09 April 2017

We were up before dawn to catch the bus to Tiger Leaping Gorge. This is supposed to be one of the best bush walking areas in China (we withhold judgement on this!) and it is possible to do multiple day hikes through the gorge. We have opted to skip on this as we don’t know what to do with our luggage, and are cheating by catching the bus to the middle of the gorge. At least from here we can walk a few different parts.

The bus arrived at the stop and was already fairly full, so there are places to buy the tickets  other than the hostel, but we have no idea where. Then we were off. The trip is not that far. Only about 40km and on the other side of the Jade Snow Mountain, yet it took a long time to get there. The road winds around the sides of steep mountains and in and out of valleys. It was a very scenic drive. At some point we reached the entrance to the park where we forked out our dosh to keep driving. Everyone else got off here. Even the Chinese people that we had expected to do what we were doing got off. Apparently you do this if you are serious walkers. Not people like us!

When the bus moved on, it was only Anna and I that were still on the bus. We found out that it was possible to have your luggage transported on to Tina’s Guest House, and they would store it free of charge until you turned up! If we had known about that, we probably would have done the full walk as well. Still, we are starting to get short of time, and this is still the best option for us.

The driver was pretty good, and stopped for a few minutes for us to get off and have a look at one of the scenic points. The national park is building a walkway around the edge of the cliffs for day trippers to walk around. While this is under construction, a fair amount has already been completed, and we could see the work that was being done. The river in this section is a broiling mess of water as it goes around one of the first bends of the Yangtze river. A sight to behold at the moment, and it would be truly ferocious when the river is in flood.

Luckily for us, and hopefully many others, the plans to damn this section of the Yangtze fell through and the canyon is still here. It is apparently one of the deepest gorges in the world, and as the cliffs rear up on either side we could believe it.

Tina’s Guest house is about half way along the gorge, and marks the point that the two day hike finishes. The hike follows the ridge line of the gorge and there is a walk up to the top, then along the ridge before descending steeply to Tina’s. From here you can continue the walk for at least another day through the gorge to the other end, or do different routs down to the river.

After we checked in, we decided to do the river walk. It was why we were here after all.

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We got a free ride! It was to the far side of the narrowest point in the Gorge, and we could walk back from there. This seems to be because of a bit of rivalry between Sean’s Guest House and Tina’s. There is advertising everywhere about both. It is X distance from this, and painted over with Y distance to that. Outside Tina’s is a sign saying that Sean’s is a further couple of kilometres and you should stay there (In graffiti over it is something going on about how the manager is sleazy and single women shouldn’t stay there), whatever the rivalry is, we are at Tina’s as it was the most convenient, although there are guesthouses all over the place with more being built.

So we got to the point where we were able to go down to the river. We had to pay 10 yuan each to go down.

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There was a little old lady here making sure we paid our fees. There was also a big sign up saying that the path had been created by a local family in 2008 and had no government assistance in building or maintaining it. OK, so we paid and started our descent.

There was no maintenance on the path, but as it was a path down a somewhat steep hillside there was not much need for maintenance. The path itself is easy to follow and in pretty good condition. You can see the remains of ancient terraces where the hill side has been used to cultivate crops in the past (a lot longer ago than 2008). It is a very steep drop and you keep zig-zagging down. Almost at the river there are a few shacks being built that serve refreshments and probably food if you are after it. Then the idea is that you walk back along the river.

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It was not long before we were stopped by a big iron gate over the path. A girl with an Iphone 7 draped over her neck sauntered over to us demanding payment to pass. WTF? We had payed to come down already. Apparently we had descended the path of one family, and this section of path was created by a different family. The phone bugged me. If they could afford this for a 15 year old girl they didn’t need to charge for a path that had obviously been created before her great grandfather had been born. Yet there was another sign saying the path had been created in 2008 and without government assistance. Blah Blah Blah. (Read up on the region. Back in the day (pre 1900’s) a number of Europeans have done this hike. The paths existed then, and there were only a few farming families spread out along the entire area. Now there are 20 odd families charging admission to each section that they “recently built and maintain”) We had the choice: Pay the money or go back the way we had come. If we went back there was no guarantee that we wouldn’t be charged again to go up. *Deep Sigh* we paid. There was an argument over it though, and we didn’t pay the full amount as we were still walking on wards.

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This was one of the narrowest sections of the canyon. There is also a rock sticking up in the river that these enterprising people have built a rope ladder out to. It costs extra to climb out to this rock.

I suppose this is where you should get the story of Tiger Leaping Gorge. The short version is that a tiger was being hunted. It got cornered down here and leaped onto the rock. From the rock it leaped to the other side of the gorge and managed to escape from the hunter. Looking at the other side of the gorge, we wondered where the hell it went to from there. Yes, I suppose the leaps could have been possible, but it would have been stuck. There was nowhere for it to go.
The hunter may have given up though, as there was probably no way for him to get the carcass back to the other side and may have admired the tenacity and determination of the tiger. Don’t know. At the moment, don’t care.

