Flat Busted in Fugong
China 1996

by "Cat Rat Do" Dennis Schultz

We continue with Dennisí story, who with Dave Pizzuti and Scott Young, made river history running the First Descent of the most difficult rapids of the Nu River of China in 1996 at over 20,000 c.f.s. a ten year high for Oct/Nov, to help China in a preservation of its most precious river resource, its Minority Nationalities Nu and Dulongís homeland, the Nu Jiang.

Chapter 3

The Hyside Expedition double tubed cataraft "Monkey" got flushed into an eddy on river right just below the rapid. As easy as it was for the river to flip it upside down, it was difficult for Dave, Scott, and me to flip it right side up. We were all getting tired and it was nearly dark. After several attempts, and with the rest of our entire entourage watching, we finally succeeded in righting it. Local Nu and Lisu farmers and villagers had succeeded in tracking down Phil and flagged down our bus. He was just downstream, waiting for us. As there were no beaches for several kilometers, we ran a couple more rapids, and then pulled over to a rather unappealing rock pile on river left. While the rest of the group went into MaGi Village to eat and sleep, Phil offered to stay with our equipment that night as his penance "for having too much fun", he said, and scaring us all. I was really beat, ate dinner in my wetsuit, and crawled into a welcome dry hostel bed.

Wednesday November 6 was to be my last day boating on the Nu Jiang. The group had breakfast just after eight, and we rode our bus back down to where Phil had slept with the Monkey raft and 3 yaks. All five kayakers put in here. It was too difficult a put-in for the other rafts so equipment truck and bus went downstream to the first available beach. The river had started to drop as the unusual autumn rain ceased. We ran about 10 kilometers with 3-4 fairly minor rapids (7ís or 8ís on GC scale). We pulled over to a large beach on river left to eat lunch with the rest of the group. The other rafters, Mike and Frank, were setting up the Avon Adventurer paddleboat and Miwot oar frame. Chuck and Eileen both considered riding with me for the afternoon. However, I still wasnít comfortable with my setup for passengers, and in the end, neither rode with me. This was very fortunate as things turned out. Mike had an all PRC team today Ė 3 Chinese: Wang Qi of Yangtze (í86) and Yellow River (í87) fame, his team mate Ding Kai, Jenniferís Sechuan interpreter, and one local, a Lisu basketball player eager to try this new sport. (Read their story.)

All three rafts and five kayaks were once again on river, to tackle the most difficult stretch yet above Fugong Town. After lunch, we ran a few minor rapids (7-8ís) before coming to a major rapid (9-10). All of us pulled over to river left to scout it. There was a huge hole center-right at the top of the rapid. There didnít appear room to run right, so we all entered it river left. It was a long rapid and we could only see the top portion. At the bottom, the current crossed quickly from river left to right into a large wave train against the right wall.

I usually go down the gut, in fact I have that very saying painted on the fire pan that sits in front of my Hyside cataraft back in Oregon. However, for some reason, may be I was afraid of flipping once again; I tried to cheat it left. This was a fatal error. I went into a powerful hole, which I hadnít seen from upstream. It flipped me instantaneously, driving the right oar stand into my ribs and ripping a strap on my lifejacket. The force of the water also tore off my glasses and helmet and somehow removed a filing from one of my teeth! I quickly got flushed out of the hole but found myself a foot or so below the surface in bubbling foam, being carried rapidly downstream yet unable to breath. I was already starved for air when the Nu Jiang grabbed me and sucked me down and down again.

I felt as if I had reached the ultimate tranquility. I lay suspended in complete darkness, immersed in serene water, while many feet above me the water was churning violently in the slowly diminishing aftermath of the rapid. Like some demon from the deep, the Nu Jiang had pulled me down deep into its bowels, not once but twice. The second time it sucked me down, it also pulled my rain pants down and tied them neatly round my ankles. I was totally alone with my thoughts.

Although the water was exceptionally clear, I was so far below the surface that no light could penetrate to that depth. I had no sense of direction to the surface where the air lay that I so desperately sought for my lungs. While normally I would simply relax as I had until now, and wait for the river to gag and spit me up, I sensed the Nu had other plans for me. I would not allow my mouth to open underwater, but I started to wonder at what point I would lose consciousness. It was now nearly two minutes since I had had a breath of air. I know it sounds corny but I remembered the promise I made to my wife to return safely and decided to act.

>I started to reach for my river knife to cut my rain pants off but reconsidered. I had never used it in an emergency before and thought I might cut myself trying to get free. Instead I decided to kick like hell, which I did, and was able eventually to free one of my legs. Although I had no idea which way was up, I continued to kick, hoping I would rise to the surface. My world finally got lighter until I broached the surface like a whale from the deep. Sweet, oh so sweet, air rushed in to fill my deprived lungs. Greg, in his kayak, paddled over to tow me to shore.

