Newspaper Articles about the First Chinese River Expedition Down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.
Stories by Mike Bao, Singtao Daily
Translation and pictures by Hanli Liu
July 14, 2004
(Links to pictures and related websites are at the end of this page.)
Ten Chinese Began Rafting Adventure on
Ten Chinese rafters, nine from mainland China and currently living in the United States, begantheir rafting trip on the Colorado River through Grand Canyon on July 13, 2004, the thirdanniversary for Beijing winning the right to host the 2008 Olympic. Mr. Liu Li, the Team Leader,told the reporter that this was a very special day and he hoped that everything would go smoothlyand the team would have a successful trip. At Liu Li's start command, Captain Feng Chun initiatedthe first paddle stroke and 4 rubber boats began their 15-day trip through the Grand Canyon.
"We expected to raft the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, and webelieve we will make it", said Liu Li to his team members before they started.As Mount Everest is the dream of every mountaineer, said Liu Li, the Grand Canyonis the dream of every river rafter. He also thought that the difficulty ofthe rapids on the river could be quite unexpected for a lot of people.
The rafters arrived at Lee's Ferry at 10:30am on the 13th, where the water iscrystal clear. After a two hour bus ride through the hot desert, theycouldn't wait to dip into the cool river.
After moving their dry bags and boxes of food and supplies onto the rafts,the team members held an incense burning ceremony, following the ancientChinese tradition to pray for good luck and safety.
According to Liu Li, the team members are in very high spirit this morning.Obviously they are all very excited and at the same time quite anxious. Thisis a day each one of them has looked forward to, and all of them hope theywill have a successful trip. The success, of course, depends on the effortof each member. We want to see everyone "come happily and leave safely".
To guaranty the safety of the team members, nine rafting experts from ArizonaRaft Adventures (AzRA) will run the river with the Chinese team. Rob Elliot,head of AzRA and one of the nine American rafters, highlighted the safety issuesbefore the put-in. He requested that team members must follow the Captain'severy single command closely. In the rapids, he stressed, slight failurein following the command or safety rules can flip the boat and jeopardizethe whole team. So it is of life-and-death importance. The team should worktogether like a well assembled machine.
Captain Feng Chun said he came with a dream, a dream shared by those whopioneered river rafting in China. Eighteen of the pioneers lost their livesin the mid-80s when river rafting first started in China. One of them,Kong Zhiyi, had told Feng Chun that his dream was that someday he couldrun rivers in the United States. Now it is a dream coming true.
7/14/A2 Singtao News
Historical review of Chinese River Rafting
By Chao-Ming Yang
In the past 18 years, the Chinese river rafting has gone through 3 majorphases: from the Yangtze River rafting marked by patriotism without muchconsideration of individual life, to more rational river rafting like theall woman rafting team running Yangtze River Source, to the combination ofcultural themes with commercial runs, like this trip on the Grand CanyonColorado River. The Chinese river rafting is becoming more mature and morevisible on the global platform.
In the first phase, with the 1986 run of the Yangtze River and 1987 run ofthe Yellow River, the paramont theme was nationalism and patriotism emphasizingNot To Miss One Single Inch (of the river), and Cover the Whole River.The tremendous loss of lives caused wide spread pain and doubt in the Nation.As a result, Chinese river rafting stagnated for about 12 years.
The second phase started from 1998 with the rafting exploration of the the Yangtze River source by the All Women's Team, the Tsangpo River in Xiziang, and the Zhu (Pearl River). TheChinese rafters have become more experienced and comfortable with river rafting, and theypledged to Treasure Life and to Rediscover River Rafting. They were becoming amore mature group.
The third phase is marked by this upcoming Grand Canyon Colorado River raftingtrip. Made possible by the much improved financial conditions, it is both acultural and commerical event. It probably tells us something about the futuredirections of Chinese rafting: First, going abroad and onto the world arena to learn fromand cooperate with their international colleagues seems to be a sure trend. Second,as a special event that calls public attention, rafting exploration may play animportant role in the Eyeball Economics or Exposure Economics. The fusion ofbusiness groups, news media, and river rafting and proper commercial maneuver mayprovide more material support for larger scale and more advanced explorationactivities in the future.
