A year from now, it will be impossible to repeat the eight-day rafting trip we just completed down the Great Bend of the Yangtze. This 120-mile section of the Yangtze, like many of China’s rivers, will be dammed in 2009. It was amazing to experience this world-class stretch of whitewater before it changes forever.
Led by Travis Winn, the group, which included 28 international scientists, conservations, and river enthusiasts, spent the first three days rafting dozens of big-water rapids in desert scenery and notched limestone canyons. Lessons from geologists Pete Winn and Leif Karlstom helped explain the formation of the river’s great bend and how massive reservoirs would impact the region’s geology (even manmade earthquakes are a possibility).
After the river wrapped from north to south, we spent a night in the 1300-year-old Naxi village of Bao Shan. Here Naxi scholar He Xiaxun explained the river’s cultural significance for her people. It is the cradle of Naxi civilization.
Below Bao Shan, we paddled through more stunning scenery to the Ahai dam site. We moved from a pastoral landscape of goat herders and terraced wheat fields to a dust-filled canyon echoing with the sounds of 10,000 workers and a concrete factory.
Toward the end of the trip, we spent a nervous night above the section’s largest rapid, Wall Banger. At this point, the Yangtze rolls over a massive hole before bouncing against a wall and seething downstream. Even though the most experienced oarsmen dropped two oars and broke one, we watched the less experienced boaters clean the rapid with huge smiles.
The following day, our group stood beside a bridge and watched the Yangtze flow east. We could be the last group to paddle this section of whitewater before it is dammed in 2009, but we hope that by documenting this world-class river, we can help keep other rivers in China free-flowing.
Now, the Epicocity crew is gearing up for their last leg of the Rivers in Demand expedition in China. It will be a trip to the Salween River and a chance to log another significant descent in a Tibetan prefecture. Stay tuned at riversindemand.com.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Photographs by Adam Mills Elliott