The other First Descenters Dave and Scott continued to paddle every day all the way to Liuku, through more advanced stretches including ShannaWadi (Leaping Tiger Stone Rapid, the stone looks like a tiger) and Many Fish Rapid above Liuku. (Even Dave and Scott had skipped the upper rapid Animal Horns left still unchallenged). However, I was finished rafting, although still good for several camp parties with the locals. Despite painkillers, I found breathing to be painful for the next several days and after an x-ray of my ribs in Liuku hospital holed up in Fugong for a little R&R. The Nu Jiang had beaten me both mentally and physically. Would I ever do it again? At the drop of an oar.

Afterword by "White Pearl" Jen Pyle

The Sino-American Nu Jiang Expedition of 1996 was a joint venture of myself alone and the Nujiang Travel Bureau, with official and legal permits on all levels. In 1994 I promised under contract to Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture to bring preservationists who would tread lightly, teach enviro river practices, and lead the way for many more tourists to follow, to accelerate Nu Jiangís tourism development ahead of the proposed Nu River Dam Project. I fulfilled the end of my contract, except that my Interpreter ripped off the rafting equipment I bought to leave. (Please leave whatever you can if you go.) In return for my promise to help Nu Jiang develop eco-tourism, I paid no million-dollar fees and I have made nothing from any of the 4 tours I organized. Nujiang received permission to open in 1997, BUT Nujiang Travel Bureau is still waiting for all those tourists to come on recommendation of the Americans I brought in 1996.

Time is running out. The World Bank gave The Natureís Conservancy millions to include the Nu Jiang river corridor in a national park protective system. But only the preserved and unthreatened by dams Gaoligong Mt. Nature Reserve in the Chinese prefecture Baoshan is in the proposed Three Rivers National Park. Nujiang Lisu government leaders have waited impatiently for 10 years for help in developing their unique river corridor recreational tourism, watching while all the money went to the rich Dali, Lijiang, and Zhongdian Prefectures. This is the real reason for Liukuís decision to go for the dams. Chinese Premier has halted the project progress and is waiting for reasonable and NOT LEFTIST (READ AMERICAN ENVIRO GROUP) BULLSHIT, i.e. scientific, conservative, and practical reasons to halt it.

Dislocation of these 50,000 people is the entire population of the Nu and half of the Dulong, and they can not survive this. YOU can help by making Nu Jiang your winter destination in 2003-2004 in just a two week/two weekend trip start to finish as Dennis did it. Fly to Hong Kong to Kunming, get on the overnight bus to Liuku, and there you are. You can also fly Kunming to Baoshan, 3 hours from Liuku. Carry your squirtboats and paddleboats as overweight luggage. Under my White Pearl Nujiang Project permit you can stay up to three months under the PRC tourist visa. The Draw System is where you boating partners pay a one time up front set fee to Nujiang Travel for 10 day room and board and shuttle to the daily put-in under your account at the Liuku School until it runs out. Want to stay longer? Pay for another 10 days. Commercials with small non-profit groups will be welcomed also under White Pearlís banner, with freedom of worry of liability hassles and the food prep/loading nightmares. You may end up negotiating a business deal to run tours there. Each of your clients can decide each day whether to boat or not or play off river. All my river "tourists" except the three hardcore were average and even with zero river experience. And the Nu Jiang rapids from December to February are guaranteed cross between Middle Fork/Selway/Main difficulty, Beginning stretch above Liuku and below Bingzhongluo, Advanced between Gongshan/Fugong and Super Advanced Fugong to Liuku. If a mediocre river runner like me with zero experience in first descents could avoid lawsuits, certainly you can.

Email me for more information ( whitepearl at gci-net.com ), and Dennis ( schultzd at ohsu.edu ) for his opinions and specifics of his travel to and from Nujiang and help planning your trip from both of us. See www.chinarivers.com for practical maps, information and up to date Chinese and English news on the Nu River (Dams) Project.

Chinaís debate over NuJiangís fate is the historic beginning of a real democratic movement in China, and China should be applauded and praised not criticized for events starting last summer. As every American who I helped to go there has said, you WILL receive a lifetime experience if you travel there whether you boat or not. BUT you MUST come back and tell others to follow in your footsteps. This is the only way the WEST can tip the balance in NuJiangís favor, not by hypocritical arrogance. And it is the only obligation I ask of you for helping arrange for your welcome. Finally, I need help in my report to the Premier: economic statistics of the millions made by river sport in USA in published scholarly form. Email me if you can help.

Photos courtesy of Jen Pyle, Phil Kantor, Dave Pizzuti, Ed Pomponi.

 


 

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