By John Bowermaster
The blinds are drawn in Eric Hertz's hotel room in downtown Kunming, China, though it's nearly noon. The 40-year-old river outfitter from New York State badly needs rest. His eyes are bloodshot from jet lag and worry, and his face is darkened by two-day-old stubble. ?
“I'm scared,” Eric says. “Too many things can go wrong on this trip. The best maps we have are 47 years old. We weren't allowed to scout from the air. We could get in way over our heads.” ?
I've rafted with Eric down some tough rivers—the Futaleufu in Chile, the Colca in Peru. He's one of the best in the business—obsessed with safety. Coming to China was his idea. First thing tomorrow morning we plan to set out for the Shuiluo (scway-lo), a wild tributary of the Yangtze, or Jinsha, River whose 150-mile-length, locals say, has never been run before. Paralleling the border of Tibet and Burma, the Shuiluo carves a deep gorge through a series of 16,000-foot mountains. The few hundred ethnic Tibetans who live nearby hunt wild goats and sheep, grow wheat, and pan the river for flakes of gold.
By Michael McRae
Trip Note: The first descent of the Po Tsangpo chronicled below was a success and Earth River planned to run a commercial trip the following year. Unfortunately, later that year, a massive landslide took out the access road to the put in forcing Earth River to cancel the trip. It was years before the road was repaired and we never had the chance to bring another group down this remarkable stretch of river.
Since 1992, when the Chinese began admitting foreign adventurers to Tibet’s “Great Canyon.” The chasm’s whitewater rivers have acquired a sinister reputation. The Yarlung Tsangpo has so far claimed the lives of two kayakers attempting first descents: Yoshitaka Takei, a Japanese man who vanished in a monstrous rapid in 1993, and Doug Gordon, a virtuoso former U.S. Team member who disappeared under similar circumstances in October 1998. Other world- class paddlers who’ve challenged the lethal currents of the Tsangpo (in the upper gorge) and its tributary, the Po Tsangpo, have come away humbled, and some have declared the rivers all but unboatable. But this same river system that is only now revealing its dangerous power is also, incongruously, giving hints of what some believe to be enormous recreational potential. Last October, after two years of scouting, an international team led Earth River Expeditions safely completed a four- day, first rafting descent on the upper Po Tsangpo. Afterwards, the expedition leaders announced that they believe the stretch of the Po Tsangpo they had completed is viable for commercial led rafting trips.
by Jon Bowermaster September 1994 First Commercial Descent
At Pope Paul II Falls—a torrential spill at the bottom of one of the world's deepest canyons—they sat cross legged and prayed for a safe journey. You need all the help you can get when you pierce the Andes by raft. ?
“See those?” The Peruvian gas station attendant is pointing at the yellow running lights rimming our over loaded bus. ?
“They will be perfect target for the Sendero.” ?
The Sendero Luminoso, that is: the Shining Path, who has frightened away tourist expeditions like ours for nearly a decade. At least the Sendero helps to keep our minds off the equally notorious challenges of the river we intend to float, the seldom-navigated Colca, which plunges through one of the world's ?deepest canyons.