|The NuJiang River Project|
|The 1996 NuJiang River Expedition Field Reports|
From the Banks of the Nu River, Liuku, Yunnan Province, China
The USA-China NuJiang River Expedition sailed into Liuku, the capital of NuJiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture today as if on the East Wind in the Chinese historical novel The Three Kingdoms. Two rafts overflowed with members of the team, American, Chinese, and Minority. Some enthusiasm for river sport has been kindled; and we hope, an understanding that outdoor sports will provide incentive for preservation of the beautiful Nu River. Meanwhile, the two hardworking kayakers, Dave Pizzuti and Scott Young, finished running the last of the big water upriver from Liuku, including the Class 10 Many Fish Rapid. With their triumphant paddling into Liuku, the 1996 river expedition ended on a very high note.
Two days ago, Dave Pizzuti and Scott Young made history by running the unrunnable, Leaping Tiger "ShuanNaWadi" Rapid, Class 10+, at a water level of 30,000 cubic feet per second.
The first drop was only a sobering taste of what lay before. Scott and Dave eddied out on different sides, Scott on the left. This turned out to be scarier because Scott was unable to ferry across the raging current back to the right side. He had to commit himself instead early on to the huge boulder strewn second drop. Both Scott and Dave avoided the left route of Leaping Tiger Rapid, which led around the Tiger Rock to a pourover into a steep undercut wall. Their alternate route was a heart stopping run dropping over a boiling pourover which threw Scott into the air and up onto the rock immediately below the Leaping Tiger stone.
The escape route off the second drop was to the far right of the chaotic eddy lines. Both were forced to negotiate far enough right from undercut rocks, into and through a very tight four-foot slot. Then after a short five-foot drop, both were immediately confronted with the third drop.
Bus size hydraulics waited on the left, two in a row, back to back, and a mere Volkswagen size hole lurked on the right. The guys obviously opted for the smaller hole. All the spectators were rung out with the tension of watching these kayakers make history running the most famous rapid of the Nu River.
As the Probe Team boaters who ran every kilometer but ten, and every rapid except for two, Scott and Dave estimated that they ran over several hundred classifiable rapids during the 16-day trip of 200+ river miles. Their informal classification places the river at 20% class 3, 40% class 4, 40% class 5. Based on their experience, this is a BIG WATER kayak river where the eddy lines cause cartwheels and the holes look like canyons up close. Scott says, "This is one of the biggest I have run and I have ALOT of respect for the NuJiang." Dave adds, "We appreciate the NuJiang allowing us to ride on his bucking back and gracing us with survival."
I had purchased all of the equipment to be donated at the end to NuJiang from my savings and could only afford three old "war horses", floored rafts which could be repaired by the locals. The Avon and the Miwok performed well every day they were launched, with a little help from patches and a chinese glue called "Your face looks old." Frank Leuthold rowed the Miwok with help from lots of different folks paddling. After almost 40 years of bowing to the river gods, Frank has them on his side, and ended up flipless. Mike Gheleta's Avon paddle raft had less luck and flipped at least every day on water. Mike gives this account of how he and that day's crew survived on Sunday:
The crew in the Avon ended up Chinese except for me, and by the end of the day I had everybody confused, calling out commands in Chinese. The paddle crew consisted of Xi Yi, Ding Kai, Wang Qi and one of the Minority basketball players recruited in Liuku. I would row on the Northwest River Supply stern frame. After stirring up the locals on our way midtown, we put in below a rapid that had a decent chance of sending two boats upside down through Fugong -- not an attractive prospect.
In the first serious rapid, we apparently didn't pull hard enough, as we crashed through a diagonal wave stern first (by design) and wound up running most of the big waves backwards (by improvisation). I was just happy that we did not get sideways. Wang Qi decided to take charge of instructing the others in the Chinese style of "highsiding," where everyone on the front rams, jumps, and even piles up on the tubes.
