Ji Qu - Mekong Headwaters Tributary

Photo by Li Weiyi

In 2011, a Sino-American team completed a first descent of about 30 miles of the Ji Qu, the largest tributary to the main fork of the Mekong on the Tibetan Plateau (the Za Qu). The river was flooding at the put-in and washed out a bridge under construction, with a flow of at least 10,000 cfs at the put-in southwest of Zadoi and 10,000 cfs at the take-out three days later. The put-in was at 32.217555, 95.657954 at an elevation of 13,100'. With an average gradient of about 13 ft/mi and a tight 100' deep gorge with numerous entrenched meanders, the river was a very busy Class 3. Campsites were beautiful but hard to find, and stopping was a challenge. However, this is a great repeat run.

Considering its proximity to the Za Qu where there are abundant Tibetan monasteries and other evidence of Tibetan Buddhist culture, the culture along the Ji Qu was above the entrenched canyon and generally not visible from the river. On the other hand, it is an incredibly beautiful canyon, with spectacular geology.

The team, which consisted of Travis Winn (lead kayaker), Pete Winn (lead rafter), Carmen Winn and Tang Jianzhong (raft guides), Cindy Appel, Li Weiyi and Wang Xinnong, a photographer, was forced to abort the trip due to a long, boiling rapid in a tight limestone gorge that was marginally portagable (32.099235, 95.847350). In the past, aborted trips were transported to the nearest road by yak, donkey, pony and human labor, often taking days. In this case, a dozen Tibetans driving motorcycles purchased with income from caterpiller fungus sales (a health craze in China) carried all of the gear to the nearest road in half a day!

Photo by Li Weiyi

Geology of the Mekong Headwaters Area (Qinghai)

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More info about rivers in China