The Epicocity Crew and Last Descents River Expeditions will be teaming up to paddle three distinct sections of whitewater and highlight the value of free flowing rivers in the face of China’s ballooning economy.
They’ll start in Tibet’s unexplored highlands on the upper Salween River. Here, the crew will attempt the first descent of the last unexplored section of whitewater draining the Tibetan Plateau.
Next they’ll be heading to the Great Bend of the Yangtze to complete what may well be the last descent of China’s premier rafting river before the whitewater is inundated by the Ahai dam.
The final leg of the China expedition is the middle Salween with in the Three Parallel River’s World Heritage Sight and the biodiversity hotspot of the Mountains of Southwest China. This section of river is currently under consideration for a 13 dam project.
Check out our Updates section to track their progress and hear daily interviews from the river.
Trip Jennings (25): Trip Jennings is a professional kayaker and founder of the Epicocity Project. He has led whitewater first descents and expeditions in seven countries on three continents. The National Geographic Society recently awarded Trip the Adventure of the Year for his work on the first leg of Rivers in Demand in Papua New Guinea. Trip’s previous films have been selected into the Banff Film Festival’s World Tour, Telluride Film Festival and aired by National Geographic. Trip lives in Eugene, Oregon.
Kyle Dickman (24): Kyle Dickman is a producer with the Epicocity Project and a freelance writer. His work has been published by National Geographic Adventure; he regularly contributes to Canoe and Kayak magazine and frequently covers environmental issues in the American west for Forest magazine. The Sierra Club has endorsed Kyle’s work in documentary film. Kyle has kayaked, climbed and traveled in more than twenty different countries. He lives in Eugene, Oregon.
Andy Maser (23): Andy Maser is a professional kayaker and producer with the Epicocity Project. Andy recently finished second in the collegiate nationals for kayaking and just completed a two-month tour promoting safe whitewater kayaking across the US. He has produced documentary films about Columbia and been a key member of four international kayaking expeditions. Andy lives in Portland, Oregon.
Travis Winn (23):Travis Winn grew up with an oar in his hand and an eye on the walls of the Grand Canyon. His childhood spent rafting the Colorado prepared him to lead eleven major exploratory expeditions in China, and gave him the tools to help build a conservation movement in one of the world’s fastest evolving nations. In 2006, Winn co-founded China’s first multi-day rafting company and nine months later established the China Rivers Project, a non-profit organization with the goal of using multi-day river trips to inspire rethinking of how rivers are used. His goals are ambitious. He wants his river trips to effect systemic change in Chinese environmental policy. Travis’s work has been featured by Men’s Journal, Canoe and Kayak and Paddler Magazine as well as China Central Television.
Adam Elliot (28): Adam Elliott, architect, photographer, 8 year Grand Canyon River Guide, globetrotter, is currently living in New York City. Adam has been part of two major exploratory kayak expeditions in China. In 2005, Adam designed a small campus in Kunming, China for a potential “Institute of Sustainability”. He is a principle partner of “The Fifth Frame”, a photography and design studio in Brooklyn, NY. His images have appeared in The New York Times, Outside Magazine China, and Yunnan Daily Post. Adam shot all photos from China that appear on this site.
In the Southwest corner of China, shadowed by 21,000-foot peaks and winding toward the Andaman Sea, is the Salween River. Nearly 100 million people live beside its banks. Near its source, the river carves 7000-foot deep gorges into the Himalayas that are known as China’s Grand Canyon. These canyons harbor the world’s most biologically diverse temperate forests and a high-altitude desert that has been called by renowned biologist George Schaller one of only two unexplored places on the planet. The region’s home to Red and Giant Pandas, Golden Monkeys and 230 species of Rhododendron. Culturally, it is one of China’s most diverse locales with sixteen distinct ethnicities that call mountains home. Perhaps the simplest description of the Salween’s cultural significance lays in its Tibetan name, the Gyalmo Ngulchu, or Princess Wencheng’s Tears. She was the princess who brought Buddhism to Tibet.
A combination of these cultural , geologic, and ecologic values earned sections of the Salween designation as a World Heritage Site and National Park. Despite this, the middle reaches of the Salween are the site of a proposed 13 dam cascade. In 2003, the government’s announcement to dam the river came as a fragment of a larger scheme to power the quadrupling of the Chinese economy with 1200 new dams, where electricity in large part would be used to power manufacturing for foreign products. The announcement triggered an unprecedented surge in domestic and international outcry for the government to reconsider the value of their wild rivers. In response to this and in effort to seek balanced development in the West, the central government suspended the project until further environmental impact statements could be completed. There is some speculation that a decision may be made later in 2008. Thus, it is urgent that our expedition shows the value that these rivers have for China, and the rest of the world.
Additional threats to the environmental integrity of the Salween are rooted in the rapid expansion of China’s economy and population. Over the past few decades, as in much of the rest of China, the population of the Yunnan province has exploded with a growth rate of over 10 percent (compared to the world average of just over 1 percent). Accompanying this has been an increase of agriculture, fire wood gathering, grazing and the whole gauntlet of environmental challenges China faces with a population now at over 42 million people in the province of Yunnan alone.
This March, the Epicocity Project will hit the Upper Salween paddling, because when kayaking in the tail end of the Himalayan winter-when the water level is low enough to allow reasonable safety- paddling hard will be the only way to stay warm. Rivers in Demand will raise awareness to the value of free flowing rivers by kayaking two distinct sections of China’s longest undammed river. The expedition begins at 11,000 feet in Tibet’s remote Mari Township. The upper Salween careens down a high altitude desert renowned wildlife biologist George Schaller has described as one of two remaining ‘unexplored’ regions on the planet. Below this, the Salween froths and rolls into some of the world’s most biologically diverse temperate forests and into consideration for a thirteen dam cascade with in the boundaries of a designated world heritage site and proposed National Park. This section of whitewater is the scene for the third phase of the expedition.
Sandwiched between the two Salween descents, the EP crew will be helping Last Descents River Expeditions to document what may well be the last descent of the Great Bend of the Yangtze River. The Yangtze River is the longest river in Asia and the third longest in the world. China began the first hydroelectric project on the Yangtze River in 1970 and, in an effort to provide clean energy to a ballooning economy and population, began construction of the Three Gorges Dam in 1994. One side effect of the reservoirs created by these hydroelectric projects is the loss of pristine sections of river like the Great Bend. Our trip down the Great Bend will likely be the last descent of China’s best known premier rafting river. This multicultural expedition will include Chinese conservationists, river enthusiasts, and media that will help share the majestic beauty of this river with China in a way that reveals the value of preservation for the enjoyment of domestic and international tourists.
Phase third grounds the raw beauty of the upper section in the development challenges faced by Chinese leadership in the middle reaches of the Salween. Last Descents River Expeditions will bring Lan Hui Ming, the local tourism bureau director responsible for overseeing the newly created Bing Zhong Luo National Park, on a rafting trip to discuss his hopes for eco-tourism on the Salween.