Vail resident floats an ‘angry river’ in China |

Vail resident floats an ‘angry river’ in China

Caramie Schnell
Vail Daily
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado – Three years ago, Vail resident Jason Moore went looking for adventure in China and found more than he’d ever hoped for. Moore took part in the first descent of the Salween River, a river high on the Tibetan Plateau, with 13 other people in 2007. The expedition showed him firsthand why the river is sometimes called “Nujiang,” Chinese for “angry river.”

“The river was big – really, really big,” Moore, 40, said.

The group had expected water flows around 15,000 to 20,000 cubic feet per second on the river, which is one of only two free-flowing rivers in China and considered one of Southeast Asia’s last untamed rivers.

“My guess was this was about 50,000 cubic feet per second,” Moore said.

The river was so high, the group was forced to stay with monks at a remote monastery for five days while they waited for water levels to recede.

“They’d never seen white people before,” Moore said.

In the end, the group rafted and kayaked an estimated 125 to 150 miles of the Salween, which is often called “China’s Grand Canyon,” because of its steep canyon walls and sheer grandeur.

“It was a true adventure,” said Moore, a physician’s assistant at Vail Valley Medical Center. “Our food ran low by the end, everyone lost a lot of weight, and there was no way out. We got ourselves in a situation where we had no choice but to keep going.”

The trip was an adventure, no doubt, but Moore and his cohorts were doing much more than looking for an adrenaline rush. The trip was sponsored by Patagonia, and they wanted to raise awareness about what’s happening to the river right now.

The isolated area is the focus of an intense debate. One of the most diverse ecological regions in the world is supported by the Salween drainage basin. The river supports thousands of species of plants and animals and is vital to the livelihoods of the many native cultures that live alongside it, according to the World Wildlife Fund. And according to UNESCO, the upper regions of the Salween “may be the most biologically diverse temperate ecosystem in the world.”

“Downstream, [the river] crosses into Burma and Thailand, where over 100 million people depend on it for their livelihood. Fully one-third of the world’s population depends on the rivers draining the Tibetan Plateau for sustenance, and yet no one in the U.S. and few in China know of this river,” according to copy from the original sponsor packet that Moore and other members of the expedition sent out.

But despite the river’s rich ecology, the Chinese government wants to build an extensive dam system, with some of the biggest dams in the world planned.

“The Salween is the hottest environmental topic going,” Moore said. “There are 13 dams scheduled for it and reports are iffy, but at least eight of them are in various stages of development. It’s very hard to get that info out of China. Environmentalists are calling for a halt – it’d be the equivalent of damming the Grand Canyon. They have these beautiful canyons and this beautiful environment. They are destroying this river.”

The recently completed Three Gorges Dam, on the Yangtze River, is the world’s largest electricity-generating plant of any kind.

“It also displaced 1.2 million people,” Moore said. “The number of dams in China is still unknown but its in the ballpark of 20,000 dams. But you can’t get that information, China won’t let it out. There’s a lot to that story.

“I’m not going to make it a political conversation too much, but some of it is unavoidable.”

And by talking about it, Moore is hoping to do more than share a great story and stunning photographs. He’s hoping to bring to light the Salween’s value as an eco-tourism attraction, and appeal to China’s economic focus since the environmental repercussions haven’t changed the country’s course as yet.

“Like in the United States, river running brings money into communities,” Moore said. “We’re trying to appeal on an economics level. The toughest audience has always been the people who hold the purse strings.”

Moore, who also took part in a Yangtze River expedition in 2009, is already planning the next expedition of the Salween, which will hopefully take place this summer.

“We’d do the section above where we went before, the section we already did and the first descent of the section below,” Moore said.

There’s little doubt that it’ll be more than just a great story.

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