Grand Canyon Colorado River Diary
From Liu Li through satellite phone and recorded by Michael Bao, 7/15 Morning
Last night we couldn't contact you because we didn't have line of sight to thesatellite, so I am calling you this morning. We were about 28 miles from Lee's Ferry last night.Yesterday afternoon it was very windyand the river became rough, so we stopped earlier than planned.
We left our first camp site, named Ledges, at eight am yesterday morning. Thingswent very well on the first day, and our team became more confident. The fear ofthe unknown before encountering the Grand Canyon Colorado River was goingaway. As the team leader, I am very happy to see the high spirit of ourteam members.
Yesterday we went through eight quite large rapids (three of them Class 3).Safety was emphasized again before we started. It became evident that ourpractices in China were paying off. The team members coordinated very wellespecially in big rapids, and our team members were actually enjoying riding the large rolling waves.
In the afternoon, it became very windy in the canyon. Sand and dustwere blown into our faces, and the visibility became very poor. The riveralso changed to a muddy red color. For many of us, it was the first timeto see this spectacular change. For safety reason, I decided we should stop and camp.
In the last two days, our team members showed their tough side and theywere able to handle the rapids fine. Everyone became really wet duringthe day. At the camp, we changed into dry and comfortable clothes and letthe wet clothes dry up in the heat.
Lack of Spice, Not Dangerous Rapids, Is the Big Challenge
Michael Bao from LA
The biggest challenge for the rafters from Sichuan doesn't seem to be thedangerous rapids, but rather it is their stomach. From the phone interviewwith the rafters, I learned that some of them are not used to the Americanfood. They missed the Chinese food, especially the spicy Sichuan noodles.They got a bottle of Sichuan chili paste, which is their most preciousproperty. They told me that in the river they could afford to lose anythingbut the flags and this bottle of chili paste.
These guys and gals from Sichuan can hardly survive without spicy food. Theywant every single meal to be spicy, and hot enough to numb their taste buds.They think that AzRA did a perfect job in preparing this trip, but the onlything less than perfect is that the food is not spicy enough.
Pete Winn, the organizer and liaison person for this trip, was joking thathe first thought the rapids in Colorado river were spicy enough for theserafters, but now he realized he was wrong.
For the "Last Supper" before starting the trip, the American friends boughtKorean food with spicy Kim-Chi for the rafters to make up for their "oversight".One of them even gave a bottle of chili paste to Liu Li, which made himvery happy. Liu Li said that two things were most important for him inthe trip: the flags and the chili paste. Without chili paste, eating a mealwould be like chewing on wax.
Veteran Liu Li Seeks Extreme Experience
Michael Bao from LA
Liu Li, the team leader for this trip, is a very experienced organizer ofoutdoor activities, and he loves outdoor activities from the bottom of hisheart.
"Each outdoor trip is like a breath of fresh air and is very refreshing andcomforting. Conventional travel is often like 'trying to see beautifulflowers when riding a horse', and you may only remember the names of afew places. But outdoor trips are like deep breathing. You will remembereach one of them for your lifetime...", said Liu Li before this rafting trip.
Grand Canyon Colorado River Diary
From Liu Li through satellite phone and recorded by Michael Bao, 7/19
The river is becoming rough and rafting is becoming tough. Our teammembers now have a chance to apply the techniques they have learned tothe more difficult rapids. Today I was the photographer, and was ableto watch from the motor boat.
After we started this morning, we felt that the sector today was moredifficult than yesterday (7/18). One of the rapids was Class5 (Crystal), with huge waves as well as large steep waterdrops. At one spot thewater drop is about 4 meters. The boat was tossed around like a tree leaf. This is probably the longestscale 5 rapid, a good 300 meters long. Watching from the motor boat,my heart went up and down with the rafts.
There were many good size rapids today, which made these rafters veryhappy. They were also more cautious, after Chen Liayue swam Sockdologeryesterday. People in the paddle boat did a great job in coordinating,because they understood that in such rapids any mistake could have grimconsequences. Our camp site was right before Crystal Rapid.
We were very excited that we stopped at a small village with Postal Serviceand telephone (Phantom Ranch). We had been on the river for about seven daysand had been unable to contact family or friends. Here we stopped for awhile and we made phone calls and sent postcards.
