China – Hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge: An Unforgettable Experience 

Being in China has pushed me to to be more adventurous and try things that I would normally stray away from. In the past, I automatically lost interest if I even heard the word “hiking”. I’ve never been the athletic type. In fact, I can’t even walk half way up the hill on EMU’s campus without searching for the nearest bench.

So, my mom was understandably shocked when I told her I was going to participate in a two day hike to the Tiger Leaping Gorge. Hearing that there was beautiful scenery was definitely a motivator for my decision to go.

Since I was able to go at my own pace, I was able to stop and appreciate the scenery. It was also pretty manageable because I could sit down and take a rest when I felt like I couldn’t go any further.

Within the first hour or so I tripped on some rocks walking up hill, which made me regret embarking on this journey. But, I took a deep breath, accepted the fact that I was covered in dirt, and kept moving along. A man walking with a horse followed our group for quite a while and tried to coerce us to ride the horse along the trail. He imitated our huffing and puffing in an attempt to convince us to give in. We decided to face the challenge head-on though and walk to the half-way point the first day.

Before the hike, we were warned that the most difficult part was the twenty-eight switchbacks, a series of uneven stone steps that continuously went up and around. We thought that we had already conquered the switchbacks before lunch, but we soon discovered that was not the case. This was very discouraging because we knew that it was only going to get more difficult. I had to take a little break after about five switchbacks.

It was chilly up in the mountains, but it felt like a hundred degrees as we tried to go uphill  as fast as we could with the sun beaming down on us. About halfway through the switchbacks, I set my heavy backpack down and laid down in the shade. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and told myself that I would make it.

Once I reached a sign that read, “You conquered the 28 bends,” I was actually surprised that there weren’t any more. After a long day of hiking, we stayed at the Halfway Hostel that thankfully had heated blankets. It felt great to be able to curl up in a ball and be surrounded with warmth after exerting so much energy. The next day, I was not as sore as I expected to be.

We had a satisfying breakfast and set out to hike three hours before stopping at a guesthouse to rest. We saw a beautiful waterfall on the way and stopped to capture the image. I appreciated being in such a peaceful setting and being able to take in all the scenery.

I was discouraged on the way to Tina’s Guesthouse because there were many slippery areas sprinkled with loose rocks and boulders which I constantly tripped over. I was thrilled once I saw the sign for the hotel in the distance and charged downhill.

Tina’s provided free transportation to the rock where the tiger is believed to have leaped to the gorge from. We then discovered that there was no transportation back and it would be about a 3-hour hike back.

I wasn’t too happy about this after such a strenuous hike, but I decided to accept the challenge. Walking closer to the gorge was mostly downhill, which made it a little easier. But, once I got to the point where one could actually stand on the rock, I decided that I did not want to go on.

The bridge didn’t look very supportive in my opinion. I saw that many people made it across safely and were happily taking photos on the large rock, but I knew that I would be terrified if I felt the bridge sway. Luckily, there was a faster way to get back to the guesthouse that didn’t require walking up all the steps we walked down.

It was quite a sight to go up two ladders to get back up the mountain. I was frightened when I reached the end of the first ladder and realized my leg was too long to go over the last step. I panicked as Claire stood a few steps behind me and assured me that I just had to take a deep breath and pull myself over the step. Once we made it past the first ladder, the second ladder was a piece of cake.

Although the hike was strenuous and a lot more exercise than I’m used to, I am glad that I got the opportunity to do it. I don’t think I’d hike it again if I had the chance though. It was refreshing to experience a more rural side of China and be surrounded by nature and clean air. It was also great to devour a BLT once we returned to old town Lijiang–without any guilt. I had earned it!

-Yordanos Tesfa





On the Great Wall