Sunday, May 22, 2011

Gorge 1, Travelers 0

Our next stop north brought us to Tiger Leaping Gorge, one of the deepest chasms in the world. Described as an arduous hike where a few backpackers have died, we figured this was just our cup of tea. The majestic Jade Dragon Snow Mountain stretched 3,202m from the base of the churning river and we hiked along the neighboring mountain with a complete view of both. We noticed that the busloads of Chinese tourists that crowded the streets of Dali and Lijiang were conspicuously absent from this part of Yunnan— although, a quick glance below at buses congregating alongside the ravine confirmed that they clearly just think Westerners are crazy to hike a trail when they can get the same view comfortably from their seats.
A lot of the talk about how hard the hike was turned out to be over-hyped. Yes, it was difficult to breath at such a high altitude and, yes, the 28 bends (a series of switchbacks taking you to the highest point on the hike) required a few stops but then you could also hire one of the horses from riders that followed you up the hardest parts, a little bell ringing with each step to remind you they’re there. In fact, there were even ladies selling Snickers bars (and, of course, ganja) before and after the hardest parts so you were in little danger of suffering the fate of the 4 Americans in the 1980s who took the river route.

Nearly blown off of cliff trying to take a picture with this dude.

These were potentially the most stunning mountains I’d ever seen in my life. With little lodges perched along the high trail, we stayed overnight at Naxi Family Guesthouse and awoke in time to see the sun rising behind the craggy range. Believing we’d mastered the hike turned out to be a mistake, however. Once we left our lodge, Danielle, feeling nauseated and lightheaded, collapsed on the trail after a dizzying five minute start (and vomiting next to a pig sty). Realizing that there was no way she’d be able to continue we carried her back and hired a van out of the trail. You win this round Tiger Leaping Gorge.

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