After the exhilarating cheers of Fugong had faded into the distance, we stopped to scout what appeared to be the big rapid of the day. It had a left slot cheat route too small for a raft upon closer inspection. The main part of the rapid had big waves but they could be avoided by a careful entry and hard pull left. Our boat ran this line perfectly, as did Frank and his crew in the Miwok. I had the feeling that we had gotten all worked up over nothing.
We were celebrating our conquering of the big rapid of the day -- until we heard a deep roar in the distance and saw downstream an abrupt horizon line on the water with huge mounds of white foam welling up. This caught us by surprise. We had just passed the only beach to pull the boats out. Our hearts sunk as we managed to pull in along the rocky shoreline to scout what in fact was the Monster of the Day.
We were up against a steep slope on river left. Our only options were to line the boats through the far left slot, or to run either that slot or an area closer to the center with several diagonal waves running into big waves. Gargantuan waves to the right formed the main part of the current which crashed down into what was surely a no-man's-land for rafts.
I did not like the irregular diagonal waves near the rock in the hole-pitted middle run. So trusting to a strong crew of four paddlers, I decided to run the left slot. Frank opted for the middle run, feeling that his boat was not maneuverable enough to make the slot moves.
While positioning the raft close to the left bank we started the back paddle that would hopefully put us in the flow through the sweeping turn to the bottom of the slot. But the raft did not move as hoped; we had misjudged both the speed of the current and the amount of room to make the first move. I shuddered as we began to wash sideways, not into the small rocks, but into the large rock that separated this left "cheat" route from the main flow to the right. Irregular diagonal waves proceeded into giant waves shared by boat-flipping large diagonals at the bottom. As we flushed sideways into the large rock, I yelled for the crew to high-side, to avoid wrapping the boat on the rock.
They responded instantly. The boat spun off the rock and slid down the chute of water that cascaded down alongside it. Although missing the troublesome diagonal waves near the top of the rapid, now we were sliding down the chute with increasing speed toward huge waves at the bottom.
I plied the oars in an attempt to find a winning combination of pivots and angles and called a forward paddle command to generate some boat speed and momentum. Then I saw them up close -- the first wave steep and large, the second one even bigger and seemingly fused with an irregular diagonal wave off to the right. A flip looked inevitable.
As we hit the first steep wave, Wang Qi and Xi leaned into it, then were thrown back in the boat. But the combination of the front crew throwing their weight forward in a Chinese style high-side move, a last-second push with my oars, and a lucky straight-on angle brought us through the first wave in one piece, except for one oar handle. I looked at the useless handle in my hand in disbelief, threw it down, and clutched the remaining stubby end of the oar shaft.
Then we slid down the face of the first wave into the second waves, into the NuJiang One-Two Punchout. The combination of head-on and lateral waves at the same spot would hit us simultaneously from different directions, either one of them capable of flipping the raft should we try to hit the other straight on. I swung the front of the boat with a right pivot while the front paddlers slammed the front tubes with the full weight of their bodies, the second row paddling furiously. The waves smashed into the raft simultaneously, the violence almost flipping us. The impact launched me from my seat and catapulted me out of the boat. Clinging to an oar, I knew I had to get back into the boat before the next wave slammed into us, finishing the job and knocking me clear of the raft. I barely made it before the next wave jolted us.
After we rode out the last few smaller waves, all in the boat turned to look at each another, amazed to see that everyone was still there and that the boat was right side up. We looked back at Frank's boat, which had washed into the same rock I had despite taking the middle route. As usual, the Miwok made it through unflipped.
The four Chinese in our boat had an animated exchange, reliving our exhilarating flirtation with disaster. We knew that we had not "conquered" this rapid, but merely "survived" it. The crew picture taken after we finally arrived at our base camp -- cold, wet, tired, but uplifted by day's end is a picture and memory that I will treasure forever.
We are now back in Liuku where the Poinsetta Trees are in full bloom. The fields of Marigolds are still nodding their heads. And the potted Salvias are struggling along. Every now and then one can see a Canna blooming by a stone wall; but the corn harvest is over, leaving dry brown stalks standing.
