Today it is Fran's birthday and we were off hiking through Tiger Leaping Gorge. The trip started at 7:20 with a pick up from our hotel. We had booked a small group hike along the gorge and it turned out to be very small - just us and the guide. We stopped a couple of times on the way to the gorge - once to look over the Yangtze river as it comes out of Tibet and a second time to see the first bend of the Yangtze. Both views were spectacular - especially at that time on the morning with low mist in the valleys and the snow covered peaks. We stopped as we entered the gorge to see the first set of rapids of the Yangtze. The gorge itself is very dramatic - set between 2 sets of mountains - one at up to 5000m the other at about 4000m with the river level at about 1500m. Both sets of mountains had snow on them with the far set being vertical cliffs - or so it seemed to us.The bus carried on climbing for a few more minutes and then the bus stopped and the guide said 'out - we walk'. So it was up the hill towards the high trail that overlooked the gorge. I should add at this point, when we booked the trip the guy took one look at us and said you go up the easy way. So we trudged up the hill for about 45 minutes - we stopped frequently - supposedly to look at the magnificent view but really to catch our breath. After 45 minutes, we were on the path proper. This was fairly level, going around ravines with water falls and fantastic views of the river below and the mountains opposite. At a couple of times it got a bit scary with the path narrowing and some sheer drops. We reached our lunch stop, a little guest house with views over the gorge and stopped. The views from the toilets had to be seen to be believed.After lunch, it started raining which made the walk a little more difficult - especially as the terrain got steep as well in parts. When we reached some remote spot, my phone started ringing - it was Victoria wishing Fran Happy Birthday - we couldn't believe that we would get reception out here. We reached our stop for the night about 4:00 - the rain having stopped by then. We had a quick walk round looking at the gorge of one of the tributaries - until the heavens opened again. We got back into shelter - I would have liked to say the warm but the guest house was freezing - draughty with no insulation and all the doors open. Everyone huddled round little charcoal braziers to keep warm - that included all the locals. We went to bed and were delighted to find we had electric blankets. We were starting off again about 8:30 the next day so had an early breakfast and we were delighted to see that the weather looked good - some cloud and mist but lots of blue sky. We had to wake our guide up but soon we were off down to the bottom of the gorge. The descent was difficult as the path was narrow and quite steep in parts but we got down (with lots of stops to see the view). Down at the gorge the river looked very fierce - the gorge was very narrow (this is where the tiger is supposed to have leaped it- hence the name) which made the rapids quite awesome.We then started back up by a different path, having crossed one of the tributaries. This path was really hairy with the path cut into the cliff face with steel rope to hang on to. The ascent took about 1.5 hours - with lots of stops to get our breath (we couldn't look at the views as all I could see was rock!). At one point, I thought we were going up a 60m ladder and this got me quite unnerved as there was no way I was going up it. Found out there was a 'Safe' way - again with steps cut into the cliff. We made it up to the top a little weary but pleased with ourselves.After a quick lunch stop we had a 40 min minibus ride to get us further downstream. The views here were still quite good but nothing like the ones upstream. (The minibus ride was hairy though - there had been lots of the landslides on the road so the surface and barriers had gone in some sections). We were set down in the middle of a field and the guide said 'we walk'. We went down a path towards the river to get a ferry. This proved a little more difficult as when we got to the bottom after 40 minutes, we could not get the ferryman's attention. Eventually he appeared and chugged across with the boat - the ferry was a little rustic - it came complete with horse droppings from some of the previous passengers. The climb back up proved a little more strenuous as we were tired and it was quite hot by this time. We made it to the top to be met by another minibus for the next section. This section took us by road round the back of 'Snow mountains'- the ones we had been looking at all along the trek. Before we got there, we had a 15 minutes ride over dirt roads followed by an 1.5 hour climb in the bus over cobbled roads. The views over the valley and the mountains were unreal. From the top it was possible to see Shangri-La (that's what the Chinese have named the town any way) which is at 5000+m on the borders of Tibet. When we reached the other side we had views over the snow covered peaks. From here it was through the mountains, back to Lijiang passing through a big Chinese tourist area where they catch cable cars up to the glacier as many of them from the south never see snow. There was also one village with a large river coming down that had formed pools all coloured green / blue by the mineral content. There was even Yak rides for the tourists through the river.