A little background on Tiger Leaping Gorge. The whole gorge is about 15 km long, located between the 5,596m Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (玉龙雪山） and 5,396m Haba Xue Mountain (哈巴山). The narrowest point between the two mountains is about 25 meters, and it is said that a tiger was able to leap across this gap (thus the name). Throughout the gorge is abundant farmland, that today in January is still very green and plentiful. According to Wikipedia, the main crops are various grains, but after asking the locals, the main crop is soy beans. In 1993, the area was opened to tourists (mainly for hiking and sight-seeing). Now, there is an endless flow of tour busses, taxis and mostly foreign tourists traveling to the gorge.
After the 5km ride to the start of our hike, the driver pointed us to a gravel winding dangerously up the mountain. For some reason, my idea of the gorge was a leisurely hike along the river at the bottom. I guess that was the OTHER path. Living on the 7th floor of my apartment with no elevator, I felt in shape enough to attempt the climb. The beginning wasn't so beautiful, as we were basically hiking up a gravel driveway with cars passing by every 10 minutes kicking up all kinds of dust. It was interesting to see a goat farm complete with local Naxi farmer. After a few km, we his the first resting point, the Tea-Horse Trade Guest House. According to our crudely drawn map, after this point there would be a little trek to the top of the peak, then 24 switch-backs down the mountain and then we were home free. We ate a snack and drank some local Naxi tea and then we were back on the road. As we began the hike, we started to see more and more hikers coming the opposite direction. We always asked them how long until the top, the answer was usually "oh, about 10 minutes". After about an hour and a half of hiking the treacherously steep rocky path, passing mules packed with little Korean tourists, we reached the top! The was probably my first real moutain climb...and I was pretty exhausted.
Unfortunatly, this was not the end of the trail. We now had to brave the 24 switch-backs, dodge more mules, and battle the blinding 5,000 meter sun. Another two hours and we were on level ground again. This time, traversing actually through farmland. Each farm was set up with a little make-shift store selling, beverages and snacks. This was nice, as we just finished our 2 litre water bottle. We began our hike around 11am, and by the third farm was about 4:30pm. We were warned to hurry as the sun sets around 6pm. According to our map (although already untrustworthy) we only had about an hour hike left to where we began our journey. This time the map was accurate! After cutting through our last piece of farm land, we entered some more civilized land; schools, factories and stores began popping up foreshadowing the end of our day-trek. The last bus to Lijiang passed through the village around 6pm. We arrived at 5:30pm, grabbed some fast noodles and flagged down one of the last busses back to Lijiang.
After about 10kilometers distance, 5,000 meters altitude, and 200rmb poorer, we were very tired and a little sick from the crazy, winding drive home. However, I feel that this experience was not only one of the most beautiful places I had seen in China, but a true glimpse into one of the native cultures. I find it amazing how welcoming these people are as we unwittingly trespass through their 1000+ year old farm. We always tried to give a little back, if it was giving a few yuan for the tea or candy to children we saw along the way. I hope one day I can return to spend more time in this breathtaking place.