At this time of year, the most interested place to look at plants is the town vegetable market. Here are some interesting things I have learned. Lotus roots are for sale everywhere and they look like whitish tubes with rubber bands separating three segments. A small species tulip bulb just starting to sprout is now ending up in my dinner bowl. The Chinese sugar pea pod is eaten in three ways: the pods lightly fried, the new vines and leafs often in soup, and the older pod seeds shelled.
There are at least ten different kinds of root vegetables, from the familiar turnip and potato to strange roots, never considered by us to be edible and unknown to our culinary table. She says, "I did recognize eating a Fritillary bulb and felt a little guilty but it tastes good. I saw and ate from the huge mounds of green vegetables - Chinese cabbage we know and many not known, even watercress, broccoli and cauliflower."
Along with the mounds of vegetables are the chickens in their basket cage and pigeons waiting to be bought alive. Any chicken bought often goes directly to the chicken killer who kills it, defeathers and plucks it in a machine specific to this task, and guts and washes it for the customer. Feet and head are left on to eat since Chinese consider these parts a delicacy.
The potted plant culture is the dominant way to garden and to display plants like magnificent Orchids, Cyclads, Norfork Pines, and vigorous clumps of what look like Lillies, and Boxwoods. Every guesthouse has displayed hundreds of these types of potted plants sitting around. Every hotel also has a special iron display rack to give more height to their arrangements. Most of the pots are quite magnificent with dragons decorating the sides. Some seem to me to be just lava chunks cemented together. Others are slabs of slate wired at each corner, a common sight here since NuJiang slate is famous. Many Nu people roof their houses with slate. "I have seen many other kinds of pots, even wooden boxes as people use whatever is available," Sandy says.
Another common sight at hotels is the pond in the center courtyard. Always in the pond is a big lava rock and growing on this rock are Sedums, and other succulents and ferns. Sometimes even a banana tree grows on the edge. The pond receives a mist spray in the early mornings.
Sandy continues, "The most common Chinese tool seen is a hoe which is a broad slightly scooped piece of metal with a hole in one end to attach the handle to. The buyer adds his own wooden handle and stick shaft of the desired length. Recently I saw a little hand scythe similar to ones in USA with a serrated blade and wooden handle engraved with Chinese writing. I have seen numbers of little girls cutting and gathering weeds with this tool, and once a man who was gathering weeds for his pigs. This tool is sold in the exclusive garden shops in Denver and very fashionable to have, although I think not to cut weeds for pigs."
Sandy adds with her rye smile: "I have never seen hoses used to water any vegetables. Its use is for washing cars, parking lots, and different machinery, at restaurants for washing dishes, but never for gardening as we use it. To water garden plots and potted plants, the bucket and scoop is used. No suburban USA garden would be without hoses for watering, but then here in China, I have not seen a single grass lawn."
Street landscaping is limited to trees, most very tough like Sycamores and Eucalyptus; but all are challenged by dust and garbage thrown into their protective bins. If a tree survives it can be quite old. Municipal parks seem to take up most of the efforts of gardening. Gongshan Park is an example with substantial walkways. Sometimes a children play area is there and caged local wildlife for viewing. Always stairs lead up to a pagoda. At the entrance of the park many potted plants sit but as one wanders further the plants are in a more naturalized sitting. One interesting fact we discovered up river is that Gongshan Park was originally a forest saved to protect the town from mud and landslides. It now is the oldest nature preserve of the valley.
I am hoping that Sandy can find time to make a plant listing for the NuJiang River Project on our return to America. It will be a good addition to my Environmental Report promised to the China Environmental Protection Foundation. And I intend to schedule a botanist tour in the future.
I am very happy to meet so many nice Americans and to be with my dear friend White Pearl especially. China-USA Team has now run the NuJiang and begun the river sport here. They made a beautiful sight on our lovely river. I will miss the river team very much. On behalf of Director Xiong Tai He and myself, we welcome always White Pearl's experts to come to our most beautiful spot of the world. Please get in touch through White Pearl and the NuJiang Home Page. Waiting to greet you warmly.