Thursday, March 26, 2009
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Monday, March 2, 2009
Sunday, March 1, 2009
The Magi section of the Salween has been a favorite in our voyage throughout China. The run begins with one of the burliest rapids we have run. Nate Garcia pauses at the entrance of the rapid to surf a small but powerful hole. After flushing, he charges down to the right, breaking through several seams that grab at his edges, trying desperately to flip him. He breaks through a curler and drops into the meat of a gigantic crashing wave hole. Deceptively retentive, the monster devours, and after some chewing, spits him out to surface downstream. He rolls up and gasps a breath of air. The oxygen hits his blood stream and allows his exhausted muscles the energy to push right once more, avoiding a powerful pourover even bigger than the beast he just escaped. A few were not so lucky, and got to practice their swimming skills, courtesy of the diagonal hydraulic.
Ben Dann whips into an eddy near the top of the next significant rapid, and like ducklings, the rest of the World Class student body chases him. Ferrying out, he looks over his shoulder and powers upstream. Just when it seems all is lost, the wave he is trying to catch has an unexpected surge and crashes, sending him skipping down its face. He slides out in a grind, spinning around as the feature greens out, sending him downstream. Danny Doran follows him, snapping a kickflip over an exploding wave in the wave train below. It shoots upward just as his hips cross the peak, launching him into the air. His boat swings around his spray-soaked face, landing flat with an audible thump as he sticks the move.
Eric Parker, shredding. Photo by Ben Stanistreet
Our group flies down through several small rapids. Erik Johnson stern squirts on an eddyline and Ben Hurd throws a macho move over a diagonal wave feeding from shore. The rest of us work on our flatwater skills and make small talk as we soak in the mountains on either side of us. The pool above the next major rapid suddenly becomes a stage. Jesse Shimrock directs our attention to a footbridge swinging 30 feet above the next set of waves, on which it seems an entire village turned out to get a look at the strange westerners down on the river. They whistle and yell at us, and are only encouraged by our whoops in return.
We enter the rapid with excitement; there is a roar coming from downstream that promises more excitement. The rapid begins with a gentle entrance to a smooth glassy wave, about head high. Just what I have been looking for. As I drop into the rapid and feel the water pulling me towards the wave, I reach my paddle blade across my boat and pull myself vertical with a crossbow sweep. This sends me spinning on my bow, and just as my pirouette is about to flatten out, I glimpse the wave coming at me. I jump over its crest and huck myself forward to my deck. Finally I hit the move I have been trying the entire trip- a downriver Phonix Monkey! Elated, I paddle through the rest of the wave train and see Ivan Stiefel throwing clean cartwheels in a steep hole.
The rest of the group has eddied out, in the second part of this rapid lies a huge wave with a beastly pile, offering an exhilarating and incredibly bouncy survival surf. After catching it on the fly we scrape our way up the eddy near the bank, fighting rocks for position as we prepare to make the difficult ferry back out to the wave. Ben Dann hits the pile and is rocketed forward, out of the water. He surfs the wave, getting tossed around. On one pass he drops from the top of the wave, digs in an edge upon landing, and is launched into a massive air blunt above the wave. We all give the ferry a couple tries and head downriver, exhausted but content. On our last rides, Erik Johnson flew in a huge pan am to airscrew combo on the sporadic giant, and I was hurled into the biggest flashback I have ever thrown.
We ride out the rest of the run, several more fun wave trains fly by. LJ Groth lays some treats on a wave as smooth as butter that he discovered on WCKA's last trip here. The eddy above is crowded with people waiting their turn to carve and grind the friendly spot. Before we know it we recognize our bus and truck parked above the river, and scramble to catch the eddy. We hike up to meet our drivers, “Wang Sher Fu” and Clark, as well as our translator Zachary, who have made our trip possible. LJ climbs into the back of the cargo truck, and we pass him our boats before piling into the bus with our wet, stinky gear to ferment for an hour on our drive back to Gong Shan.
