Tiger Leaping Gorgeous - Tennessee Williams may have said that "time is the longest distance between two places" but we disagree. It's quite clear that the start and end points of the 28 Bends section of the Tiger Leaping Gorge trail is the longest distance between two places. In the whole world. Or so it felt like last Wednesday afternoon as we were halfway through the first day of our four-day trek in China's Northwest Yunnan province (test your geography with that one!).
Without doubt, one of the most spectacular treks we've ever done, Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the deepest gorges in the world. The gorge is 16km long and the sides tower 4km above the river bed. We obviously chose the high trail which wound up and around the gorge for two days of tough and ridge-hugging trekking. After walking up, up, up, around and up the 28 Bends, our first night was in Tea Horse Guesthouse just outside the Yacha Village. An evening of (girly) Dali beer, a huge Chinese feast and campfire eased our aching muscles. The Dali-fueled next day was down, down, down, carefully across waterfalls and down again to finally come face-to-face with the middle rapids (the most ferocious rapids we've seen) and the Tiger Leaping Stone, where a tiger is once said to have leapt across the Yangzi river (hence the name of the gorge). Unfortunately, that also then meant back up, up and up via a series of ladders and rock scrambles during a rain storm to meet the path into Walnut Garden, where we spent our second night (when we eventually found a hostel with water for a much-needed shower).
Most trekkers call it a day here and flag down anything heading back to the local towns of Qiaotou or Lijiang. But why do that when you can carry on walking for another 33km out into another valley, up alongside the snowcapped Haba Mountain and across to Haba village? By the end of our third afternoon with the sun piercing down on the tarmac of our final 18km, even Fifi our guide had had enough and flagged down a truck!
On the next and final day, we reluctantly turned down Mama Haba's offer of a trip up the 5300 metre Haba Snow Mountain (she would provide the crampons and ice picks for free) and, with the lovely Dutch girls, swapped our walking shoes for horse shoes, and braved the rising altitudes through local minority villages on donkey-back. As relaxing as it sounds, James' saddle was so small that he had to walk the final third to preserve his children making abilities and all three girls started to experience mysterious stomach groans which eventually led to Nicola spending the next three days in Shangri-La caught between the bed and the loo.
After a fab few days, we can now confirm that the secret to a memorable hike is four-fold:
1) Stunning scenery with a good balance of challenging ascents, easier but thoroughly enjoyable trails and the odd waterfall to splash your way through. And the Tiger certainly has that. Our pictures can't do justice to the enormity of the mountains and plunging depths of the gorge.
2) Some Star-Trekkers. Yes, Rafaela, Marsha Marsha Marsha, Big Water Buffalo, Marloes, Roy, Hesta, Campfire Chris and DreamRain, that's you. Who knew that you could spend so much time playing 'What's the Difference...' (educational AND fun), thinking of English words with three meanings (a game that James - the only Englishman at the table - made up so he could win at something) and playing golf with a walking stick and some old corn-on-the-cobs?
3) The ability to purchase at least one Snickers bar per day en route.
4) Carrying half a kilo of vacuum-packed chilli yak meat in your rucksack for four days because no-one dares to try it.
PS: some cool snaps to follow when we can find a computer to handle them!