Running China's Tiger Leaping Gorge
A runner discovers the adaptability of human nature on a run through one of the world's deepest gorges.
China's Tiger Leaping Gorge is a dramatic slice of rock and river in the country's southwestern Yunnan province. At 10 miles long ...
Illustration by Kevin Howdeshell
China's Tiger Leaping Gorge is a dramatic slice of rock and river in the country's southwestern Yunnan province. At 10 miles long and 13,000 feet deep, it's one of the deepest gorges in the world, and possibly the most scenic natural wonder in China. Jagged 15000-foot peaks line the river, with vertical walls plunging to the water. Terraced fields layer the few gently-sloped hillsides on the northern side of the valley, where small villages make a thin chain across.
In November 2010, I was in Yunnan touring the province's ancient Tea Horse Road, an old trading route similar to the Silk Road. Inspired by the tales of historic, arduous journeys, my friend—a British expat living in Yunnan's capital Kunming—and I made plans to run the gorge. Matthew, a programmer, is drawn to the logistics of run: how far, how long, what elevation, what kind of fuel? I am pulled by the intense scenery and the physical challenge, and so together we balance inspiration and logic.
Two "paths" run the length of the gorge. The "low path" is actually a road under constant construction thanks to frequent landslides. It is mostly paved, and not good for walking or running due to vehicle traffic emitting heavy fumes. The singletrack "high path," however, is an old transit route for a minority tribe called the Naxi, who populate the small hamlets that cling to the gorge's hillsides. The high path climbs, drops and snakes along cliffs between villages and at the foot of magnificent mountains, and is still used every day by the Naxi.