China Expedition Wrapup
The Epicocity Crew spent the last two months in China exploring rivers, cultures and the government development plans that threaten to change the lives of the country’s minority populations. In the two months, we paddled over 650 miles of river, dodged the Chinese military in Tibet and spent time with the Naxi and Nu people of the Yangtze and Salween Valleys.
The first phase of the expedition took our crew into Tibet to paddle the last undocumented section of the Mekong River. The plan was to do a self contained, eight-day expedition on this class 4 and 5 section that began and ended within the Tibetan autonomous region. On day five, we learned via satellite phone that riots had erupted in Lhasa and Tibet was closed to foreigners. What that meant was that if we were discovered on the Mekong, we would probably be detained, our camera equipment and media would be taken and we would eventually be ushered out of Tibet. We were able to contact our drivers, who told us that our original takeout was crawling with cops and military, so it was way too hot to risk a pickup. Our instructions were to sneak past this point and take refuge in the canyon that would, in 60 miles, deposit us in the safety of Yunnan. As we paddled past the original rendezvous point a 20-vehicle military convoy rolled past, causing a tense moment but luckily no problems. We were a bit nervous committing to two extra days of unknown river tired, and with low rations, but it turned out that this section contained the most challenging and runable whitewater of the trip.
Part two of our expedition was the last complete descent of Great Bend of the Yangtze River, a 140-mile section that begins below Tiger Leaping Gorge. Two dams are under construction that, within the next five years, will flood this section of river, known as China’s Grand Canyon. The two dams, neither of which has been officially permitted by the Chinese government, will displace hundreds of thousands of China’s minority people in the name of providing power for Eastern China’s ballooning economy. We paddled the section with a team of Chinese and American scientists, conservationists, anthropologists and journalists to show the beauty, value and potential of free flowing rivers. At the takeout, the entire river enters two concrete tunnels and is diverted around a massive hydroelectric dam site.
The expedition wrapped up in the Salween Valley, home to a pilot national park project and the Nu minority group. The Salween is the last free flowing river draining the Tibetan Plateau, but is unfortunately threatened by a 13-dam cascade that would displace the majority of the valley’s residents. Through our project, we hope to convince Chinese decision makers that rivers like the Salween, Yangtze and Mekong have value that extends beyond hydropower production for the developed sections of the nation. Policy makers and those responsible for setting dam projects into motion have no emotional connection to these special places and through experiencing their beauty and hearing the stories of the peoples’ lives who will be affected, we hope to change their mindset.