Final Kayak Descent of China’s Three Gorges

SEATTLE, WA, 31 March 2003—Thomas O’Keefe and Devin Smith recently completed a kayak journey down China’s Yangtze River through the world-famous Three Gorges. The Yangtze River is the world’s third longest river, and its basin is home to 400 million people—one third of China’s population. The controversial Three Gorges Dam will begin inundating the Three Gorges region later this spring so we believe this was the final journey along one of the world’s great rivers by human-powered craft.

Tom and Devin made this journey using expedition-quality folding kayaks that were carried in travel bags. The expedition began from the City of Wanxian in the Sichuan region and ended 9 days later and 280 km downstream in Maoping, Hubei Province, at the Three Gorges Dam construction site.

For centuries, the Three Gorges have been an inspiration to writers, poets, and painters. The uplifted marine layers rise up in impressive cliffs that tower over the river. For a final spring season, the river pulses through the Qutang, Wu, and Xiling Gorges. Tom commented on the river journey saying, “We were able to travel at slower pace than those on the big cruise ships which allowed us to explore historic sites, interact with people along the river, and touch the massive bedrock walls. From the seat of a kayak, the scale of the geology was awesome and it was a truly wonderful experience to feel the pull of a living river one last time.” The river still reveals a history extending back thousands of years, much of which will be lost once the flow of the river is impeded by the massive Three Gorges Dam.

The Three Gorges Dam is being constructed on the Yangtze River to provide navigation, flood control, hydroelectric power, and water transfer capability and when completed will be the largest project of its kind in the world. The dam extends 2 km in width and towers 125 m above the river. The resulting reservoir will extend 632 km upstream to the city of Chongqing. The scale of this project extends far beyond any other water project throughout human history and will have major environmental, social, and economic implications for one of the world’s great river systems. The reservoir will begin filling in June 2003, with final project completion by 2009.

Photographs and additional information can be found at <>. Tom and Devin will be working on a slide presentation and video of their journey documenting the Yangtze River as it exists before the dam gates are closed, and highlighting the changes that are occurring to the river and the people who live there.

Thomas O’Keefe, PhD, is a river ecologist at the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences <>. An experienced paddler with more than 20 years of experience, Tom has paddled throughout the United States and around the world. He is a volunteer instructor and Safety Chair with the University Kayak Club. Tom is an accomplished paddling photographer and videographer. His entry in the 2003 National Paddling Film Festival was awarded Best of Show in the amateur division.

Devin Smith is a restoration ecologist with the Skagit System Cooperative and currently lives in Bellingham, WA. Devin spent five years as a kayak guide and instructor for Tahoma Outdoor Pursuits, and has been involved in numerous paddling expeditions throughout the northwest, British Columbia, Alaska, and Mexico.

Sponsorship for this expedition was provided by Werner Paddles <> and Folding Craft <>

Thomas O’Keefe
(h) 206-527-7947, (w) 206-543-1567

Devin Smith
(cell) 360-303-5768, (w) 360-466-7308