Lower Great Bend of the Yangtze River, Yunnan

Sobek raft on Yangtze below the Great Bend in 1987. Photo by Dave Edwards.

After loosing the chance of first descent to Warren and the Chinese, Rich Bangs and John Yost of Sobek interviewed all of the Chinese teams and found that they had portaged part of the section of the Great Bend below Tiger Leaping Gorge, planning to return at lower water when the likelihood of more drownings was lower. Sobek originally tried to run this section in October 1986, but was denied a permit due to the large number of drownings that year. They managed to get a permit for October 1987 to run a 200 mile stretch beginning at the end of Tiger Leaping Gorge, including a short stretch between two bridges on the south flowing leg of the Great Bend that the Chinese had portaged in 1986. This trip was the foundation for Bangs' and Kallan's book "Riding the Dragon's Back - the Race to Raft the Yangtze", one of the best river stories ever told. The e-book is available for Kindle at Riding the Dragon's Back, and soon there will be a print version, based on the e-book.

The gradient is about 10' per mile, and at low winter flows (25,000 cfs) there are several Class 4-5 bigwater rapids. Elevation is less than 5000', so the winter climate isn't too cold considering the low latitude. There are several villages and spectacular gorges in this 200 mile stretch. The river is slightly silty, about 60 F in winter. There are abundant large beaches for camping at low water. It is now possible to fly to Lijiang, the nearest town to the put-in and take-out. The old town, located near Jade Dragon Mountain (about 18,000') is a popular tourist attraction and the subject of numerous TV programs and videos.

This section of the Yangzte (27 18 11N, 100 12 39N to 26 11 34N, 100 27 24E) became a popular commercial run in the mid 1990s, but the lower 140 miles is currently (2008) unrunnable due to new reservoirs and the entire section may be unrunnable as soon as 2009 due to construction of multiple dams. Earth River Expeditions (www.earthriver.com) ran it annually in the fall for several years in the late 90s and early 00s but cancelled the program because fall flows were too high for safety. Mountain Travel Sobek (www.mtsobek.com) renewed its interest and began running low water winter trips in 2004, and Last Descents (www.lastdescents.com) began winter trips in 2006, with the intent to market trips to the growing Chinese middleclass before the river was lost to reservoirs.

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Info about the rivers of Tibet and western China