The never-ending adventures of a travel writer in Vietnam, Cambodia, New Zealand and throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Michael Palin at Tiger Leaping Gorge

I’m doing some background research for a chapter on my trek through the Tiger Leaping Gorge in China. I’m looking for filler information—facts, figures, culture and history—things I might have missed or forgotten. I’m surprised to find that despite being one of China’s greatest tracks, there is very little material out there about it or the surrounding area. Perhaps it’s because it’s such a difficult place to get to, and the hike itself is dangerous in spots.

I am pleased to know however, that veteran traveler Michael Palin (one of my heros, also of Monty Python fame), has not only hiked the gorge, but that I had the privilege of hiking it a few months prior. It’s always nice to beat someone you look up to at a notable accomplishment.

The inn where Palin and I had breakfast, on seperate occasions.

Palin is ever so gracious in that he posts all of his books on his website; allowing registered users to read them free of charge, with the benefits of extra photos and multimedia supplements.

As I was reading his chapter on the gorge, I was amused to find we shared the same sense of vertigo. In his book Himalaya, Palin writes, “Lunch is easily walked off on a thigh-stretchingly steep climb known as the 28 Bends. Trudging upwards in a tight zigzag, I count off each one carefully and still find another 20 left at the end.” He later writes “When I stop on a narrow ledge to look around me, I find myself having to plant my feet very securely, for it feels as if the soaring vertical walls across the gorge are exerting some magnetic force, determined to tear me from my flimsy ledge.”

I remember climbing this stretch all too well, on hands and knees the whole way. It was so steep, and I was so exhausted, that I could not bring myself to stand upright, for fear I would tumble ass over tea kettle over the cliff. Needless to say, along with my numerous spelunking expeditions in college, it was one of the most treacherous hikes I’ve ever done.

Palin and I have similar shots of pack mules navigating around a ridge on the trail. He comments "Have never experienced such vertiginous feelings as I have when sandwiched between the 13,000-foot-high (3960m) walls of the gorge. Soaring verticals seem to create some magnetic force which makes me think I might be able to fly. Fight to resist the urge."

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