The dangers of hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge

Trip Start Jan 30, 2007
Trip End Dec 31, 2011

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Flag of China  , Yunnan,
Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Generally, it is quite safe to hike in Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan.
But not in the rainy season.

Now is not the rainy season - that will happen from June to September.

I like in this story how the beat up the story: a primitive hospital in the town of Lijiang. And I can't believe that they claim it was two days before they got modern medical treatment.

I guess it shows the value of having insurance, or rich friends and family.

I've been to the hospital, and while it might not be a set of ER, it has some equipment and a few trained staff.

One man recently had a costly fall in the gorge, as the Rockford Star reports:

Matt Honson is only 26, but the Rockford native and Guilford alum has already looked death in the eye: Last week he fell down a ravine in China. Miraculously, death blinked, and Matt will live to talk about his harrowing experience.

Honson graduated from Bethel University in St. Paul, Minn., and went to the school's seminary for a year before going to China with his wife, Nora, for an adventure. Since September, they've been teaching English at Jiangxi University of Science and Technology. The school recently gave Matt and Nora a month off to travel around and learn more about China.

Last Wednesday, Matt was hiking in the spectacular but treacherous Tiger River Gorge on the Yangtze River. While doing some exploring off the main trail, he lost his footing and fell more than 20 feet down a ravine, landing on his head. Matt broke his neck and fractured his skull, said his aunt, Lynnea Walsh of Hoffman Estates.

Chris, Matt's hiking companion, climbed gingerly down the ravine and grabbed Matt's cell phone from his pocket. Chris had little hope of reaching anyone because the signal in that rural area had been nonexistent. But he made a call anyway.

"It just so happened that back at the cottage where they were staying, their friend Tanner had just turned his phone on when Chris' call came through. He tried to explain where they were," Walsh said. The lady who owned the cottage gathered some farmers together, and along with Nora and Tanner they made their way for two hours to the place where Matt was lying unconscious. They made a gurney to carry Matt out of the ravine, then put him on the back of a donkey to take him to a primitive hospital in the town of Lijiang, Walsh said. Much of the slow, exhausting trip took place in darkness.

The staff at the hospital spoke no English, and Nora, Chris and Tanner waited for two days to get modern treatment for Matt. The hospital finally contacted International SOS, a worldwide medical services company. SOS agreed to fly a team of doctors and nurses to Lijiang from Beijing, and then to transport Matt to Hong Kong Baptist hospital for surgery. They had to act fast because Matt's condition was critical. There was only one problem: money. SOS needed $77,000 upfront, payable by credit card. Honson family members in Rockford negotiated the total down to $70,000 and raised the money among themselves in four to five hours, in the middle of the night. The money was transmitted by fax to China, and Matt was taken to Hong Kong.

"The surgery took 10 hours. Matt will need to wear a neck brace for four to six months, and he'll probably have to have a metal plate put in his skull. Matt should be fine with no brain damage," his aunt said Monday. "We're calling it a God thing."

Jeff and Ann Honson, Matt's parents, have flown to Hong Kong to be with their son. Jeff Honson is lead pastor of Northridge Community Church in Machesney Park. For many years, he was youth pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Rockford.

Although they're thankful Matt will recover, the family will have hundreds of thousands of dollars in hospital bills to pay. If you'd like to help, make checks payable to Alpine Bank, c/o the Matthew Honson Medical Fund, P.O. Box 6086, Rockford, IL 61125. The tax-exempt ID is 26-4102728.
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Nora on

I just read HappySheep's reaction to my husband Matt's story...I just stumbled upon this entry randomly while looking up pictures of beautiful Tiger Leaping Gorge (the most amazing place I have ever been). I am a little offended by your comment about my "rich family" coming to the rescue, and how the hospital in Lijiang is great. You have clearly never been a patient there with a broken neck, back, and fractured skull. They did not treat him for two days, other than to stitch up his skull to stop the bleeding. The heart monitor that they hooked him to broke after a few hours, and no one bothered to fix it or find a new one, we just crossed our fingers. They didn't even clean any of the blood or vomit off of his skin, I did.
All of this to say that you can criticize and comment on anything on the internet, but please don't talk about things you know nothing about.

Nora on

One more thing--I agree with you that it is not dangerous to hike the Gorge, provided you stay on the trail and it's not in the rainy season. My husband had a freak accident, and I would never discourage anyone from hiking the Gorge--it's an amazing experience.

happysheep on

Sorry to hear about your husband's misfortune in the Tiger Leaping Gorge and the subsequent medical treatment which proved to be delayed and financially-draining.

I sincerely hope Matt is much better now.

I wouldn't describe the hospital as 'primitive' as in the article. Every month or so I take people to that hospital, and recently have taken two doctors from the US to review procedures for a patient. "They did everything that I would have," said one MD, "but with less waiting time, and a lot less cost than I would have in the US". The hospital isn't the John Hopkins or the Mayo Clinic.

Only yesterday I was at the hospital assisting a foreign couple - the woman had broken her leg. Earlier this year we took a foreigner to the hospital and he was there for over a week to recover from a serious condition.

I have a couple of questions. You were both teaching at a university in another part of China - were you not covered by insurance?

Also, if you had concerns about the lack of treatment for Matt, why didn't you contact first your embassy to get assistance? and then contact Chinese friends to help?

There are some staff at the hospital that do speak English, and sometimes other patients or helpers help out with translations.

I often see stories from the USA about this region, and for some reason journalists like to beat-up this place as remote, rugged, wilderness inhabited by dangerous hill tribes. Lijiang gets over 8 million visitors a year. And its economy is growing at a rate that anyone in Rockford, Illinois, would envy. Later this year it will open a new 18-story hospital to serve the area.

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