Yangtze in Qinghai, Tibet, Sichuan, and Yunnan

The Chinese equivalent of a barrel. Photo copyright Atheneum (Macmillian Publishing Company), from "Riding the Dragon's Back" by Richard Bangs and Christian Kallan, 1987. Remarkably, only one boater drowned.

Like Yao Maoshu in 1985 (see link on Yangtze first descents page), two Chinese groups learned that an American, Ken Warren, was negotiating for a permit for a first descent of the Yangtze. They also believed that Chinese rafters should make the first descent, and began their trips separately a few weeks ahead of Warren in early summer of 1986. One Chinese Academy of Sciences team began at the geographic source (the spring farthest from the mouth of the river, 32 32 41N, 94 22 48E, 17,500'), while the Louyang group and two other CAS teams began at the spiritual source near Mt. Gelandandong (33 28 05N, 91 11 42E).

Below Yushu, they managed to run the rapid in which Yao Maoshu probably drowned (32 55 22.61N, 97 16.43.62E) and continue southward toward Yunnan. Because Warren had decided to run during high water, they also had to run during high water. Running a large unknown river is dangerous at low water, but it's suicidal at high water (50,000 - 100,000 cfs with gradients of up to 25' per mile)- especially if you're inexperienced. They encountered major rapids above their ability, and over the next thousand miles, ten of them drowned. They returned at lower water in the fall of 1986 to run sections they had skipped along the Tibet-Sichuan border in summer 1986. Since Warren's team did not portage any rapids before it terminated its expedition a few days float below the bridge near Batang (29 56 13N, 99 03 26E), it may have completed first descents of the rapids portaged by the Chinese.

The Warren expedition had a death in the stretch above Yushu, David Shippee, a photographer from Boise Idaho who probably died from pneumonia related to high altitude sickness. His team made it to a point between Batang and the Yunnan-Tibet border, where they encountered rapids beyond their ability and hiked out to safety. In the early 1990s, Curry River Expeditions successfully ran the stretch from the bridge near Yushu to the bridge near Dege (31 32 33N, 98 35 29N) at low water in the fall.

The Chinese expeditions are described in a book (Mandarin only), in Chinese 1986 TV footage, in "Yangtze - Spirit of Adventure", a two part TV series and video by Mutual of Omaho, 1987, about the Warren Expedition, and in the book "Riding the Dragon's Back - The Race to Raft the Upper Yangtze", by Richard Bangs and Christian Kallen, 1989.

As of 2010, the stretches from the geographic and spiritual sources to Qumarleb (34 06 47N, 95 44 05E) have not been run since 2010, though some of the large tributaries above Qumarleb have been run by a Chinese geologist, Yang Yong, who is studying glacial retreat and the likelihood of a decline in long term discharge. The stretch just below Qumarleb (34 01 24N, 95 49 42E) to 32 20 38N, 96 57 19E, about 165 miles long) to the take-out 35 miles north of the main highway bridge over the Yangtze near Yushu (33 00 25N, 97 14 53E) has been run commercially by Earth River Expeditions (www.earthriver.com) and Last Descents River Expeditions (www.lastdescents.com). Currey River Expeditions ran from the bridge near Yushu to Dege (31 37 31N, 98 35 28E) in the mid 1990s. The stretch from Dege to Batang (29 58 09N, 99 03 39E) has not been run since 1986 (several Chinese boaters drowned in this section). Last Descents successfully kayaked the stretch from Batang to Benzilian (28 10 16N, 99 23 21N) in December 2010 at low water (see link below). This stretch is where the Warren Expedition mutiny occurred. The stretch from Benzilian to the end of Tiger Leaping Gorge has not been run since 1986. See Yangtze 1987 for a description of the run below TLG.

One of the surviving Chinese rafters from the Chengdu team, Feng Chen, ran a paddle raft with Chinese paddlers on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in 2004 - the first Chinese team to do so. It made national news in China. See link below.

Return to the Yangtze, 2010

Chinese rafting expedition through the Grand Canyon, 2004

Return to Yangtze First Descents
Info about the rivers of Tibet and western China