Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Area

Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Area

Tiger Leaping Gorge:
After biking through a pretty mountain road for one day, we arrived at Qiaotou, the town at the mouth of the famed Tiger Leaping Gorge. The Gorge is an area that is part of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Area – a magnificent site that is classified by the UNESCO for the following four reasons: 1) natural beauty; 2) biodiversity and threatened species; 3) an exceptional range of topographical features; 4) it displays the geological history of the last 50 million years.

Its natural beauty includes high mountains, deep, parallel gorges, alpine karst, and glaciers. The area has the richest biodiversity in China, and may be the most biologically diverse temperate region on earth – the home to many rare and endangered plants and animals. Its topographical features are associated with the site being at a “collision point” of tectonic plates and the area being located at a biogeographical convergence zone. These features include rock substrates, limestones, sandstones, conglomerates, karst, gorges, and glaciated peaks. As for its geological history, its topography shows the collision of the Indian and Eurasian plates, the closure of the Tethys Sea, and the uplifting of the Himalayan Range and Tibetan plateau.

The site is well worthy of being protected. The landscape is unbelievably amazing! We hiked the 16-km. gorge in two days, and the views were fabulous from the first hour! According to Liron, who has hiked a lot in India and Nepal, it sometimes requires several days of hiking in order to have comparable views!

There is a high trail, known as the 28-bends, that winds its way up and over the mountains, and there is a new, low trail that is actually a paved road that follows the river. We hiked the high trail and biked the low trail on the way back to Qiaotou. Along the way are several guesthouses, and we stayed the first night at the quaint Naxi Family guesthouse, where we listened to music with Liron and Yoav and played “wist.”

We spent eleven hours on the trail the second day, and it was amazing. The weather cooperated beautifully. The mountains looked more like cliffs, dropping from the snow-capped peaks up to 3900 m. (12,000 ft. – over 2 1/3 miles!!!) to the Yangtze River below! The Tiger Leaping Gorge (so named because a tiger is said to have leapt across the Yangtze) is one of the deepest gorges in the world. The river, which surges between the Haba and the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, is about 1800 m. above sea level, and the glaciated peaks rise almost 6000 m. in altitude!

The views are really unbelievable: mountains with a steep vertical gradient of almost 4000 m., spectacular waterfalls, enormous, gushing rapids, and the deep and narrow gorges around the surging river – wow! It was amazing just to think that such a natural landscape could even exist!

With such a steep gradient, though, I suppose it should have hardly been surprising that gravity had its effect in occasional landslides and falling rocks. Still, I almost had a heart attack when, as we were crossing a part of the trail that passed directly next to a waterfall, a huge rock came hurtling down the side of the cliff without warning and came within about 1 1/2 ft. of smashing into Liron. She was okay, and seemed not at all shaken, as she hadn’t really seen it coming, but I took a good long while to recover. I was frightened half to death – from my viewpoint, it looked sure as anything that it was going to hit her.

Just as we were arriving in Walnut Grove at the end of the trail, we met a Chinese cyclo-tourist – a 59-year old man whose plan was to cycle around the entire perimeter of China in only ten months! It was an extraordinary physical feat, and he had already cycled 10,000 km. in just four months – much, much faster than anyone we had ever met and when you saw the gears on his bike, it was a thousand times more impressive that he had continued after facing the steep mountains! He had such a nice face and such a nice manner that we invited him to dinner and to our guesthouse that night, and then cycled back to Qiaotou with him the next morning by the road. The road was strewn with fallen rocks and awash with water from the waterfalls, and there was a sort of wind tunnel in the narrow gorges, the wind being so fierce as to make it difficult to stand up! The scenery from the route was impressive in a different way, and we were able to descend to see the ENORMOUS rapids up close. Wow – what power!