Confession of the day: I (Ferdy) am a bit of a chicken. I’m scared of many things. I don’t like being in places where I can’t get away from easily, I’m often anxious meeting new people and it always takes me a day to find the courage to remove the dead mouse in the kitchen. The biggest fear of them all though is my fear of heights. I’ve had this ever since I can remember. Ladders, balconies, rollercoasters. All horrible. The one year trip we’re making, however, can’t only be a comfortable ride. When traveling the world it is impossible to avoid places that may cause some fear. The best views can often be found at the highest places and the best trekkings always involve climbing hills and mountains. Traveling should also be about pushing your limits and putting yourself out of your comfort zone. Even though this sometimes means that our attempts to face our fears end up in running away from a group of aggressive monkeys. In some cases it’s still better to follow your instincts.
To hike or not to hike the Tiger Leaping Gorge?
One trekking that I’ve been dreaming to do for a while is the upper trail of the Tiger Leaping Gorge. The Tiger Leaping Gorge is a canyon in the Yunnan province of China. It’s one of the deepest and most spectacular canyons in the world where the height difference between the top of the mountain and the roaring Jinsha river below can be up to almost 3800 meters. I had seen some photos and videos of ‘The Gorge’ while planning our trip to China and I was sold instantly. That is until I started to research it some more and started to see pictures of narrow paths and steep cliffs. That’s when my fear of heights kicked in and I started to doubt whether or not I should do it.
Views like this got me excited
Google always increases your chances of dying
At night, I spiraled into dark places when thinking about the Gorge and saw images of us having horrible accidents. Especially the part where you have to cross a waterfall seemed like a 50/50% survival chance to me. The strong current, the slippery rocks on the narrow path and a serious case of vertigo would definitely make me lose my balance causing the water to drag me over the edge of the thousand meter sheer cliff. My sweaty palms would often google the Tiger Leaping Gorge in combination with the most alarming phrases. “Tiger Leaping Gorge + accidents”. “Tiger Leaping Gorge + deaths”. “How many people died hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge”. There is an endless list of these phrases in the browser history of my phone.
In the end, I decided to go for it. I mean, what could go wrong?
Views like this got me terrified
Hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge: day 1
How I got tricked into hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge
Well actually, I decided to go to the village first and decide there. This way I still had a few hours on the busride from Lijiang to the gorge to make up my mind. But something happened when we arrived in Tiantou, the village at the start of the gorge. We got off the bus, thinking we’d drop our backpacks at one of the hostels so they could bring it to the hostel at the end of the trail. As I was standing next to the bus, still contemplating whether or not I should do it, the bus driver shouted he’d take our bags to the hostel at the end of the gorge and he just drove away. So after doubting for weeks, some random Chinese bus driver eventually decided for me that I’d hike the Tiger Leaping Gorge.
The men with mules
It did not take long before the easy path up turned into a serious climb. Soon we ran into a few local men walking with mules. It appeared they behave the same as vultures do. If they somehow sense your weakness, they’ll follow you hoping you’ll collapse at some point so they can offer you to ride their mule for outrageous prices.
Waiting for their prey
The big advantage of such a steep ascent is that the views get stunning in no-time
Unfortunately, it started to rain right before we started our climb up the ’28 Bends’. This part of the trail is reckoned to be the hardest part of the trail. It’s a very steep, rocky climb up with a lot of bends. It was indeed a though climb but the cooling rain made it much more bearable than we had expected.
The view after climbing the 28 Bends is breathteaking
The trail in general wasn’t as bad as anticipated. There were a few points where it was better for me to not look down. Some parts were scary when we had to walk on slippery shoulderwide dirt paths with the forest on the left hand and a steep cliff and the roaring river below on the right. The sound of the river is incredible. It sounds like a combination of a highway and a thunderstorm. It’s a really deep roar that really shows who’s the boss in the gorge.
Christina hiking The Gorge
There are blue signs scattered across the upper trail of the Tiger Leaping Gorge. We are still not sure whether these signs are warnings or public poetry. If anything, it was an enjoyable read.
The end of day 1
With only 1,5 hour to go, the sun finally broke through. The clouds that were covering the tops of the highest mountains disappeared and showed us majestic views on the mountain range. With a smile on our faces, we walked the last part to Halfway Guesthouse, where we would spend the night. We enjoyed a beer and a meal over sunset and went to bed early. We were exhausted but at the same time really looking forward to the next day.
The sun got out as we were making our way to Halfway Guesthouse
The view from our room was impressive
Hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge: day 2
After breakfast we continued our trek. The second part of the trail is the easier part. It’s mostly a flat, two meters wide path carved into the Mountains where you cross locals walking from one mountain village to the other and farmers with their grazing flock of goats.
The evil waterfall
After about an hour we went around the corner of one on the mountains and my heart just stopped for a second. There it was. The evil waterfall from my nightmares. The most beautiful and scary part of the trail at the same time.
This view scared me a lot
As the path became rockier and narrower, my knees started to get weaker and my head got lighter. With the adrenaline rushing through my body, I felt both excited as terrified to move on but there was no way I would go back.
The path leading to the waterfall. I look so confident..
As we approached the waterfall it didn’t look too bad, though. The path in the waterfall stream was wider than the path leading to the waterfall. Still, the rocks were slippery and there was still a deep cliff on our right side. I crossed the waterfall with a big grin on my face and had goosebumps when reaching the other side. I felt proud. I took a deep breath and continued walking.
Crossing the waterfall
The not-so-happy ending
From there it started to go downhill again towards Tina’s guesthouse, where our bags were sent to. On arriving at Tina’s, we decided to climb down to the Middle Leaping Gorge which is a big rock in the middle of the river. This was a mistake. I could not enjoy my believe that I had conquered my fear of heights for very long. The path to the Middle Leaping Gorge was horrible. It was narrow, rocky and for a large part carved into the rocks. The handrail consisted of thin metal poles with a thick string between them and were build by the locals. Some poles were good and some where loose. The paths got smaller, steeper, rockier and the river got bigger and louder and more terrifying. I pushed my limits but finally had to give up at a viewing platform realizing that we also had to go back the same way we came from. And this was supposed to be the easy route. The other path features a sky ladder, which is basically a 15 meter vertical ladder up against a cliff.
You can actually stand at that big rock in the middle of the river
We’ve tamed the tiger
This last part does not take away the fact that hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge was a great experience. I’m actually glad our bus driver just drove off on the morning of day one. It is one of the absolute highlights of our trip to China and it might also be one of the coolest things I have ever done.
Although I did not defeat my fear of heights, I’m sure I’ve tamed it a little.
Ferdy & Christina