White Pearl Logo The NuJiang River Project
The 1996 NuJiang River Expedition Field Reports

Introduction to Second Edition

By White Pearl
November 4, 1997

© Wang Qi
One year has passed since I typed Field Report No. 1 on my "antique" 386 laptop at the Gongshan Hotel. I was completely exhausted and already had torn my right knee ligaments so I could barely walk. I had just spent more of my own dwindling funds to restore group morale with a night out of the rain. I still didn't have an official permit to do what I was doing. And we had only just begun the river part of White Pearl's first "adventure fantasy come true." After ten years of "It's China", two years of work on this project and the expenditure of all my savings, I was determined to keep going, come Hell or High Water. Well, it was turning out to be both. And it was also a "dream come true", at least for myself and some of my adventurers.

2nd Edition Changes

I realize that I did a disservice to myself, by writing so much in the third person. This 2nd edition of the Field Reports will be in first person where appropriate and give me credit for the thankless task of staying at the hotel writing instead of at the beach partying. Other current changes are for purposes of clarification, correction, or editing to free space for pictures. These were mostly chosen for illustration, not for art's sake. See Photo Gallery for art.

In 1996 I deliberately smoothed over the rough edges of history, to spare families of the terrifying anxiety of reading of loved ones' injuries on the Internet and not being able to communicate with them. Some other details I may fill in to create a travelogue for readers. From time to time, I will add new stories. However, my main purpose in organizing and funding the experience was to jumpstart a preservation effort for Nu River of China. Continuing that effort into the future is how I want to spend my time now. So you may have to wait until my book, History of China's River Exploration, comes out for the complete story about my NuJiang River Expedition.

Credit and Thanks must be given to some of the unsung heroes, who made this event possible: the unnamed Chinese Officials, who gave me, mostly free of charge, access to China Internet and permission to run an unorthodox expedition. Second, credit and thanks are due Tom Meyer, and his friends in CU Engineering and www2.river.com who caught and relayed my reports like Frisbees up onto the 'Net in 1996.

If you are mainly interested in NuJiang river permits, click here.

Field Report No. 1

By White Pearl
November 4, 1996

From the Banks of the Nu River, Gongshan Town, Yunnan Province, China

The NuJiang Environmental River Expedition of 1996 officially started out with a heartwarming greeting from the citizens of BingZhongLuo Town at the end of the road. The night before the official

© B.Rosenzweig
Put-In on Halloween (October 31st), Ya Sha, Vice Director of NuJiang Travel, I and Xi Yi, my assistant, started the presentation of my donation of hardback notebooks and pens to the 250 students of Gongshan Dulong Autonomous County.

Earlier that day, October 30th, kayakers Dave Pizzuti, his cousin Greg Drawbaugh, and Scott Young ran the first five miles of the Nu River beyond the road from the famous Gate Walls to base camp. They treated the enthusiastic onlookers to their first ever seen performance of kayak surfing and stunt pirouettes. The rest of us continued the work of making camp and assembling equipment at base camp for the put-in with the help of dozens of men, women, and children I had assigned Xi Yi to hire as carriers.

© P. Kantor

This year is a landmark high water year on the Nu due to rain for thirty out of the last forty days. It has rained almost every day since I arrived in early September, in response to an urgent telephone call that there was a "problem" with the permit. Nothing was being accomplished until the Red Devil herself showed up. I almost faxed back to America to cancel - the Nu River was running at 75,000 cubic feet per second. But although I informed the team, they proceeded on with the equipment shipment. I was sure that even if nobody boated, the people and beauty of the valley would enthrall them. Indeed, that's what has happened. We've even enjoyed impromptu singing and dancing in the streets with people as we drove the 280 miles up the river to the end of the road.

Xi Yi tried the cable crossing, which used to be
the traditional way to cross both the Nu and
Dulong Rivers.

© White Pearl

© White Pearl

In spite of the unusual continuation of this monsoon rain and the usual chaotic river trip beginning, we launched two oar frame rafts, one paddle raft, and all five kayaks to the cheers of hundreds of Nu, Drung, Lizu, but mostly Tibetan locals on Halloween. That night, camp was a few miles past the famous First Bend of the Nu under a convenient ancient arched stone bridge.

In pursuit of one of my goals - to benefit financially those who live on the river - dozens of locals, including kids, at every camp possible will be hired to carry gear and to provide fresh or cooked food. A second goal is to show respect that other foreign expeditions have not in the past in China: I am requesting permission of each village whose beach the group wants to use for campsites. And third, we will try to show environmental consciousness. It's going to be very tough to follow all USA environmental practices at these sites following the Leave No Trace Behind But Footprints ethic. But we will try and, I hope, set the precedent for future foreign groups. Although not much money was available for gifts, we do have T-shirts and small packets containing one U.S. Year of Rat stamp, crow beads for the girls, with an environmental message and thanks to the people for their support and welcome.

On November 3rd, the Expedition arrived safely at Gongshan Town after successfully running forty miles of rapids at the unprecedented high level of 30,000 cubic feet per second. The team classified at least four rapids, including Gia Wa Rapid, as advanced Class 4+. The team over the last three days encountered difficult hydraulics, giant standing waves, and nine feet/three meter holes. Two rafts flipped in these gigantic waves and holes, and one raft's oar stand was ripped off, the one I had "made in China" according to my friend George Claypool's design.

