Friday, September 4, 2009

Curious gorge

Three hours north of Lijiang by bus is one of the deepest gorges in the world.  It's called Tiger Leaping Gorge.   Legend says that in order to escape from a hunter, a tiger jumped across the river at the narrowest point (still 25 meters wide), hence the name.  The tallest peak, Shanzidou, rises 3900 meters above the river floor to a height of 5596 meters.  The length of the entire gorge is just 16 kilometers long but is arguably one of the most spectacular natural sites I have ever seen.  It is considered "unraftable," and, as far as I can tell, there have only ever been 3 attempts to run the rapids.  In the early 1980's 4 men tried to float a large raft down it, but they were never seen again.  In the late 1980's 2 Chinese teams in a race with an American team attempted to navigate it using "capsule" rafts that looked like 2 airline rafts tied on top of each other with car inner tubes tied around the rim.  I'm not sure how many people started the trip but 9 people were killed by the time they exited the canyon.  From what I understand, the American racers days behind had already decided to abandon the race. 
Our drop off point was a few hundred yards from the start of the hike up the "high road".  As I had been warned the night before by an aloof Australian couple, we were immediately descended upon by Margo,  a wild eyed, slightly crazy Australian expat who owns a cafe at the start of the hike.  Excitedly scolding those who were not listening to her, she extolled upon us the evils of anyone we were to meet on the hike. "They all will try to rip you off". About Tina's Hostel (a hostel in the middle of the gorge), "You have already been ripped off by her!".  About the weather, "it is much too hot to wear long pants today".  More about the obviously demonic Tina, "don't stay at her hostel, she will rip you off. You want to continue on to Sean's 40 minutes walk up the road".  And finally, the cost of a ride back to her cafĂ©, "all of the cabs along the road will all try to rip you off, especially if other drivers are around to make them fee, guilty.  It shouldn't cost more than 10 RMB".  Her diatribe finished, she quickly scurried away to parts unknown mumbling to herself.  Quite trippy.

Hiking to WenHai

August 26
So it was time to get off the beaten path. Geoff and I hit a traveler's online forum and found that it's possible to hike to a village at the edge of an Alpine lake near Lijiang. According to a two year old posting, the village has a defunct eco-lodge that visitors can stay in if they make appropriate arrangements in advance. Geoff hopped on the phone and, through fits and sputters, managed to make it over the language barrier to some sort of arrangement with one Mr. Chu via his cousin, Mrs. Somethingorother, who knew a little English.
Mr. Chu picked us up in his Jeep at 10am the next day and 40 minutes later we were meeting our guide, Mr. He, at the trail head.  I liked Mr. He right away. He was youthful and had the dark skin and chiseled features of someone who was most at home outside. Forgetting myself I reached out to shake his hand. Shaking hands isn't the custom here, but he mimicked my motion and looked at me awkwardly as I took his hand and gave it a mild bounce. Mr. Chu looked at us and pointed the Mr. He: "No English," then he took off.  I had no idea where we were going, but I could see a pass up a pretty steep slope. The first 300 feet were paved, but then we made for a dirt trail and a 20% grade. The hike starts at about 8,000 feet, so Geoff and I were huffing and puffing from the start.

It's hard to say how old Mr. He was, but I'd put him at somewhere between 17 and 19.   Damned if he didn't trot ahead of us like we were taking a stroll in the park. Geoff and I were laughable. Our packs had us off balance. We were thumping along making a racket huffing and puffing. Mr. He was so light footed he barely made a sound. I'd huff, Mr. He'd hum. Geoff would hack, Mr. He would whistle away.  At one point I stopped, all stooped over, to catch my breath, so Mr. He stopped too and started belting out a song. Show off!