As with everything in life, if you go to seek adventure, you will get adventure and being 20 years old just makes the whole thing so much better. What happened during this hike was totally numbing and I’ve only realised after the whole experience how close I was to being seriously hurt.
I booked a bus from Timeless Hostel in Lijiang which was really simple. The bus left fairly early in the morning and took a good couple hours till it finally reached the starting point of the hike. Before we were allowed to begin our journey the bus stopped outside the ticket office and a ticket officer boarded. (If you have a student card make sure you bring it with it and you can get a good discount!)
After being dropped of in place that seemed like the middle of nowhere with only a rubble path leading up a hill, our bus group was a rather apprehensive at first however I decided to lead the way with a Korean woman who was also travelling alone. Everyone else was in pairs or in groups and so it was nice to have someone to hike with. We chatted on and off whiles we hiked and the rest of the time was comfortable silence where we were taking in the breath taking views. That was until the torrential rain started. However I had come prepared with a full water proof suit and it was some how a soothing feeling having the rain pound down on you whiles being completely covered.
It must have been 1/4 way through the first day of hiking when I kept getting a really strong wift of which I could only make out as weed. My Korean hiking partner and I came across some sort of “shop” deep in the mountains. It was only when we took a closer look at what the shop had to offer, that we realised that this area was really badly policed. More weed than you could ever want to buy was for sale and of course along with water and apples for refreshments. After profusely rejecting the woman’s constant offers to try and sell us some weed we settled for some cut- up apple. It was a glorious refreshing taste in the mouth having solidly trekked for a good 3 hours in unbearable humidity. As we left, the woman muttered something in Chinese. At the time I hadn’t really taken in what she had said but after an hour walking I mentioned to my hiking partner Zoe… “You know… She said in Chinese… be careful”. Zoe looked at me and burst out laughing saying “don’t be so scared!”. The thing was, I knew I was a more experienced traveller than she was. This was her first time travelling anywhere on her own and anywhere this remote even though she was in her mid 30s. Something didn’t feel right. Something in my gut was telling to turn back however I just kept reminding myself that 100s of people hike this route every year and that I shouldn’t worry.
We finally reach the half way point which is actually marked on the map as an observation area. It was very clearly marked with a make shift shop hut with snacks, apples and water laid out with prices clearly marked. The only strange thing about this was that there was no shop keeper. We walked past the shop and there was a path going approximately 5m down towards a cliff face that gave a really good view. I must have been there no longer than 5 minutes taking pictures when a middle aged woman caught my eye. She had what looked like a large wooden barrier in her hand and from the distance I could see her moving the barrier to block the path back up. My stomach dropped. I knew it! I knew it! My gut was right. Somethings not right here at all! I looked at Zoe and said “Here we go”. I slowly started making my way back up the back path. The woman standing on one side of the barrier and us on the other. She looked at me and muttered “五百块“, meaning 500Y or the equivalent of £50 each (2014 current exchange). Yes…. We were being mugged… But by a 40 year old Chinese woman. After trying to calm the situation and explain to her in Chinese that we don’t have that sort of money she got even more frustrated and spat in my face. All my adrenaline levels were on high alert. Zoe was terrified and the woman realised and started trying to become more confrontational with her as she saw her as the weaker opponent. I put my arms out and making sure to keep Zoe behind me and the woman in front. I had to come up with a plan. How were we going to escape. We were on the cliff of a mountain with an out of control mad woman.
My first priority was to remove ourselves as far away from the cliff edge as possible. I shouted in Chinese “look my bag is over there. There is money in there”. As soon as she turned her head, I said to Zoe “When I say now.. You run and you keep running, you understand?” She acknowledged me with a small whimper. I hurled the wooden barrier up and down. Unfortunately the woman was quick to respond, however, we had managed to push our way further up the hill, but now we were cornered. At this point the woman was so enraged she was screaming Chinese swear words at me. My blank emotionless face just said it all… “How do I keep getting myself into situations like this?!”.
There was a pole/stick lying across the floor. Actually there was a bunch of them, and I realised they were walking sticks that the “shop” was selling. It all made sense now. The woman was the shop keeper but also the mugger. She picked up the stick, however, I was quick to react and took it off her. She then bent her body with her head lowered, slapping her hand against her head screaming at me to hit her with the stick. This woman obviously extremely mentally unstable and I knew that any violence would end up bad for booth of us.