In the Canyon, contacting outside world is almost impossible. Even satellitephone does not always work, with the high cliff walls often blocking thesignals. Several nights Hu Yiteng and others had to climb the canyon to finda spot with satellite signals to send reports to Singtao Daily and Sichuan TVstation. One night we started at 8 pm and returned at 11pm to make thatphone call, which really made others worry about our safety.
At night, we usually sit around and chat, talking about the thrills duringthe day. It's really a happy and fun time.
At the invitation of AzRA, I also boarded one of the rafts to witness the tenrafters encounter with the first rapid.
Three of the rafts were oar powered, one was a small (22 feet) motor raft, and one was paddle boat. At the captain's command, the team started to paddle. Team lead Liu Li was on one of the oar boats, Pete andCindy Winn from AzRA were on the same boat to offer help and advices. The American Chineserafter, Hanli Liu, who just joined the team, was on another oar boat and was beinginstructed by a Pete and Cindy's son, also a seasoned rafter, Travis Winn.
The river became turbulent after about one hundred yards, and the rides began to become bumpy.All of a sudden, the river seemed to be boiling with big waves breaking into our faces.In the paddle boat, all were paddling very hard at Fung Chun's command and very soonthey were leading the fleet. In the rapid, they appear quite experienced and went throughthis first rapid without much problem.
Hanli Liu didn't seem to be in full control of his raft and he had to stand up to row.But Travis didn't look worried and was just sitting there and watching with a smile onhis face. Hanli's undergraduate major was fluid mechanics, so he should have an accurateunderstanding of the water flow.
Guo Zheng, one of the rafters in the paddle boat, told me that the Captain was absolutelycritical to the team. A boat may flip in rapids if the Captain can't control directions.Zheng was calm when going the first rapid. He said this one was not that bad compared tomany he had experienced in Yangtze River.
This was the first time these team members worked together, and they did need to improvetheir coordination to prepare for the much bigger rapids.
Ms. Hu Bing, the team doctor, didn't just watch and ride, but was also an active rafter.She said she was just like everyone else.
I finished my brief adventurous ride with them and watched as they got back on theirlong journey. I waved them good-bye, wishing them good luck.
The Nine Chinese Rafters
Apart from Hanli Liu who joined the team on the 12th, there are eight male and one femaleChinese rafters. Each one of them has passed a strict selection process. They are:
Liu Li, Team leader of the rafting team. Traveled around Western China for 18 years.Organized the exploration of the Yangtze River source by the first Chinese Women's team in1998, exploration of the Yellow River source in 1999, running of the Nujiang River byChinese/American team in 2000, and running of the Tsangpo River by Chinese/Americanteam in 2002.
Feng Chun, Deputy team leader. Pioneer of river rafting in China, and survivor of the 1986Yangtze River rafting team. Walked through the Great Bend of the Tsangpo River Canyon in 36 days in 1998.
Hu Bing (only woman), Owner of imported products shop in Chengdu, used to be a flight attendent. Explored Tibet by hiking along the Sichuan-Tibet road, Qinghai-Tibet road, and Xinjiang-Tibet road in 2001-2002. Attemped Mount Everest with a team in 2001 (didn't summit due to poor weather).
Lu Zhongrong, Entrepreneur based in Chengdu, loves outdoors.
Guo Zheng, Adventurer. Long distance biking between Yunnan and Tibet in 1999. Partipated in the2001 and 2002 Panzhihua International River Rafting Tournaments. Joined an explorationteam to run Hanjiang River in 2003.
Chen Lianyue, River exploration/rafting participant: 1992 Yalong River, 1993 Yangtze Riversource, 2001 Panzhihua International River Rafting Tournament.
Xiao Jiaze, Amateur explorer. Deputy Chair of the Sichuan WuShu (Kung Fu) Association.
Yu Ning, Photographer.
Hu Yiteng, Reporter working for Chengdu TV Station.
Reading Water is Lesson One
Michael Bao from Los Angeles
"The most important technique for a rafter to learn is to read water. That is,to observe the water flow and understand the upcoming changes," said FengChun, the most experienced member on the team. To see clearly the changeof water flows is key to keeping the boat on the right course and steeringout of danger.
"The water can carry a boat, the water can flip a boat. To survive in thewilderness, it is always important to find the right strategy, and runningrapids blindly without knowing them guarantees trouble". With team members'safty on his mind, Feng Chun stressed these points.
