By Jacob Jarvis
As with many things in China, my headstrong British enthusiasm, or ignorance if you prefer, led me to underestimate the Tiger Leaping Gorge trek. A route so frequently undertook by wandering ramblers was sure to be easy. Six hours they said, surely not, more like four I deduced. Including a lunch break, I took eight.
The first half was arduous with a view which, despite being impressive at first, was tarred by the modernity of a large car park and wide roads. The 28 Bends then required me to put my head down, grit my teeth and simply stride across rocks and undergrowth, with nothing much to see but thick greenery closing me in.
My advice for this first section of the walk; find an interesting companion, whom you can bond with via conversation during the easier parts, but will also provide silent support as you trudge your way over the difficult sections. I was fortunate to bump into a well-travelled and well-spoken American, whose tales of China, and knowledge of Mandarin, were equally entertaining and helpful along the way.
Once you reach the upper realms of the trail and the peaks of the gorge itself, every painful step is forgotten and all words become superfluous as you take in the other-worldly scenery. Clouds float just overhead, teasing you into thinking they’re within touching distance, as they circle the snow-tipped surroundings. Every shade of green is represented in the seemingly unending landscape, ranging from the soft shades of fledgling patches of grass, to the deep hues of the towering trees, which stand like silent guardians preserving the natural grandeur of the spectacular location.
Continuing along the path, two waterfalls greet you with bubbling sing-song, the first a small, almost shy looking cascade of liquid, which proves to be a perfect resting spot – with its shaded stones and cool unspoiled stream. The second is a larger monument, which bellows as appose to babbles, as the white water stumbles unstoppably down the spiked crevice in the rocks.
From there it took only slightly over an hour to reach Halfway House where I took in the views from the safety of one of the wide-windowed rooms and its expansive balcony. Here I rested for the night, taking in what I could before night fell, then the dazzling, unpolluted, star-filled sky after darkness had descended.
The next morning, after a breakfast of locally baked bread, banana, and rice porridge, I decided to head to the Tiger Leaping Stone, where, as legend claims, the Tiger which gave the gorge its moniker undertook its now world-renowned leap.
On this second day of walking I first had to drag myself along for two-hours across the winding walkway. We were greeted by dozens of mountain goats – all of which were undertaking the climb with much more ease and grace than any of the humans attempting to do so. To begin with they seemed shy of our group, or perhaps they didn’t want to be associated with such pitiful climbers. Slowly they began to develop confidence, and before long were seemingly posing for photographs, showing off their best footwork to dance up to increasingly precarious spots.
Before long we also met two of the more spectacular waterfalls, one which would give the bravest of trekkers vertigo should they decide to look over its edge, and another which even our band of clumsy-footed wanderers could climb into. I made the decision to climb up and across the fall, drenching myself in the somehow ice cold water, enjoying the natural shower and adrenaline rush which came from the sudden dip and balancing across the slippery fall.
After two hours or so I reached the path to the stone, where I began the difficult descent to the famous vantage point. Uneven stairs, impractically low handrails and vertical ladders led the way down, which was done in silence as everybody’s individual focus was put into not taking a surely fatal trip. It took around forty minutes, going at a reasonable pace, to reach the renowned rock, which was being attacked by a torrent of churning waves that dived viciously between the water-filled valley, bouncing off its rugged walls.
Slowly, I cautiously clambered across the breach to sit next to the stone, and carefully observed it. It became quite obvious why the mythology around this landmark was created, as I sat and perused the incredible sight. Equally terrifying as it is beautiful, the intimidating scenery almost tells the tales itself.
Surrounded by the gushing white water, contemplatively absorbing the surroundings, all of the hiking was undoubtedly justified. Upon realising the hard work done by nature to bestow upon us gifts such as the Tiger Leaping Gorge, a little bit of effort from myself was truly put into perspective.