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Tiger Leaping Gorge, Yunan is a half marathon hike and why you should do it now!

Updated: 6 hours ago

Tiger Leaping Gorge in Shangrila, is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and towers above the mighty Jinsha River 金沙江 (Upper Yangtze). It is dramatically sandwiched between the majestic Haba Snow Mountain 哈巴雪山 (on the north west side) and Jade Dragon Snow Mountain 玉龙雪山 on the opposite.

Jade Dragon snow mountain, tiger leaping gorge yunan
The gorgeous views of the Jade Dragon Mountain, Yulong Mountain Range
This awe inspiring view during the 2 day hike is unparalleled and will haunt you long after you leave! It would be hard-pressed to find a hike or place that can rival the beauty of Tiger Leaping Gorge-ous hike.

Strangely, despite its unrivalled beauty, there weren't many tourists exploring this 2-3 day hike. However, you must hurry before the bullet train arrives!

Tiger Leaping Gorge, Yunan

DAY 1 Ticket station to Tea Horse (one night stay)

  • 10km back and forth

  • 500m appx elevation gain

  • total time, 5-6 hours

  • highest point 2600m (28 bends)

We started the hike from the ticket office, with available communal toilet facilities in case you need to "go" before the hike. We arrived from Zhongdian/Dukezong 日光城

(Shangrila) around 1 hour half away from start-point. Dukezong town (3300m) is a strategic place to acclimatise before heading to higher elevation hikes. In 2014 a disastrous fire burn two thirds of this 1300 year old ancient southern silk route old town to ashes. The town Shangari-La 香格里拉 we know today is one that was rebuilt and has lost most of it's originality and rustic charm.

We embarked on this 28 bends, Tiger Leaping Gorge hike after 3 days hike in Yubeng. (2 days hike for some lazy ones) Anyways, still exhausted from the hike the day before, we lugged our one night bag pack and started the 28 bends hike with heavy feet. (pack light)

There was a light drizzle which was welcoming after a hot hike the day before.

Thankfully the sky cleared as we progressed further up the mountain. We counted each bend out loud..... 1,...... heavy inhales and exhales........8, am I going to pass out, 15 ok, i am gaining steady pace, 20, did I pack rocks in my bag...... ! Trust me, it really helps!

Along the way, many villagers were selling the fruits, nuts and picks from the season. The local Naxi offers horse or mull rides for tired hikers to midway inns. After all, this trail might have been one of the networks of the Ancient Tea Horse Road. They traverse the trail with their horses as if walking in a mall.

tiger leaping gorge yunan
Count out loud each bend you take!
The 28 bends trail was about 2km of steady ascending switchbacks. Honestly it was tiring, but after the peak, the terrain was moderately flat on the rocky ridge. The scenery was stunning and I had to pinch myself occasionally to make sure I wasn't dreaming.
rocky mountain
The mountain was filled with early summer flowers

We arrived at the mid way inn (Tea Horse Guesthouse) in Yacha Village, where we spent the night around 3.30pm. We regrouped for a late lunch and freshen up to watch the marvellous sunset at the terrace of the inn with panoramic views of the Haba mountain range and the Jade Dragon mountain with a glass of beer! (nice selection of beer available)

rocky mountain ridge
The scenery was simply dramatic, and I am lost for words to describe such raw beauty
rocky mountain
Our rooms on the left has gorgeous views of the Mountains, but my bathroom did not smell quite as nice!

Note: Bring enough water if you are here in late spring or summer!

Day 2

Part 1 (hike to Halfway Inn and lunch at Teacher's inn)

  • 8km

  • 900m elevation loss

  • total time 4-5 hours ( too many stops for photos)

We had to start early for this hike as it covers a long distance. We traversed rocky terrain, waterfalls, pine forest, walnut trees, villages, grazing goats along the way. Every bend offered a spectacular view of the Jade Dragon Mountain, some, more dramatic than the other. We made a brief stop at the Halfway inn for the obligatory photo check with the amazing mountain backdrop and continued our hike to Teacher's Inn.

