Impressions from the Jinsha River

Posted by Kristen McDonald on Fri, 03/26/2010 - 12:44

Three Parallel Rivers - by Ge A GenThree Parallel Rivers - by Ge A GenYesterday, March 25, was the last day of our recent 10-day trip on the Jinsha River. In the morning, all 17 of us sat in a circle on a broad, sandy beach, sheltered from the wind by a giant chunk of limestone. We were about 5 kilometers from the Ahai Dam site, where our trip would end. Each trip participant said a few words about their experiences rafting the Jinsha, bringing smiles and laughter, and also some tears.

Li Weiyi, manager at Last Descents River Expeditions, told the group how last year she quit her high power job at Wangke, China’s largest real estate company, to join the Last Descents Team. At the time, she wondered how long she would enjoy roughing it on the river. This was her fourth trip, and with sudden emotion, she explained how this time, it felt like she was visiting a very close, dying friend.

While parts of the canyon are still stunning, with deep gorges and crystal clear rapids, like Weiyi I also noticed a decline in the Jinsha’s health. Not only are the two dam sites in this section further along, there were significantly more illegal dredge operations along the river. In some villages, folks were cutting down their trees, with the knowledge that soon they would be inundated.

This trip, as usual on the trips that Last Descents and China Rivers Project have organized on the Jinsha, we had a diverse mix of participants: old river hands and rafting newcomers; Chinese and Americans; men and women; business types and environmentalists. I was proud to that we were able to bring a five member delegation from China’s offices of the Nature Conservancy. While TNC has a robust program to re-operate and even try to stop some of the dams in the Yangtze basin, these dedicated folks rarely get to touch and feel that which they are working so hard to protect.

Around driftwood campfires (with wood carefully selected from places reachable only by boat, to ensure we weren’t “stealing” from the locals) we had great discussions on topics ranging from the challenge of living on a planet with finite resources to corporate social responsibility. We shared ghost stories and musical talents. And we visited with local Naxi, Pumi, and Han farmers who work the land of this hot, dry valley much as their ancestors have for hundreds if not thousands of years.

As we were sitting quietly on that picture perfect, and short-lived beach, the final morning of our trip, Chris Nute from Action Learning reminded us how lucky we were. He told the group that he will feel proud to go back to his two kids in Colorado and tell them how, like those who got to visit Glen Canyon one last time, he got to see one of China’s greatest canyons in all its glory before the dams came.

Last Descents is organizing one final, final trip down the Great Bend of the Yangtze April 23-May 3, 2010, and there are spaces still open. Contact if you are interested. Pictures of our March 15-25 trip will be posted shortly.