Mekong River, NW Yunnan, China

The Meili Mtns of this part of China are super beautiful – there’s one peak (Mianzimu 6054 m) that is so attractive it makes me want to become a climber as it’s unclimbed looks and looks a little like Alpamayo, and another like Amadablam (also unclimbed) and then some that look like Torres del Paine, also unclimbed. Some good walking, too, into villages without road access. The whole area is culturally Tibet but politically Yunnan, China. Fly in to Shangri La from Chengdu, for example, then 6 hrs of driving 200 km. You can get to Chengdu for about $2,000 US RT (worth a trip in its own right now), then $200 RT to Shangri La and then get a driver for 3-4 people to get to the mountains for another $200 or so.

Amazing relief – from less than 7,000 feet to over 22,000 feet (Kawa Gebo or Kawa Karpo or whatever it’s called at 6740 m) in less than 9 miles. From desert like conditions to glaciers with forests of oak, pine, spruce, hemlock, larch and neat yak meadows (and all very very steep) in between. As all of you who have been to Nepal/Ladakh/Tibet/Bhutan know, the Tibetan Bhudist culture is super intriguing and delightful to visit.

Anyway Thai Verzone and I went and had a look at the Mekong River (the one that eventually empties into the South China Sea in Vietnam – this part of China may be about midway between its source and sink) during early September monsoon flows – must have been 20,000 cfs, maybe the fastest river I have ever been on. Scary. We chickened out of the moderate stuff after getting nauseated looking at the Six MIle like drops with Grand Canyon volume in the hard core stuff – so just did the easy stuff which still had no easy way out (big cliffs and rag-doll country scree slopes cemented with some sort of mud). Just about 30 miles west is an equally large river called the Salween, and it goes into the Indian Ocean in Burma but the neat part was in Tibet and we couldn’t get there. Thirty miles east is the Yangze, also huge.

There is a Kora Pilgramage route around the Meili Mountains that could well incorporate some of this big water packrafting on the Salween and an unrun tributary but Tibet’s hard to get into right now and the water is all pretty big, and the little creeks are very steep. We were unable to get a permit and it was tough to sneak into Tibet (not that we tried), so maybe you, Dear Reader, will head back and do one of the world’s greatest packraft circuits.

For those of you who have been to the Lower 48 and Alaska but not to the Tibetan Plateau and its precipitous edge, Alaska Wilds:Lower 48 WIlds as Tibet Wilds:Alaska Wilds-- it’s all a bit burlier and steeper and higher and wilder, in a sense, even with the locals living there – or maybe I’m just getting older and wimpier/whinier.

You can get a little idea of the place looking at these

and this

and this

and this

and this

especially this

Apologies to those who find too much beta de-adventurous…but really, this is a classic packrafting trip yet-to-be done: high passes, exotic lands, international border and big effin water. Plus its more or less a loop. If only I were maybe just 10 years or even 5 years younger, I’d be planning to head right back and do this Kora+big water packraft loop.

Thanks for this awesome info, just to resurrect you post. I’m just getting into the packrafting thing and combining it with with bikepacking/touring is where I want to take it. I have a dream trip of eventually bikerafting down the mekong. The laos, thailand, cambodia, and vietnam sections seem to be pretty managable even for someone with marginal experience. I know nothing of the china/tibet and myanmar portion of the river, so its great to see some good info about it. It seems like it has its fair share of challenges in the water which I don’t think I’ll be into doing on the packraft especially with a bike strapped on top. I am curious to know if you have any other info/resources for this area. Are there any roads/paths that follow along the river or at least come close that it would be feasable to bikepack the most challenging river sections or just to switch it up now and then?