rocky mountain
Sichuan pepper bush grown everywhere in the village. Crush the corn for numbing sensation when eaten

rocky mountains
Villagers fetching wares to their make shift shops along the way

rocky mountain
The "face" along the Tiger Leaping Gorge Trail

Part 2 ( Teacher's Inn to Tiger Leaping Gorge and back)

  • 4km to the point where the tiger leaped over the other side

  • 168 steps on the sky ladder, short cut back up

  • 3 hours

We took a quick lunch at teacher's inn before heading down to the river. The decent was steep with huge gradients drops. The roar of the Jinsha river echos off the cliff in a crescendo as we approach the river's edge. I felt excited as the wild river reveals itself. We walked across the the suspension bridge with much apprehension as it swayed with the wind that connects to the edge of the river, over bedrock and gravel. Apparently the average flow rate of this river at this point can fill 3 olympic size swimming pools in 3 seconds! #tigerleapinggorgeyunan

Everyone was in a frenzy trying to get as close to the water to capture the best shot of the moment. The scene was surreal and I was gobsmacked by the intensity of the force of the churning water.I paused and looked up and the towering cliffs 500m high above me on each side, and the gorge walls not more than 20m apart. I felt unsettled by the intimidating but magnificent scenery.

I looked further downstream to get my mind off my anxious thoughts and the rock where the legendary tiger leaped across the river was meters away. It must have been one giant tiger to manage such a leap across this roaring river!

tiger leaping gorge yunan
Tiger Leaping Gorge stretches about 23 kilometers. The rock in the middle is where the Tiger made the big leap

After all the amusement , it was time to make the journey back up to where we came from. It was either a backtrack or a shortcut up 168 steps on the sky ladder. The choice was obvious.

tiger leaping gorge yunan
The 168 steps consist of 3 flights. One of them was around 80 degrees and lasted 80 steps

The first flight was at around a 60-degree angle with approximately 50 steps. It seemed quite sturdy, and we all felt somewhat confident to climb it. However, nothing prepared us for the next ladder. It was at an 80-degree angle, not bolted to the rock cliff but merely a long metal rod hanging from about 30 meters. There was no clear rules on how many people should be on the ladder at one time and more and more people just kept climbing it!

Midway up the second ladder, I found myself grasping for breath, possibly hyperventilating, as I tried my best to overcome the obstacle as quickly as possible. The near vertical ladder had some ridiculously narrow rungs. It couldn't even fit my size 5 foot! I had to either skip them or adjust my foot to a strange angle! WHAT THE HELL!

The following 2 ladders was easy peasy. And from there it was a short uphill walk back to teacher's inn. I guess we were all relieved to be back safe and sound with a load to digest! What a bloody amazing hike, this is as good as it gets!

tiger leaping gorge
This 168 series of step is known as Sky ladder and ladder to Heaven (literally)


It is truly amazing how few tourists we met along the the Tiger Leaping Gorge Yunan hike. This hike has everything one could dream of, sheer cliff drops, snow capped mountains, flowers, roaring river, exhilarating ladder climbs.

The stench from the toilets is worth putting up with to experience this part of the world. This isn't my first time visiting China but my first experiencing the notorious common toilets with no door and a single drain that flows through each cubical between our legs. I feel sorry for those who enter the last cubicle as there is lot to deal with! I was wondering why can't a country with hyperbolic advancement in technology not fix a basic sewer problem?? I am thinking this will change very soon after the arrival of bullet train earlier this year in February from Lijang to the "Lost Horizon." Maybe they might even turn Shang, meaning heart, ri, sun and la, moon- (sun and moon in one's heart)

into anther Disneyland!

The trip was organized by Nova Adventure and escorted by their own staff, in our case, the ever attentive Winnie. There were many small hiccups that we did not have to deal with, such as paying 10 Yuan per pax to climb the ladder, transport arrangement from point A to B. Everything went smoothly and hassle free.

I am totally grateful how all of us came out unscathed after a half marathon on the rocky, wild and dramatic gorge! Maybe it was the fluttering prayer flags all along the way that hoped and wished for a safe journey through the lands and mountain of spirit!

Date visited: June 2024


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