Rob Elliott, owner of the Arizona Rafting Adventures (AzRA), regarded safetyas the number one issue and said that it was important to learn how toavoid danger. It is important, Rob said, for one to realize that the humanpower is tiny compared to the power of the river, so one should not fightwith the river but rather should learn to work with it. The difficulty ofeach rapid is scaled, with scale 1 to 3 for realitively easy ones forrecreational rafting, while 4 and 5 are for adventurous rafting. Rapidswith scale 6, Rob said, were those that were impossible for humans to run,even for the professionals. For personal safety, it is important to followthe safety rules. One should not confuse that with flinching.
Before the put-in on July 13, safety was the issue Rob Elliott spent the mosttime on. He told the team that everyone must put on his/her life jacket beforeboarding and should never take it off once on board. The seemingly quietriver could be deceiving, and any negligence could be fatal.
Feng Chun said that river rafting has a history of more than one hundredyears in the United States, and along this course plenty of experiences havebeen gained. These are the things we Chinese rafters should learn. We startedeighteen years ago, and at the beginning safety was not well managed and eighteen liveswere lost in two years. These were lessons afforded by blood.
Feng Chun Obsessed with Rafting, Choose Exploration Over Marriage
Michael Bao from LA
Feng Chun is the pioneer figure in this rafting team, and his legend went hand-in-handwith the Chinese rafting history. According to Feng Chun, the Chinese had paid a highprice in their not so long rafting history. He knew each of the eighteen rafters lost in theearly days very well.
"Without rafting, I can't imagine how my life would go on", said Feng Chun.
Feng Chun is still single, and he hopes someday he will find a wife who understands himand his dedication to rafting. On the other hand, it is very hard for a woman toaccept a spouse who spends much time away from home and risks his life for rafting. FengChun said he would never give up rafting no matter what.
River rafting in China was jump-started by Americans, when a group of American adventurousrafters first went to China to run Yangtze River. When they heard the news in 1985, someChinese felt that the Chinese should be the first to run Yangtze. This pride made the firstChinese rafters, and they rushed to Yangtze River in an effort to beat the Yankees.
With no experience and poorly equipped, they were doomed. The first solo rafter leavingin 1985 never returned. But not much was learned from the failure. In 1986, ten more from twoChinese teams lost their lives (one American died during their trip). Seven more people died in 1987exploring the Yellow River.
It was the Americans who introduced river rafting to China, and going to where it startedand running Colorado river has always been Feng Chun's dream. The US has a rafting historyover 100 years, and their ideas, experiences, techniques, equipments, and safety measures inrafting are the things we would like to learn and study. Feng Chun told me that after thistrip, he would start training younger rafters and at the same time promote the exchange andcoorperation between the rafters from the two countries.
Grand Canyon Colorado River Diary
From Liu Li through satellite phone and recorded by Michael Bao, 7/15 Evening
Yesterday it was very windy and we were forced to stop early. This morningit was very quiet and we started at 8 am. We passed Silver Grotto and stoppedat Vasey's Paradise for lunch. The river was relatively quiet in the afternoon.
The Silver Grotto is a beautiful side canyon, and 29 MileRapid caused by occasional floods is quite fast, but we ran it with no problem. The river canyon around Silver Grotto is called Marble Canyon. In 1869 during his first Grand Canyon exploration,Captain Powell thought the the red limestone here looked like marble andso that became its name.
At noon, we arrived at Vasey's Paradise. Many lovely (but some poisonous)vegetations thrive (near the springs). It was marvelous to see so much greenalong the usually barren river bank. We enjoyed our delicious lunch here.
Shortly after Vasey's Paradise, we were at Redwall Cavern. This was thecamp site originally scheduled for last night. It is a huge cave with soft sand ground.The river was quiet after this, and we were able to absorb the beautyalong the river.
Liu Li has high expectations for his upcoming trip, hoping this will bean event memorable for his lifetime. Liu Li began his rafting practice in1998, and led an all Chinese women's team to run Yangtze river at its source. After thishe found he was unable to leave outdoor exploration, and almost every yearafterward he would make a rafting trip. In July of 1999, he went on a raftingtrip at Yellow River Source; in August of 2000, he joined the Chinese-Americanrafting trip exploring Mekong River (Nujiang River); in June of 2002, he was onthe Chinese-American team exploring Tsangpo River and Lhasa River. Insix years he became a veteran rafter. Now he wants to have memorable tripon the Colorado River.