Due to the team's combined experience and a whole lot of luck, rescue and equipment recovery went smoothly, considering what could have happened. For those few of us ever involved in a first descent, it is amazing no equipment was lost in this first 4 days. Even though the water is not very cold, several paddlers have been hypothermic. Most of the Chinese work crew is not used to sleeping in tents and being wet from the rain. My friend Xiong Tai He, Director of NuJiang Tour Company has a bad case of flu already.

The team paddled and rowed into Gongshan Town to the cheers of crowds lining the shores, bridges, and roads. Team translator and Drung Tribe member, Chenjianhua (Marc) got to ride in the Miwoc raft triumphantly into his own hometown. Chen met up with his proud father, whom he had not seen in three years. The kayaks ran successfully ten miles below Gongshan this afternoon (November 4) while others repaired the rafts or roamed Gongshan Town. Besides working on this first field report, I am playing the diplomat with local officials, and wishing I had brought more pain killers for a badly torn knee ligament.

Gongshan Town is the only major concentration of people on the upper river and where the only vehicle bridge crosses the river above Fugong

© White Pearl
Town. The road builders of a new road to Dulong River Valley are doing a bad job. Mud and gravel are pouring into the Nu from the small river, whereas other streams are running clear. And mudslides have already eroded the bank right at the new vehicle bridge across the Nu, a bad sign also. Almost no Tibetan horse trains are around, and it looks like the road has put them out of business of carrying supplies to BingZhongLuo Town, which surprisingly grows very little of its own vegetables. The electricity in Gongshan goes on and off, a situation that could be improved by some expertise in increasing the efficiency of the streamside gravity hydroplants. They are certainly a better alternative than dams, cheaper and less destructive.

The boating members of this successful first week are: Dennis Schultz and Frank Leuthold, oarsmen, paddle captain Mike Gheleta, paddlers Chuck Smythe, my assistant Xi Yi of Kunming, Zia Parker, Norbert Kebl, Eileen Stearns, kayakers Philip Kantor (trip photographer), Dave Pizzuti, Scott Young, Greg Drawbaugh, and Brad Rosenzweig.

A special honor for us is the participation on the paddle team of Wang Qi, Ding Kai, and Yu Juanjuan of China. Wang Qi is my friend from Beijing, who is the only one of about a dozen of China's river runners I invited who could join me. I feel very strongly that Chinese team members are a must on foreign expeditions attempting first descents or ascents. A famous Chinese river runner as well as an outdoor photographer, he was a member of the 1986 China Yangtze River Scientific Expedition and river leader of the 1987 Beijing Yellow River Team. Both river trips were first descents of the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers by these teams and the Luoyang Henan Province Team. (My client Ken Warren of Oregon attempted to run the Yangtze in 1986 and should be credited with running a rapid which killed 4 Chinese.) Ding Kai is Wang Qi's friend who was also on the Beijing Yellow River Team. Yu Juanjuan is the first woman to bike the circumstance of China's borders and plans a world Bike Tour to promote women's rights and environmental issues.

The NuJiang road team is led by Sandy Snyder of Denver Botanical Gardens, her husband Bill Snyder, Betts Snyder, Bill's sister, Kunming translator Liao Ming Jian (David), and Tom Meyer. They gave first rate support to the river team, shuttling and meeting the riverrats at crucial points with hot meals, clothes, and warming fires. My local doctor, cook, and Tour Co Manager Yang Hai "Hi 5", from Fugong, and the drivers from Kunming complete the road crew. Also warming and encouraging were the cheers of the many spectators viewing for the first time the sport of river running. Of course, most of them have come to see us die, since that is the way Chinese teams do it - skipping rapids for safety sake isn't allowed.

The rains have returned to the valley; but tomorrow, November 5, the NuJiang Team will forge on south to meet the challenges of increasingly more difficult and bigger rapids between Gongshan and Fugong Towns. Because the Nu River is so high - it normally runs less than half its present volume during November - all of the boaters may be prevented from running the upper Class 5+ rapid. Even Dave Pizzuti and Scott Young

© White Pearl
of the kayak "Probe Team", my friend Dennis Schultz trying to make history in my cataraft, the "Monkey," may grin and say, "Not this water level." However, over fifteen rapids before Fugong Town, sixty miles away, will give anybody who chooses to boat plenty to do.

I am content that I got to ride in my raft for 2 days, and even get flipped and only roughed up by the NuJiang. It hasn't been all work on the sidelines for me like I anticipated. The people have been as wonderful as I described in America. I don't even bother to ask who's boating or not today - not my decision; although the Chinese are mind boggled at my lack of concern. The group has taken charge of itself, has organized themselves regarding other less life threatening issues like potential campsites, and will they eat Chinese food or not, (as if we had a choice). I am following the advice of my mentor of 30 years ago, Gary Grimm, for "cooperative adventures. "Convince them that they are the only ones responsible for saving their own lives, not some guide or leader; and they WILL make conservative choices." And realistically assume those risks on that liability waiver they didn't fully comprehend.

Stay tuned for Report No. 2, November 8th, from Fugong on the Nu River,
in the Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province, of China.

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