Photo by Jason Cohen.
The usually mundane and uninteresting task of eating is very different in China. Every meal is a unique experience unlike anything in the United States. Let it be known that the food in China is completely different than U.S. Chinese food. For the school, the entire process of eating a meal begins the day before. A World Class Kayak Academy student will go with the translator, Zachary, to the restaurant and place the order. Most often, WCKA orders eight dishes (plus rice) for each of two tables.
Whether it be after morning workout, between midday classes or after paddling, WCKA has an immense appetite. Hurriedly moving down the street, the group of conspicuous westerners arrives at the restaurant and packs around the sturdy wooden, round tables. The tantalizing food sits on a glass Lazy Susan in the middle of the table. In the center, spinning, but never changing position lies the giant bowl of pressure-cooked white rice. Surrounding it are the other dishes, which provide a wide spectrum of colors to splash up an otherwise drab restaurant.
The lazy Susan leaves just enough table exposed for a set of chopsticks (sometimes disposable bamboo and other times reusable strong wood), a tiny teacup and a small bowl. All chinaware of course. Greedy hands controlling chopsticks with trained precision dive into the food. It gets stockpiled into people’s bowls so they can wolf it down. Hopefully it will get finished in time to scoop more helpings out.
The favorite dishes disappear rapidly, such as pork ribs in a semi-sweet gravy, strips of pork in broccoli or peas, spicy tofu and the ever-classic steamed dumplings. As dinner goes by and people still try to put an end to their hunger, the less popular but still tasty dishes start to disappear. These include spicy green peppers in oil and vinegar (tiger skins), cold and spicy cucumbers, boiled fresh green leafy stuff, eggplant and tomato with eggs. When all of the food is gone people remain around the table and sop hot tea. The restaurant’s population gets smaller and smaller as people filter out to go get some banana bread dessert at the bakery on the way back to the hotel. Stomachs full and satisfied, the World Class day continues as usual.
Four sections of the river are already being surveyed for construction: The Sage, Liuku, Magi and Yabiduo. The water regulating devices will stand some 300 meters high, with one planned to be the tallest in the world. The water will be raised to levels that will completely submerge the city of Gong Shan, and the city will be moved 70 kilometers upstream. In five years’ time, one can expect to see these cement structures in full operation. According to the Chinese government, two goals are kept in mind with these dams: Firstly, they will supply extensive amounts of electricity, and secondly, the hope is that the projects will help the local economy.
There are a multitude of questions and issues that arise from China's damming frenzy. First and foremost, “Does China really need the power?” Many say no. This includes Travis Winn, local outfitter and river activist. It is estimated that much of the power produced by these dams will be sold to other countries in Southeast Asia. I asked Winn what he thought about the Salween dams and he said, “The dams are not executed in a way that helps China.” Well, if people do not believe China needs the power, then what are the dams helping? China claims that the dams will help boost the local economy by providing jobs. One must think of the thousands of acres of farms and human inhabited land that will be lost. As a result, tens of thousands of people will need to be evacuated and relocated. This does not sound like a helping hand in boosting the economy.
Gong Shan - your next SCUBA vacation? Photo by Ben Stanistreet
Rivers embody one of the most essential resources to nature…water. With no free flowing water, eco systems will suffer. When a body of water is dammed, it increases pressure in ground springs, which will erode landmasses into muck and mud. Also, when a once fast moving river becomes a vast reservoir, it stands a chance to become stagnate and toxic. Populations of fish and wildlife may become endangered or even extinct. Dams put a large amount of stress on the environment.
The dams lack benefit and supply a list of problems, but whether the people want it or not, it appears the dams of the Salween will continue to be built. According to Winn, if it were not for international outcry, the dams would have been processing years ago. Disagreements over the dams will continue, but no one can single-handedly halt or prevent the destruction of China’s rivers. At this point, there is little one can do to stop the production of these dams. For now, we will need to do all that is possible to enjoy what we have and preserve what we can.