Liu Li said he had looked forward to this trip and it would be a climax of hisrafting experience. He expected this to be a tough trip, but a successful runon this challenging river would be most rewarding.
American Friends on This Team
Michael Bao from LA
The Americans on this rafting team are a very friendly and very professionalgroup. Liu Li, the team leader, said that this trip would not have beenpossible without the support and help from these American friends.
Pete Winn is the head of the Shangri-la River Expeditions Company andthe American Earth Science Exploration Company. He is the main organizerof this rafting trip on the Colorado River. He has been to China many timesfor river expeditions.
Pete said that he witnessed the growth of rafting activities in China, andnow the Chinese are coming to run the Colorado river. These are greatachievements. To guarantee the safety of this trip, said Pete, they assignedthe best river guides for this team.
Rob Elliot, the Chairman of AzRA, had lead thousands of rafters through theGrand Canyon Colorado River in the past 40 years without any casulties.He told me that most people fall in love with the river trip and treat itas an integral part of their outdoor activities. Carmen Winn, Pete's 15-yearold daughter, is also spending her summer vacation on the river with theteam. This is her third trip on the Grand Canyon Colordao River.
Rob said that Colorado River was actually not that scary, but rafters needto have experience and paddle boat rafters need to work closely together, likethe Chinese idiom "Tong Zhou Gong Ji--On the same boat and help each other".In rapids, the team has to act as one.
In order to give accurate commands in rapids, Travis Winn, who is the Championof the International Kayak Tournament, learned Chinese. He explained thatthings happened really fast in rapids, and there was no time for translation.Giving direct Chinese command definitely helps.
Colorado River Expedition by Chinese A Success
Michael Bao from Diamond Creek
A team of 10 Chinese rafters finished the last section of the Grand CanyonColordo River Tuesday morning, and brought the expedition to a successfulend. This was the first Colorado River trip by a Chinese team, and is alsoa new phase of Sino-American collaboration on river expeditions.
At 10:30 am (10/27), the Chinese and nine American rafters arrived atDiamond Creek. One American was bitten by a fire ant, developed an allergic reaction and was rescued by a helicopter As a result the arrival was one hour later than originally planned.
The paddle boat, lead by Feng Chun, arrived first. The rafters were veryexcited and celebrated with "paddle toast". The three other rafts arrived shortlyafter. After fifteen days and overcoming all kinds of difficulties, they succeeded.
Liu Li said that this was the first Colorado River trip by a Chinese team.The successful run said a lot of our rafting ability and the progress we hadmade. In the past 15 days, we ran through 180 rapids, with thirty Class 3, nine Class4, and three Class 5. The Chinese rafters, with great help from our Americanfriends, were able to run all these rapids safetly. We were very proud andexcited.
Liu Li also told me that a great deal had been learned from the Americancolleagues, and this would help the further development of Chinese raftingactivities.
Feng Chun thought July 27 would be a day worth remembering in the historyof Chinese river expeditions. Eighteen years ago on this day, the three Chinese rafterslost their lives on the Yangtze. Today the Chinese teamfinished its first trip on Colorado river. It would be memorable indeed.Feng Chun, tough as he might have been, was in tears when talking. Thissuccess would be comforting to those who gave their lives to the river eighteen yearsago.
Rob Elliot, head of AzRA, thought these rafters did an excellent job and hereally appreciated their courage. Some of them actually are veryexperienced. He said he would be willing to run any river in the world withthis team.
Rafters Thanks Singtao Reports
The Chinese rafters were grateful of the Singtao's reports in the past fifteen days. Team leaderLiu Li thought such support is one of reasons why they succeeded.
This is a very special event. During the trip, their daily activities were reported toSingtao by Liu Li using their satellite phone, and then were relayed to the ChineseCommunities. Many of our readers called in to inquire about the trip. Mr. Cai Fu-Xian,Deputy from the Consulate-General of the People's Repbulic of China at Los Angeles, and othersfrom his office were able to contact the rafting team through Singtao to express theirwillingness to offer help if needed.
Liu Li expressed his gratitude to these concerns and support from the Consulte and the ChineseCommunities. This expedition was able to come to a perfect end thanks to the encouragementand help from so many people.
