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The Last Descent

Locals tackle China’s Yangtze to raise awareness of disappearing rivers.

Grand Junction resident Travis Winn’s father had been running exploratory river expeditions in western China for as long as Winn could remember, and he inherited his father’s obsession. By the time he was 16, Winn was exploring the major rivers of the provinces of Tibet, Sichuan, Qinghai and Yunnan with his dad, and becoming fluent in Chinese.

Soloists: There was only one rafting trip all last year on the Yangtze.
Soloists: There was only one rafting trip all last year on the Yangtze.

This fall, the 26-year old led a group of Coloradans to the Tibetan highlands for a 10-day expedition through an untouched section of the Yangtze, the third longest river in the world. It was the only successful run of the Upper Yangtze in three years.

Winn compares the little-known river with the Colorado due to its Grand Canyon-sized rapids. Multiple sections of the Yangtze narrow from 300 yards to 30, creating intense hydraulics, surges of whitewater, treacherous ledges, whirlpools, boils, school bus-sized holes and 10- to 15-foot breaking waves.

Land of the Lost: The longest river in China, the Yangtze is in danger of being shackled by hydroelectric projects to fuel the rapidly growing nation’s thirst for energy.
Land of the Lost: The longest river in China, the Yangtze is in danger of being shackled by hydroelectric projects to fuel the rapidly growing nation’s thirst for energy.

But that’s where the comparison ends. The Colorado River sees approximately 28,000 rafting trips each year. Winn’s was the only trip on the Yangtze in 2009.

Winn hopes that bringing rafters here will bring awareness to the great, wild rivers of western China, and ultimately save them from the fate of so much of America’s whitewater: damming and hydropower projects. A hydropower potential assessment slated for the Upper Yangtze in 2011 could vanish Winn’s 200-mile stretch of radical rafting forever. Find out more at www.lastdescents.com.

River Wild: China’s longest river looks a lot like waterways in the American West, minus the paddlers.
River Wild: China’s longest river looks a lot like waterways in the American West, minus the paddlers.



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