It was a tense 5 minutes of just staring at each other. I told Zoe “When the time comes you just run and you keep running you hear me”. She nodded again at me. The woman continued to stare into my eyes when suddenly she made a grab for the stick I was holding. I was too slow to react and at this point she’d pulled the stick off me and lunged it straight into my ribs. I had little time to compose myself before I saw her about to go for Zoe next. I knew right then that this had to end now. I grabbed the stick and managed to spin her round so we had a clear path of the exit. I held onto the stick and so did she until I knew that Zoe was at a safe distance. Then I pushed the stick as far away from me as I could, she stumbled backwards and I ran like I’ve never run before. After what seemed like 20 seconds of solid sprinting I suddenly felt a heavy object strike my back and I fell to the ground. I lifted my head up. I could see she was chasing me and had just thrown a rock at me. I knew this was serious. I could see Zoe ahead. I screamed “run, keep running don’t stop”. I pulled all my strength together and ran and ran and ran for a good 10 minutes until I was sure the mad woman was no longer behind me. My ribs were in so much pain and I collapsed onto the ground, looked at Zoe and just said “another day in China”. I managed to get away and not harm the woman.
We rested for about 30 minutes until I felt well enough to continue on. We continued for the next 1/4 of hour walk in silence until we reached a tea house. It was completely empty apart from an American man and his girlfriend. I looked at him and he had a large gash wound across his forehead. I muttered to him “She got you, too, did’t she?”. He nodded his head with embarrassment.
After stuffing our face with food and drinking the best green tea I’ve ever tasted we continued the hike trying to forget about the whole ordeal.
It was another couple of hours hike until we would reach the guest house called Halfway House. It continued to rain heavily so much, that it became nearly impossible to see even a few feet in front of me. Suddenly out of nowhere a white middle aged man in jeans and shirt soaked completely through came up behind us and said with a heavy German accent “Have you got an umbrella I could buy of you?”. After exchanging a few pleasantries and telling him we didn’t he ran off ahead. I can’t imagine he was having much fun since he was soaking wet and it was getting fairly cold.
Luckily, the rain stopped after an hour or so of walking and we were able to once again enjoy the mind blowing scenery. We finally arrived at the Halfway house. Although I’d been trying to ignore it I had been in a lot of pain during the walk and so the first thing I did after checking in was to go straight to my room and examine the damage.
Right in the centre of my chest, a bruise. I had a feeling this pain was going to stay for a while and the woman sure had left her mark. I lay down and quickly fell asleep. When I woke it was pitch black in the room. I stumbled around trying to find the light switch. Flicking the switch multiple times on and off didn’t work and so I tried to feel my way out of the room with my hands. Made my way up to reception where I mentioned the light situation to the guy behind the desk. His reply “take a look around you, do you see any lights working here?”. Took a quick look around and realised everything was lit up my candles. He continued to say “electricity doesn’t really work around here, we are on a relay switch timer, it comes on only for a couple of hours everyday”. I straight away knew what this meant. No electricity no WiFi! During my trip I had actually wanted several days where I didn’t use any sort of electronics and so I realised this would be a great time to clear my mind. Zoe and I found a table in the make shift restaurant and sat talking about the day until an Israeli couple joined us. We ordered food and drank beer till late sharing stories. No electricity, no WiFi, just simple human conversation. It really was a nice ending to the day. Just my luck as well was that the couple were both doctors and so they had a look at my chest and were fairly convinced it was just badly bruised which gave me a sign of relief.
Thinking back on the day, apart from the unfortunate incident with the woman I had actually had one of the best days in China so far. the views and the scenery that I had seen was something everyone should see at least once in their lifetime. If only I had known what amazing view were waiting for me the next day I may not have been so content.
I had a quick shower in the pitch black and made use of the “toilets”. I don’t think I need to say much more. The pictures below describes it perfectly.
We woke up around 8am the next day. I made my way onto the platform deck outside our dorm room and I was awestruck with the view right in front of me. The clouds, the mountains and the trees all merging into one
I brought a snickers bar for breakfast and then Zoe and I continued our journey this time with the Israeli couple. After passing what seemed to be an endless amount of local people and their donkeys we came across a waterfall on a sheer cliff face that we had to cross.
Zoe and I both looked at each other thinking how on earth were we going to cross it without falling to our bitter deaths. The Israeli woman’s shoes had taken a turn for the worse and the whole of the bottom of the sole on BOTH shoes was completely off. They had managed to duct tape it, however, it kept falling apart and crossing the waterfall was going to be a struggle. They said they needed to come up with a plan and told us to go ahead without them. I decided to brave it and slowly make my way across, making sure to watch every step I make. Any wrong move could lead to distaster.
As I made my way across, I could feel the rocks trying to give way under my feet. This wasn’t going to work. Luckily, my shoes where waterproof, and so I made my way through a deep pool of water clinging onto the edge. Zoe closely followed in my footsteps. We made it across safely!
After walking for a few hours we realised we were making really good progress. We were pretty much running the whole thing and so were able to have a few rest stops to take in the scenery. The end was insight. We reached Tina’s guest house where we would take the bus back to Lijiang. I hadn’t eaten any lunch or dinner and so when we arrived I headed straight to the restaurant and ordered the biggest sandwich known to man.
Trekking the Tiger Leaping Gorge was something I will cherish for the rest of my life and I definitely plan on doing it again sometime in the future. Please don’t be put of by my story. I want to educate not scare people. Try not to hike it alone, the more people the better – and always watch your surroundings.