Yangtze Headwaters, Qinghai

Yangtze River above Yushu.

When Yao Maoshu, a Chinese photographer, read in the Chinese press that an American team was negotiating a permit for the first descent of the Yangtze, he raised money to buy a boat and gear because he believed Chinese should be the first to raft their mother rivers. After hiking to Lake Qemo, the spiritual source of the river on the flank of Mt. Gelandandong in western Qinghai, in June 1985, he put-in at the first boatable stretch (near 34.638807, 94.302138) and floated about 600 miles before drowning in the first large rapid below Yushu (probably where a large mass of bedrock blocks the center of the channel at 32.737345, 97.414178). The river begins as Class 2, braiding through a wide valley for the first 500 miles. It then begins to cut a canyon with a few Class 3 rapids. There is a book (Mandarin only) and Chinese TV footage that descibes this expedition. It is also mentioned in Riding the Dragon's Back - The Race to Raft the Upper Yangzte, by Richard Bangs and Christian Kallen (1989).

According to the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the true source of the Yangtze is the headwaters of the Dam Qu, near the southwestern border of Qinghai (32.544722, 94.380000, 17,500'). A CAS team rafted this tributary in 1986.

The stretch from the bridge near Qumarleb (34.028082, 95.820942, 13,650') to the bridge near Yushu (33.006914, 97.247625, 11,600') was run commercially in the mid 1990's by Earth River Expeditions (www.earthriver.com) and by Last Decents River Expeditions since 2006 (www.lastdescents.com). The gradient of this 200 mile sections is about 15' per mile and it is characterized by abundant wildlife, spectacular scenery and multiple Tibetan monasteries. Flows range from a few thousand cfs in early summer to ten to twenty thousand cfs in mid summer. It becomes Class 4 during very high flows. Due to the high elevation, it is only feasible to run this stretch from May to September. A video of an expedition run by Last Descents in 2006 is available.

Just above Yushu, the Chinese are planning to build a dam that will divert water into a series of tunnels and canals into the headwaters of the Yellow River.

Geology of the Yangzte Headwaters Area

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Info about the rivers of Tibet and western China