Portaging on the Salween above Po. Photo by Willie Kern.
This is the last major stretch of the Salween to be explored. Two kayakers, Willie Kern and Jed Weingarten, slipped into Tibet just before the Chinese closed it to foreigners due to rioting in Lhasa in early March, 2008.
They put-in near the Marri bridge (30.878427°, 96.197959°, about 10,400") and took out near the Paksho (Po) bridge ( 30.106033°, 97.198115°). The gradient for the 100 mile stretch is about 13' per mile. The first 75 miles were Class 3 but most of the drop occurred in the last 25 miles. In this lower section, large landslides caused unrunnable rapids (see photo above), even at the low winter estimated flow of 7,000 - 8,000 cfs, and together with rain that caused loose rock to fall, even portaging these rapids was hazardous.
The Salween drains the north side of the East Tibetan Alps (Nyenchentanglha), which contain dozens of unclimbed peaks over 20,000', some of which could be seen from the river. It also drains the south side of the Tanggula Shan, which forms the divide between the Salween and Mekong drainages. It is really unfortunate that this section of the Salween is not a good repeat run. It is one of the few stretches of big, deep canyon rivers in western China that is roadless and easily accessible by air. During the summer when the Bangda Airport near Qamdo is operating, it is only a day's drive to the put-in and less than a day's drive from the take-out. It's falling down country, like most of southeastern Tibet.