Leaping Tiger Gorge. At some point in the 1980’s, really adventurous Western backpackers started hiking the old trails through here. Back then, as I was told, the local villagers were pretty afraid to be seen interacting with these crazies. China had hardly started opening up, the days of anyone being labelled a rightist weren’t far behind, and suddenly in this (once) remote corner of Yunnan province there were all these hairy imperialists streaming through. No doubt they looked strange: being the time it was, they probably wore jean shorts.
But as one of the locals explained to us, a lot of those first Western hikers got sick or exhausted before finishing. As night fell, they would knock on the doors of the households scattered along the ledges, asking for help and shelter. Within a few years, the result was a new local economy based on beds and western-style breakfasts. And in our experience, a quarter century later, they do a really great job.
And the hike itself? Check our lousy pictures, and imagine something much, much better. In our amateur opinion, of the currently popular hikes in China, Tiger Leaping Gorge is probably second only to Sanqingshan for panoramas, second to Huashan for thrills, first overall for the highest scenery/effort ratio, and far away the best for talking with other hikers in English over a cold beer–and a great mountain backdrop–at the end of a fun day. So basically, it deserves to be up there.
And as for our own leaping tiger cub, the easier-to-appreciate foreground scenery was also fairly exciting. We ‘got’ to share the narrow trail with a full who’s who of name-that animals: goats, ducks, geese, pigs, dogs, cows, songbirds, a water buffalo–even a little lizard, which Owen got to hold for about ten seconds, before he tried to put it in his mouth. For certain animals, Owen would point and name-yell like some exhilirated modern-day Joseph Rock, journeying to this remote part of Yunnan to catalogue the area’s undiscovered species: