THE SOURCE OF THE SALWEEN: A NEAR DISASTER (32°43'07"N 92°13'46.2"E)

The Salween River is not the largest of the four great rivers that arise in the small region of the northeastern Tibetan Plateau, but for CERS it proved to be the most dangerous by far.

32°43'07"N 92°13'46.2"E , 15:05, 14 June 2014

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SALWEEN RIVER - EXPEDITION TO THE SOURCE

TO THE SOURCE OF THE SALWEEN RIVER, BARELY

Wong How Man
Dunhuang, Gansu - 21 June 2011

Satellite map showing source of the Salween RiverIt all seems it happened only yesterday. But it has taken me exactly one week to recuperate enough to begin writing about it.  

Reality check with nature, a most punishing experience

“This will cause loss of life!” exclaimed Song while shaking.  He had just stumbled into the house, a nomad’s camp, almost in shock. His shivering was contagious as I too was in the house only minutes ahead, frozen from shoulder to foot, though mainly on the left side of my body, as the blizzard hit us from the east as we were riding south. Song could not stop the shaking in his face, his hands, his knees, and his feet. This was an obvious sign of borderline hyperthermia. Once that sets in, it would take a long time to get his body back to warmth, if at all. But the stove was burning hot, with yak dung being refilled every few minutes.

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SALWEEN – SURVIVING, THE SOURCE

Chris Dickinson
Singapore, 15 August 2011

Filming an interview Expeditions tend to be journeys of extremes – from hot to cold, from flat open planes to craggy mountain peaks, from comfortable hotels to wet and windy campsites. The Salween expedition would turn out to be no different, but in one detail it would stand out from the rest of the expeditions I’ve been a part of, because unbeknownst to me the Fates hadn’t quite determined whether or not I’d survive the trip.

Our journey from the Silk Road Dunhuang Hotel was largely uneventful until we got to the last few kilometers before base camp where we got stuck in mud! Thick, unforgiving mud that stubbornly wouldn’t give up the Land Rovers without a 6 hour fight! Once the vehicles were freed and camp was set up, we had another problem - altitude sickness. A number of our team was hit bad. It’s a lesson to us all, that despite the beauty of our surroundings – the blues skies, snow-capped mountains and beautiful river coursing past our campsite, one has to keep in mind that this landscape can kill – at 5000+ meters, if you are severely hit by altitude sickness, you can die. Such is the harsh, unforgiving beauty of Mother Nature.

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WITH THE CERS TEAM TO THE SOURCE OF THE SALWEEN:
NOTES FROM THE TRAIL

Dr William Bleisch
Chengdu - June 2011

Flowers of source region June 10th: After a tough but productive CERS Board Meeting, Howman, Berry Sin, Wang Zhihong, Chris (with all his gear for film-making), Sharon and I travel by car from Hong Kong across the border at the giant highway side border-crossing to Shenzhen and then on by plane to Dunhuang, with a stop in Xi’an. There, we meet the rest of the CERS team with the five CERS Land Rovers, already equipped for the harsh conditions of the Tibetan Plateau. Fresh from the office, my head is still full of donor visits, budgets and reports. No wonder I never have a thought worth writing anymore!  Still, it is good to be back in the open spaces again.

June 11th, 11:00: At the Kunlun Mountain pass, there are several monuments, including one that is very meaningful to me; the monument to Suonandajie, the county leader who was martyred in the struggle to stop poaching of the Tibetan Antelope in Kekexili.  He was killed by poachers near this spot. Clear skies and cumulus clouds.  

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WHAT SATELLITE PICTURES CAN’T TELL YOU…

William Ruzek
USA - 24 August 2011

Studying satellite images for off-road challengesThe use of satellite imagery for geo-location has grown enormously over the past decades, from a few low resolution paper images in the 1980s to millions of extremely high resolution digital images at our finger tips in the 21st century, many of which are freely available on Google Earth. These data from NASA Landsat and other high resolution sensors greatly improve our understanding of the world and its surface. Like the other river sources explored, discovered, and confirmed by CERS, the Salween River source location and confirmation was based upon NASA Landsat, Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) data, and Google Earth imagery with the aid of GPS.

An examination of the imagery of the Salween River and a measurement of its various tributaries placed its source at a glacier on the Qinghai/Tibet border only 30km (as the crane flies) from the G109 highway to Lhasa. Professor Liu of the Chinese Academy of Science confirmed this glacial source last fall, and his findings await publication. The Salween source was the destination of the Summer 2011 CERS expedition, a perfect complement to the other major Asian river sources confirmed by CERS. With only 30km of off-road travel needed, the expedition seemed to be an easy in-and-out trip, with time left for sight seeing. Little did we know we were very wrong.

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