Eric Ladd with monks from Sadeng on the Salween. Photo by Tony Griessbach
Synergy is the word for this expedition from Sadeng to the Lhorang-Marri bridge. It was planned by Pete Winn of Earth Science Expeditions, led by Travis Winn and Na Ming Hui of Last Descent Expeditions (Yunnan, China), permitted by Chong Dak of Tibet Science International Science Expedtions (Lhasa, Tibet), and an American group organized by Eric and Brandy Ladd from Big Sky Montana rowed the rafts or kayaked in addition to funding the expedition. Record rainfall in northeast Tibet caused delays to due extremely highwater, yet the team pulled together and sucessfully ran this section of the Salween which they compared to the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River in the US.
The gradient for the 200 mile stretch (including a 20 mile first descent of the lower Gyel Chu, which enters the river at Sadeng, was about 12' per mile, pool and drop. They camped at the put-in near the Quduoka Monastery (31.259707°, 94.495786°). At the estimated 30,000 cfs flows in September, there were at least one Class 5 and several Class 4 bigwater (Grand Canyon size) rapids. The Tibetan cultural experiences (in particular the monks at the monastery) and the immense geography and geology were also highlights of the expedition. According to many of the participants, neither words nor pictures do justice to this section of the Salween, hence the feeling that it is the Grand Canyon of Tibet.
This roadless section, which ends at the Marri Bridge (30.878427°, 96.197959°) is worth a second descent at lower flows, and could be a good commercial run. However, the one lane dirt road from Biru to Sadeng follows terrifying switchbacks over a 16,700' pass, the one lane dirt shuttle road from Sadeng to the take-out follows and crosses several creeks that are marginally passable, not to mention crossing several 16,000' passes between the East Tibetan Alps and the 10,000' deep Salween canyon, and the one lane dirt road from the take-out to Qamdo also crosses two 16,000' passes.
For links to maps and articles details, see:
The lower Salweeen (in Yunnan, 300 miles south of the takeout from this expedition), may be dammed. For info see New York Times 3-10-04 - by Jim Yardley