that would wiz by at nail-bitting speeds every 5-10 minutes.  Eventually, we stopped several Chinese workers to ask for directions and were shown a narrow but well trodden path up the hillside that would supposedly connect with the main hiking trail high above.  It was entirely deserted.  This should have been our first clue!

The climb was incredibly steep because we were going straight up from the bottom of the Gorge.  I should mention that the official trail we’d accidentally overshot is supposedly a relatively easy hike that gradually takes you upwards to the middle of the Gorge over a 15 mile span.  Several times on what we soon realized was indeed a goat trail, we hit dead ends and were surrounded by pasture with no continuation of the trail in sight.  After retracing our steps numerous times and taking different forks in the path, we eventually ended up in the middle of a rice paddy, high above the main road but far below the official hiking trail.  This also turned out to be the backyard of a very confused farmer.

View of rice paddies and houses from the path up.

View of rice paddies and houses from the path up.

Trying to understand his thick Yunnanese accent, we asked for directions, telling him that others below had convinced us to head up this way to find the main trail.  He laughed and explained that we would likely need help to find our way at this point.  So, we agreed on a price and set off with our new guide.

Rest stop for refreshment.

An oasis after our climb.

After a somewhat grueling but much less stressful trek, we reached the main trail, said goodbye to our travel companions who were heading on to hike the Gorge for several days, and settled into a seat at the Naxi Family Guesthouse for a snack.

Our guide off the goat trail!

Our guide off the goat trail!

We had planned to trek to about the midpoint of the Gorge by the afternoon and then head back to Qiaotou via a car we had arranged in advance.  However, our several-hour-long mishap left us behind schedule and exhausted.  We realized we were vastly underprepared in terms of supplies or mental endurance for such a hike and called our driver to pick us up early at Naxi.

When our driver arrived, he and our “guide” had a good laugh at our expense, as the farmer explained how he’d found us.  I must admit it is hilarious to think of four Americans stumbling into someone’s backyard amongst rice paddies in the middle of a deserted hillside.  I’m sure we looked incredibly out of place.

Gorgeous sight of the view and our ride down!

Gorgeous sight of the view and our ride down!

On the bus back to Lijiang that evening and a few days later on the ride to Shangri-La that passes through here, I regretted that we hadn’t allotted more time to really experience Tiger Leaping Gorge.  Looking out over the Gorge on those rides and on our somewhat perilous hike up the goat trail, I took in some of the most beautiful and truly sublime landscape I’ve ever seen.  It am still hoping make it back and hike the entire Gorge someday…preferably not on a goat trail this time!

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Andy permalink
    July 2, 2013 10:58 am

    Well done ! You are so brave and adventurous! These are great pictures of Tiger leaping Gorge! Which reminds me… I should go through my India pictures and post some. Having read this I thought it was rather informative. I appreciate you finding the time and energy to put this article together.

    I once again find myself personally spending a significant amount of time both reading and leaving comments. But so what, it was still worth it! In return, I also found a great blog of trekking the Great Wall, I’d love to share it here with you and for future travelers.

  2. June 24, 2014 5:12 pm

    I wonder if it was a common sight for the farmer! You have a nice travel blog. I was researching on Yunnan and I’ve been reading that July is a bad time to go because of the rainy season. Just wondering if you went in July? And how was the weather then. Yunnan looks beautiful I’m so excited to go!

    Thank u!

    • Ashley Bruckbauer permalink*
      August 1, 2014 6:08 pm

      Hi, Michelle! I did go in July and had pretty good luck with the weather. Hope you enjoy Yunnan!

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