The bus ride from Lijiang was slow but full of interest - despite the drought, local farmers were very busy and there was a lot of new growth and blossom about.
Qiaotou (upstream and to the west) was the starting point and I had made no bookings or fixed plans for the two days that I planned to be in the area for I had received some conflicting messages - that the road was closed, that the walk was horrendously difficult and that I would require expensive knee supports and that I would need to bring tough mountaineering boots, that people lurked on the track to extort money and horror of horrors, I would have to walk there and then back. Further, that because there were so many people doing the walk the feeling of solitude and one-ness with the surroundings had been lost.
The one correct thing about this catalogue of woe was not to have any hard and fast plans - go with the flow. Let me first say that I am in my mid-60s and reasonably fit as is my wife who is a couple of years younger. We are not gym-junkies but we do a fair bit of walking and neither of us felt at all challenged by TLG. For emergencies I carried a couple of tight knee bands used by footballers but these were not used. We both wore Keens sandals with the bulbous rubber toe protection (good US footwear) but these have minimal ankle support so care is needed. We each had a stout stick made from pieces of willow retrieved from the Western Hills of Kunming with the bark stripped off. Other than that we just carried a day pack with a change of underclothes, toileteries, snack food (dried fruit and nuts purchased from the supermarket in Lijiang opposite the minibus stand and a couple of 500ml containers of water on the outside of each of our packs along with a polar fleece jacket for the night. I wouldn't recommend carrying a full backpack though it could be done if you were determined enough.
Some walkers leave their main luggage at Lijiang and this gives a lot of extra flexibility - walk the high trail east to west (upstream) or vice versa by entering at Qiaotou or by the ferry. It is theoretically possible to walk on the road but with the drought and the incessant road works and dynamiting, you should bring a respirator and eye protection. It is not pleasant. The wind seems to funnel the dust which is a fine talcum powder into the lower part of the gorge and the guest houses around Tina's suffer greatly as a result.
First, from Qiaotou walk to the right from the bus drop off point follow the tributary of the Yangtse downstream for a short distance until you come to Jane's GH - Margot has left the scene so her cafe is not available for bag drop off. Jane is a Tibetan woman who speaks fluent English. She runs an excellent GH and restaurant and she will store your bag for 5 Yuan (no time limit or daily fee) - it is on an honesty basis - you dump your bag in a room with no paperwork or tags or anything like that and retrieve it when you get back.
At this point it is a good idea to have a serious chat with Jane to find out the situation in TLG. Our preferred option was to get a lift to Tina's GH and walk back on the high track - the upstream walk is far easier than the downstream walk. Tina told us that while the road was "officially" closed, local drivers with small minibuses would do the run to Tina's for 150 Yuan for the car. Since, at the time of our arrival another tourist appeared with similar plans we agreed and the trip cost 50 Yuan each for a 22km journey on a challenging road. Note that there are frequent delays because the excavators are working and the water trucks are spraying water to keep the dust down in the working area. Also, in many places there is only one traffic lane in operation on what is a narrow road at the best of times. If the workers happen to be using dynamite when you are in the area, the traffic control will almost certainly not allow you to pass so that it may not be possible to use the road for several hours. Don't be too tight with your plans if the road trip is part of your arrangement.
We had a late lunch at Tina's and looked around the precipitous gorge then we started our walk uphill to stop overnight at Halfway GH - a great place with tasty and cheap food and drink. 50 Yuan a night for a private double room - fabulous communal toilet not to be missed! Next day an easier mostly level walk to Tea Horse GH after which the track becomes steeper up to 2600m then down the 28 bends and steadily downhill to Naxi Family GH for a well-deserved lunch.
The scenery throughout was definitely life enhancing and there was a great spirit of camaraderie among the walkers. We even saw a group of women from Japan kitted out in red and white aged from 40s to 70s and they were having an enjoyable time.
The accommodation from one end to the other is of a good standard so far as we could see but it certainly ain't 5 star. Back at Jane's we reclaimed our packs and walked down the road where local taxis offered to take us to our next destination - Shangri La for 200 Yuan but we walked down to where a bus had just pulled in to the bus stop and there were a few empty seats at 25 Yuan. The road to Shangri La is very scenic and takes you up to the plateau some 3300m above sea level. There are a lot of Tibetan farm buildings all flying the red hammer and sickle flag of the USSR.
Certainly don't drive past Tiger Leaping Gorge if you are in northern Yunnan.