It Was Not Easy
Michael Bao from Diamond Creek
"In this Grand Canyon Colorado River trip, we had to deal with lots of difficult problems.Many of them were hard to imagine for city dwellers", said Feng Chun. Liu Li addedthat some of them slept without a tent and woke up the second morning finding antsall over the body. That's what it takes to live in the wilderness.
Feng Chun said that the Chinese rafters' performance was praised by the American friends.The captain of the paddle boat was Chinese most of the time. Rob Elliot pointed out thatmany previous expeditions by foreign teams had experienced Americans as their captain to guarantee safety. This Chinese team is very unique in this respect.
"River rafting in a canyon is a difficult activity that demands many skills. It will bedifficult to command without good experience." said Feng Chun, "In an ever-changingriver, the captain needs to read the water and makes the right judgment. Any error couldflip the boat." Feng Chun was the captain for this trip. But because of his arm injury,Guo Zheng sometimes took over. Liu Li thought that life on the river was indeed achallenging experience. Exposure to the desert sun and sand for fifteen days, for example, scrubbeda lot skins.
Liu Hanli, the only Chinese-American on the team, regarded these as good and fun experiences.They taught people to be tough. After Diamond Creek, he would go directly to Las Vegas Airportto catch a Denver flight. Other Chinese would visit Las Vegas and Los Angeles and go backto China on 7/31.
Consulate General Zhong Jian-Hua Greeted Rafting Team:Colorado Rafting Another Sign China Integration Into the International Community
Michael Bao from LA
When Mr. Zhong Jian-Hua, Consulate General of the PRC at Los Angeles metwith the rafting team members, he congratulated their successful expeditionof the Colorado River and praised their performance. He said this was anotherstep the Chinese took in integrating into the international communityand "connecting track with the world". It also reflects the changes broughtforth by the economic reform, and the increasing diversity of our lives. Atthe reception, Zhong Jian-Hua also thanked Singtao for its reports of thisevent, and for bridging the communication between the consulateoffice and the rafting team.
The Chinese rafting team came to the reception held at the Chinese ConsulateGeneral's office July 29 afternoon, where they were greeted by the ConsulateGeneral Mr. Zhong Jian-Hua. He told the team that this was the first ColoradoRiver rafting trip by a Chinese team, and it set a successful example. In the pastsome fellow Chinese had some thoughts and feelings when Americans wentto China to run Yangtze River. Now with the development of the reform andopeness of China, Chinese were able to come to the US for a rafting trip.This shows that Chinese is now walking toward the outside world and embracingthe international community. He has high regard of such effort.
Zhong Jian-Hua said that the economic development had improved the quality oflife. From activities such as this rafting trip one can see the willingnessof the Chinese people to integrate into the international community by variousways. These are also activities respected by people around the world.
Zhong Jian-Hua also pointed out that Colorado River was a cultural symbol of theAmerican West, and a mother river for the West. The Colorado River was also closelytied to the development and the history of the American West. Hoover Dam on the ColoradoRiver has been providing water and electricity to the residents in the western region, andChinese labors had contributed to its construction. It's a great thing that theChinese rafters now had a successful run on this challenging river.
Zhong Jian-Hua told the team members that Singtao Daily provided a detailed coverage oftheir trip, allowing the people at the Consulate office to know about their progress.Their support and concern were also relayed to the team through Singtao.
Team leader Liu Li said that the team was able to withstand the test of the river andbecame strong in this trip. In China, river expedition started less than two decadesago, while in the US it has more than a century long history. Hence more advanced skills,techniques, and equipments have been developed in the US. From this visit and exchange,the Chinese team had learned a lot. After returning to China, they would further promote the riverrafting and wilderness exploration to improve the awareness of these activitiesin China.
At the reception, the team also presented a team flag with members' signaturesas a gift to the consulate office.
Nine members of the team arrived at LA in the afternoon on 28, and they touredDisney Land on the morning of the 29th.
Mr. Cai Feng-Xian, deputy Consulate General, treated the team members to ahot-pot dinner.
A DVD of two Chinese TV news programs about this expedition (in Chinese, 20 minutes and 10 minutes) is available for $5.00 shipping and handling. Email petewinn at shangri-la-river-expeditions.com or call 970-242-7108.