Qumarleb! Dykes Makes Milestone Despite Countless Hardships

Briton Ash Dykes is walking the entire length of the Yangtze River, the world’s third longest river and Asia’s longest. At 4000 miles in length and exclusively within China, the river begins at the foot of the Jianggendiru Glacier on the Tibetan Plateau at 16400ft (5000m) elevation. It then descends through deep gorges through a large part of the west and the Three Gorges region of central China. From the high mountain enclaves to the megalopolises of China’s eastern seaboard, Dykes plans to engage with the local culture, including participating in rituals and eating exotic food. He also plans to impart his knowledge about clean water and the dangers of plastic pollution to local communities.

The mighty Yangtze River.

Dykes has made it to Qumarleb, a small town at 13800 ft (4200m) in Qinghai Province on the Tibetan Plateau. Reaching the milestone is all the more significant considering the numerous difficulties and setbacks Dykes has encountered.

Dykes has been blasted and pelted by snow, hail and rain as he crossed elevations in excess of 16000 feet (5000m). The weather was wetter and colder than he anticipated with temperatures often around -5°F.

Dykes after the surroundings blanketed by a big snowstorm.

In addition to being detained by police 3 times (described in the previous update), to date 6 separate members of Dykes crew have fallen ill and had to leave the expedition. All illnesses were most probably altitude sickness. Most recently, this list includes a cameraman in top shape who had to be flown to a hospital in Shanghai.

Landscape around the Yangtze after a big snowstorm.

In further news, Dykes’ most recent guide became annoyed with the inclement weather and suddenly departed the expedition leaving Dykes alone with his horse. Nevertheless, the guide took with him a lot of the excess weight of the kit, lightening the load and allowing Dykes to make good time (about 25-30 miles per day).

The guide also took Dykes’ only warm gloves. Not only was Dykes confronted with subzero °F temperatures, but sometimes there were winds of around 40-60 mph. To cope with frozen hands, Dykes was forced to construct makeshift gloves out of plastic bags.

During this stretch Dykes has had to worry about bears and wolves which can be quite vicious. To date, he and his guide have seen four or five wolves and a bear in the distance. His guides however seem to have been most frightened by male yaks which, in mating season, can cause great injury or death.

Dykes walks on river deposits that look like the surface of Mars.

Another particularly trying aspect of the journey is the absence of food. Dykes says he would typically start walking at 5AM and not eat any breakfast or lunch. The only food they had besides berries was a Tibetan staple called ‘tsampa’ which consists of a barley powder mixed with milk tea to give it a doughy consistency, though it is exceptionally bland. He figures he has lost about 10 pounds in three weeks.

His horse, Castor Troy, has been a real trooper, walking down a few incredibly steep, rocky slopes, often when necessary to cross tributaries. Castor Troy however has also destroyed Dyke’s tripod twice while bucking.

Now in Qumarleb, Dykes managed to sell Castor Troy to a local farmer who has given him a good home where he can run free with a family of horses. The section of the Yangtze after Qumarleb promises to be very challenging with many cliff-faced S-bends and deep tributaries. It will simply be too difficult for a horse to cross.

Castor Troy has been an amazing trooper but has left the journey in Qumarleb.

Dykes has about 8-10 more days walking to make it to the next milestone town, Yushu. He anticipates the weather to get colder but hopefully drier. The next portion is also said to be wilder in terms of bears and wolves.

Click here for Mission Yangtze’s base page that explains the expedition, contains the latest news, the best photos, expedition links and previous updates.

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The Best Quest (www.thebestquest.com) provides visual experiences of journeys. One by one you see the latest updates from the best expeditions and journeys currently under way around the world.

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11 months ago

Amazing pictures – was there ever an update on the rest of Ash’s holiday? Would love to read more