Mar. 23, 2023

Searching for China's Water (22) The Yangtze River is from Drops

Responding to the Global Climate Change, Finding Water for China (22) – the Yangtze River is from Drops

Words and Pictures by Yangchuan Wang

July 10, 2009, when we did not get up, herders had come to our tents holding yaks. Three yaks which they pull would carry our luggage and I toward the real river’s source.



Lugubini Glaciers

In 1998, when I accompanied China's first women's Science expedition to the Yangtze River‘s Source, it was on foot and riding yaks to Tuotuo River‘s Jianggudiru Glaciers, the source of the Yangtze River. The Yangtze River had documented more than 600 glaciers, or also recorded more than 300. It was not easy to make the number of glaciers clear. As Yong Yang said, regardless of the way of the Yangtze River’s source, the mountains, or the water where we passed was the first human set foot on. However, there were satellites now, it was not difficult to make the numbers of glaciers clear, but this time before entering the river’s source, I still could not find a the exact data of the number of glaciers in the Yangtze River‘s source.
There was no accurate data on glaciers, so there could be no more accurate data on how much change resulting in the impact of global climate change to the most sensitive areas.


Lugubini Glaciers


The initial Yangtze River is from such drops 

Receive a drop of the Yangtze River’s water

Touch the newborn Yangtze River

Although no one came to Lugubini Glaciers, Tibetan herdsmen still played a name to it.
Access to Lugubini

Lugubini’s serac clusters

This time we had an additional task, that is, to take a bottle of Yangtze River water. Because this year's Mid-Autumn Festival, a coastal city and Taiwan television stations would together pour the water of the Yellow River’s source and the Yangtze River’s source into the Sun Moon Lake. We had recorded that children were greeting to Taiwan’s children from the nearest primary school from the Yangtze River’s source, Nigang primary school. Today, we receive glacial water of the river’s source, so the task was completed more than half. If we could find a new source of the Yangtze River, of course, Yang also hoped to receive ice water of the new source. 

After receiving water, we entered the Lugubini glaciers. According to GPS, we today did not go to the original source, Jianggudiru, but to a new source which was 20 kilometers away.

The source of the Yangtze River was no stranger to me. Moreover, there were some wonderful memories.

11 years ago, before close to the Jianggudiru Glaciers, when we, a team of women's expedition members, hand in hand, walked out from the home which was only three kilometers away from the

river’s source, the sky was overcast.

Before set off in the morning, I let each fellow traveler describe what the river’s source,Jianggudiru Glaciers was in her sight before my microphone.
"I think there might be full of white glaciers, and each crevice of each glacier is out of a gurgling brook, and then more and more water."

"I thought that sceneries of the plateau were more beautiful. After a few days’ travel, I feel pretty monotonous. I thought that the mother river should be a little larger, more turbulent, and more extensive, but I only saw a few tributaries so far. Thus, I know that the mother is so ordinary, so simple, and little by little, she slowly becomes greater. "

“I thought that the mother was kind. After a few days’ travel, I feel that like a woman in childbirth, the breeds of the mother river also have such a long and painful process. About the glaciers, I thought that they should be cool purity, like sculptures." These were members’imaginations before seeing glaciers.

In the plateau, as long as there is a dark cloud overhead, that rain, hail or snow happens immediately. On that day, the shadow of Glacier which we just saw was soon blocked by clouds. Then hail hit in our heads, faces and bodies. Within a short while, it was a white world, and the hail turned into snow. We crunched through the snow to Jianggudiru Glaciers. Gray sky and gray glaciers met us. A member picked up some snow from the ground, and she said that she was eating the ice cream of nature, very delicious.

When we reached Jianggudiru Glaciers, although it was near 7:00, the plateau of the sun of the plateau would not go to the horizon leave until 8 o'clock. As I was breathing heavily, sitting in a tent where cow dung was burning, someone outside shouted, “Out! Sun shows his face, and sunset was tragic!”

The youngest sister who said that she could not imagine what Jianggudiru Glaciers would be in the morning played three rolls on the ground once out of the tent, and declared “in the future, my wedding will to be held before the glaciers.”

Glaciers’ last glory was short. At night, the patter of hail once again sounded on our tents.

The next morning, there was no sunrise, and our tent’s zipper was buried by snow. We opened it after much trouble. Xiaoqiong Chen who visited the glaciers in 1993 looked for their brand buried at that time for a long time in the last night, but she could not find it. She told us that compared to 1993, the glaciers was back at least 100 meters. This time the place where we camped was a glacial lake and ice sheet when they visited. Now, it was gravel.