Either way there is a rock out into the middle of the river that we didn’t pay to cross. There is also the option to pay for the ascent here. It is the sky ladder as it is a series of very long ladders that will take you up the cliff face. We continued on. Now the path gets really bad, and we wished that some of the maintenance that we were paying for was happening. There were a few bridges that consisted of rotten planks being held together by scraps of rope and mold.

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After a couple of these scrappy bridges that you wouldn’t trust your donkey to cross there was another section. We had to pay again. This is getting very frustrating. Every little thing here is pay per use. It is not as if we hadn’t already payed a rather large fee to enter into this area, now we are being charged every 250m or so. There was another rock with bridge that we didn’t opt for and another “family built path” that would take us on. Taking the family path we continued along the river. More very un-maintained paths and bridges. This section also had a section of text saying that they looked after the environment and cleaned up after all the tourists. Not that I agree with dumping your rubbish on the side of a cliff in the middle of nowhere, but others apparently have no issue with dumping their water bottles or other garbage (china does like its packaging though) on the path as they no longer need it. That said, and the sign, we were seriously wondering what we were paying for, as there was garbage everywhere. No one had emptied the bins along the path in a long time, and every nook and cranny was filled with empty water bottles and chip packets. Hummm, iphone shopping or collecting garbage? Which would you prefer?

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So now we were basically at the end of the walk though the narrowest point of the gorge. It had cost us close to 50 yuan with each section, and would have been double that if we had accepted every little extortion attempt. We don’t even know how much they would have charged us for a water or any other kind of drink. To be fair, they do have to lug all those drinks down here (and in theory take the garbage back up). To be honest, the shacks that they are building down here to house those drinks shouldn’t be allowed. They are monstrous eyesores on the natural beauty of the area with their neon blue corrugated plastic roofs and half arsed building attempts with more left abandoned on the sides of the path than are actually being used.

On our way up the hill we found an old government plaque. This described the region. Apparently over the years there have been a number of gold mining periods with a lot of small caves dug following seams of quartz/gold. This explains the old pathways that we have been following, as well as the odd holes carved into the cliff faces on both sides of the gorge. So much for them being built in 2008. There are old gold mines here, as well as old terraces and both of these needed access. These families that are here now may or may not have been related to the traditional people in the region, but the bullshit they are sprouting about needing to charge tourists is exactly that. Bullshit. The paths are not maintained. The bridges are definitely cross at your own risk. The garbage is not being collected, and we are paying for their iphones and internet access down here. Then there is the environmental vandalism of the huts they are building and discarding down here to have their path side stalls is appalling. On top of all that is the attitude.

*Another deep Sigh* Having written all that I realised I have not described the beauty of the region at all. It is beautiful. It is worth coming here. It is even worth paying the fees all the way along. The river is churning its way between two massive cliffs that you cannot appreciate the height of. If you look up, you have to look up again. It is truly stunning. I hope the photos do justice to the walk.

On a last note: The walk back up the hill. I could go on about how steep and long it was. How many breaks we had to have. The heart attack I almost had half way up, and then realised I was still less than half way and had to continue on, the steps. The climb, how at each bend the river opened up a different view going from brown to blue to virulent green (You know, that green when you cough up phlem that is definitely not healthy!)

At one of the sections we came across a viewing platform. This had been closed off. Not surprising. It was two railway sleepers stuck into the wall with dubious cement and glass/perspex floor and sides. It seemed to be held in place by two supporting rusty steel ropes. Even if it had been open there was no way that either Anna or myself would have been coaxed out onto it. As it was it looked as if a strong breeze would send it crashing the hundreds of feet down to the river.

Past that and we eventually made it back to the road. Now we just had to zig-zag up that and back to Tina’s. It was a good walk, and we are just sorry to have missed the counterpart of walking along the ridge line.

Back at Tina’s we walked over the bridge. This bridge spans a very steep gully. Gully is an understatement, but the road around had been destroyed by a landslide some time in the past and the bridge had been made. On the other side of the bridge you could follow the old road back around the hillside to a massive waterfall. This was actually quite pretty, and well worth the time it takes to get there (not long). The road has been washed away as there was no need to look after it since the bridge was built, but you can jump over the rocks and rubble of the road to get closer to where the water is streaming down the hill side. If we lived in the area it would be a favorite pick-nick spot as it is such a nice place to hang out.

In the evening we met a Frenchman. He had been on the bus with us this morning, and was asking how to get to Baishuitai. This is where we also wanted to go tomorrow. We had already organised transport so decided to help him out.

His story was that he had walked the 2 day track in a single day, and wanted to go to the end of the gorge, but the guides couldn’t keep up with him and wanted to charge a fortune. He wanted to walk to Baishuitai through the mountains but had basically he had given up on the idea. We were going there and invited him along (OK, it was a bus, and not a private vehicle, but the principle was the same.). Turns out he is a really nice guy and we spent time talking to him during our over priced dinner (well, we are in a captive environment here).

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