Finding Nemo

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Tiger Leaping

I raised my walking stick and pointed it at the mist, and then waved it in a circle.  The mist obeyed my command, and began to rise, crest, and then tumble back upon itself like a crashing wave.  "Go Gandalf!" cried Alex.  Apparently my relative old age, long hair, beard, hat, and walking stick had inspired my fellow backpackers.  I chanted some magic words of power: "Dominim Mist-io Breakdancius!"  A new cloud arose from the gorge, and upon reaching our level began to swirl and dance.  All that was missing was some sweeping symphonic score and I would have been in charge of my own Fantasia.

Dance!  I command you!

We stood upon a precipice that dropped vertically into the clouds below.  At the bottom, occasionally peeping out from the white blankets, roared a youthful Yangzi river, tumbling and thrashing in a brown torrent.  On the opposite bank a sheer gray cliff rose up, jagged and torn from the aeons of rainfall.  It was covered in large swathes of brave green bamboo and pine clinging precariously to the gray and brown granite wall.  Up and up it rose until it disappeared into a white ceiling far overhead.

The Crowded Planet: China claimed that Tiger Leaping Gorge was the deepest canyon in the world.  That would make this the 3rd "Deepest Canyon in the World" I had seen, miraculously tied exactly with the Zangbo Canyon in Tibet and the Kali Gandaki canyon sandwiched between Dhaulagiri and Annapurna I in Nepal.  But for sheer spectacle, nothing compared to this.  Tiger Leaping is so named for the colorful tale of a tiger, that when hunted to the brink of the freakishly deep and narrow gorge, leapt across to safety.  That tiger apparently had more hops than a hundred-foot tall Spud Webb, but it was still fun to imagine.

A spectacular waterfall emerges from the mist above a sheer drop-off
As we hiked along the brink, the view constantly transformed.  A cloud would envelope us completely, and beyond the footpath was nothing but an eerie white wall that beckoned to the Great Beyond.  Then, as it faded, a huge waterfall was revealed tumbling off the cliff, breaking apart into a dozen different streams.  Caves appeared above in the cliffs ripe for exploring, and gnarled little trees hung over the edge that asked to be climbed for a dare.

We had a good crew, for once the Americans outnumbered the English, and it was a pleasure to be strolling along high on the cliff.  Far away from the Zhongguo Flood rumbling along in their tour buses below.  All we could hear was the roar of the brown river and the buzz of cicadas.  All we could see was music.

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