Professor Bangxing Tang worked at the Chengdu Branch of Chinese Academy of Sciences. In 1986, he is the commander-in-chief of the river’s source expedition. At that time, he was already 60. He stood before the same glaciers and claimed his thousands of emotions: "Jianggudiru Glaciers is beyond recognition. In the past, it is a museum of ice sculptures, serac clusters, ice shoots, and ice teeth, very spectacular. And now the glaciers not only retreated back more than 300 meters, but also are all Ice sculptures gone. Under such circumstances, it might not take many years that Jianggudiru will cease to exist,”

"Why do glaciers retreat?" I asked Professor Tang. Professor Tang, holding a map of aerial photography in 1964, went on again to sigh: “Global warming will affect the melting of glaciers,but we do not know the extent of impact. Over-grazing may be another impact. As you can see, now yaks are all above the glaciers where the vegetation is very fragile. The grass is once destroyed,and it will no longer come out. To say unbelievable, known as the China Mother River of the Yangtze River, its source has not been conducted by a comprehensive, systematic and scientific investigation. There is no any data to explain why the glaciers of the river’s source are in the fast-retreating. "

11 years passed, and a comprehensive scientific investigation to the glaciers in the river’s source apparently had not been conducted although climate change has become a popular topic of the world's politicians, economists, and ecologists on the negotiating table.


Access to Lugubini Glaciers

Access to Glaciers

Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is a sensitive area of climate change, and has in advance, that is,somewhere else has not changed, and there has been reaction. This point is already a consensus in the scientific community. However, in order to truly understand the river’s source, to know the river’s source, scientists have many untold sufferings. In order to understand the vegetation conditions of the river’s source, a scientist dug a grass belt from the hills, and brought it to home to do analysis study. To his expectation, when he returned next year, the original dazzling a mountain had become a bald mountain. Can a trade-off of grass really affect a mountain? Mysterious Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is a tri-polar with ecological fragility, scientists could only sigh: you are so strange for us humans, and we need to know you very much. Professor Tang said that in 1986,when they went to the river’s source, there was a hydrological observation stations in Yanshiping Township which was nearest from the river’s source. This time, it was no longer available. And in our trip, although there had been hydrological observation stations, but stuff were only targeted at records, and did not do anything.

One side is glaciers, and the other side is gravels

One person's walking


Hail comes too soon

I thought that I could keep up with Yong Yang and a few young men who went in front, but a big wind was blowing, and then large hail was down. I have no place to hide, and have to sit before glaciers until hail passed. I also took a self-timer photo. Thus, I dropped to the rear, but behind me, there were other two who still walked difficultly in the glacial valley.


Take a self-timer photo in hail


Walk In such glaciers

Hail was down more than 20 minutes. When I move forward, I met an Ice Wall.

An ice wall


Out of the Ice Wall

Out of the Ice Wall, but I could not find Yong Yang and other people who walked ahead. They also took our guide.  Our three people behind had no GPS, no food, and drink. We had to continue walking as the direction which we thought was right. Xianxin Chen, the only young man in our team said that he would climb the mountain to see whether he could find people ahead... I and another female reporter, Imam walked into another glacial valley.


Another Glacier


Leads to the river’s source

Ms. Imam said she should be convenient, and I was walking and waiting in front of her, but I was never able to see her coming up. Our start time was 10:00, and now was 16:00. After six-hour walk on steep slopes of mountains and glaciers at an altitude of 5400 meters to 5600 meters, my energy finally gave out.

A canyon which was passed by me alone

Walk towards 5600 meters above sea level

Continue walking

When people are in the face of insurmountable difficulties, they’d like to spread the wings of imagination, especially in the highlands.In the face of blue sky, white clouds and glaciers, I thought such words. I was ready to write them in the snow, and then to take a photo.

By the way, snow in the river’s source was really delicious. This was my first time in my life to feel that the snow was so delicious. More than six hours’ walk in the plateau, snow was the only thing I could put into my mouth, chew, and swallow.

I want to write two sentences, and one was: for Yong Yang. I joined his team for responding to the global climate change, and finding Water for China.
The other sentence was: Because of Yang Yong. I thought that we were a team. Even we did not walk together, we should know the direction to go, and we should be a knot with each other. Here was no man's land. Yong Yang with a few young men and guide went without a trace. I did not know where to go, and I could not walk any more.

However, I did not write such sentences. I had always known that one sentence: Stick is victory. I could still insist.
I insisted moving forward, and also climbed a big mountain which was known as 5600 meters above

sea level later. I saw a little but blue lake in glaciers.



An Inter-glacial lake

A lake without any pollution

The ice wall and glacial lake gave me the strength to continue to go. They were so beautiful.

 They were hidden in the highlands, mountains, and valleys. When we had to deal with global

climate change, they had a special significance to us. I would “bring” them to the earth, so

that more people could recognize it, appreciate it, study it, and concerned about it. 

Everywhere is a source 

Along this river to go to a new source

Everywhere is a river’s source

Sitting in the embrace of the snow-capped mountains, I suddenly felt that there was not important to witness a new river’s source with Yong Yang. At this point, was I not sitting on the embrace of glaciers and river’s sources? Mountains and rivers were more powerful than a glacier, and more spacious than a river’s source.

I stared in the mountains for a long time. The group of river seemed that they just emerged from their mother's arms as if in childbirth. They were free and capricious. They also took my foot the way back to the camp.

When I saw Yong Yang again, it was in a glacial valley, and the sky was already dark. They found a new source. Today, we all had walked for 12 hours at an altitude of 5400-5700 m in the river’s source.

When Yong Yang knew that I walked in the valley lonely, he said, “You are really great!”  In fact, their today’s walk, measurement, and witnessed a new Yangtze River’s source was really extraordinary.

Sit in the arms of the river’s source, and feel the warmth of the mother


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