Yunnan Province - Trekking Tiger Leaping Gorge and Meili Snow Mountain area05/07/2011
We got up nice and early and got one of a number of mini-buses arranged by our guest house heading up to Tiger Leaping Gorge. I wondered if the number of people doing the same thing might mean the trek was very busy and a bit over crowded but this turned out to be an unfounded fear and the trek through the gorge was beautiful. The scenery was stunning, the walking was steady with only one major challenge of 28 (or 24 depending on which books you read) switch backs climbing up a steep slope. The first day (we did the trek in 2 days but it can be done in one if you feel so inclined) was hard but rewarding and we were grateful to arrive at the first guesthouse and settle in for the evening. As seems to be common on these types of treks, the guesthouse rewarded us with stunning views over the gorge and to the other side. The second day was easier walking but the views were still stunning and by the end we were well and truly ready to stop. Tine and Mads were on a tighter timescale to us so they braved going down to see where the tiger is meant to have leapt the gorge, but Tyler, Seth and I thought we would save our tired legs and see how we felt the next day. In the end we never made it down to site itself as that evening we added two more to our travelling group, Cacey and Jimmy from South Africa, and the next day the 7 of us headed for Shangri-La.
Shangri-La in our minds, before we arrived, was a small mountain community. Ok, we knew that tourism had hit so it might not be quite so idyllic but even so we weren't prepared for a large city with only a tiny piece of old remaining, and even that felt like it had been built in the last 15 years specifically for the tourism. We had a nice time there and bought some extra trekking gear, but it was the people we were with (and the amazing BBQ at N's Kitchen) that made the time nice, not the place itself. On our one full day in the city Seth and I hired bicycles and headed out of town with Cacey and Jimmy to visit some hot-springs - and to get caught out yet again by the Chinese tourism fees, this time paying 20Y to get into the area of the hot springs only to find when we were inside that we had to pay another 80Y to actually go in the water. Yet again the over-charging meant to had to abandon our initial plans, but luckily the bike ride itself was fun and being out of the city was certainly preferable to being in the city (although Tyler did manage to get a free lunch by staying put so he was happy). It has since transpired that this is just the way China does things, which is a big shame as they are making things too expensive for us - but of course the local tourists are happy to pay the price (in fact I think they pay less anyway sometimes) and since we make up a tiny proportion of their tourism industry it seems we don't matter.
From Shangri-La we followed Tine and Mads to Deqin where they had heard of trekking in the Meili Snow Mountain area. We are so grateful to Tine and Mads for this recommendation as it really was a stunning area to trek. The first day we headed up a long and steep hillside to see the MingYong Glacier. It was a vertical climb of 1.1km up from where the taxi dropped us off to the monastery at the top with the most stunning view of the Glacier. Here we stopped and took some photos before fuelling ourselves with rice wine for the trek down - it was disguesting but warmed us through.
The next day we trekked from XiDang Hotsprings (we didn't stop to see how much they would charge us to go in these springs) to YuBeng, over a mountain pass at 3800meters. Again it was a stunning walking with a long, unending upward path to the pass, followed by a much shorter trek down to the villages (upper and lower YuBeng). After this walk we had to say a fond fair-well to Tine, Mads, Jimmy and Cacey who were all on different time scales so after a slightly drunken night of beer and rice wine, our travelling group (briefly) went back to just me, Seth and Tyler. It was such fun travelling and walking with our new friends but the nature of travel is to move on so the next day they did the final leg of the trek while we sat in our hotel nursing hangovers and going for short little walks around the area. In particular we went to see a place in the river nearby by the local Buddhists had built hundreds of little stacks of stones.
With clear heads, the day after Seth and I went to see an Ice Lake in the mountains. It was another beautiful walk (once we had recovered from the irritation of having to pay an addition 30Y fee to the local farmers to walk the path) and the lake and Glacier above it was incredible. It makes you realise the scale of nature and how it all links when staring at the melt water coming from the Glacier and realising that this water feeds into the Mekong, and will travel through all these places we have been visiting recently through China and Laos.
Finally it was our turn to head back down the final leg of the circular trek. For this we joined up with a couple from Ireland and Australia, and 2 Israelis. I feel like a stuck record to describe this final trek as stunning as well but what more can I say? First we followed a fast flowing river watching the water tumble over massive rocks and crash down with awesome power. The water was obviously melt water from one of the nearby glaciers and you could feel the temperature in the air drop dramatically each time the path took us close to the water again. This river then met the almighty power of the Mekong which we followed upstream until we found a village for lunch and a taxi back along the road. Getting a taxi at any point in a trek might sound like we were taking the easy option but the reality of Chinese roads meant this was one of the most dangerous and stressful parts of the trek. As with most of the mountain roads in this area, we were driving along a road still being built, at one time coming across a pile of stones that had been piled in the middle of the road so we had to wait for a JCB to remove them before heading on around the corner to a tunnel that was also still under construction. There was also the switchback in the road which we had to try 4 or 5 times before finally making it around the bend. It was all a bit much for my nerves and I was grateful to be back in Feilai where we had started and in our hotel with western toilets and heated blankets. It was then a just a case of two days of bus journeys via Shangri-La back to Lijang where we had left our main bags and we could relax after almost 2 weeks at over 2200 meters.