Breaking the Dragon’s Back on Yangtse expedition

Limerick's Maghnus Collins on the Yangtse river in China - near the dam in Yibin

Limerick's Maghnus Collins on the Yangtse river in China - near the dam in Yibin

LIMERICK’S Maghnus Collins and Coleraine’s David Burns are in the midst of a 16,000km journey in aid of Self Help Africa - a three stage unsupported adventure taking them from Istanbul to Shanghai, by bicycle, on foot and by raft.

The latter is a descent down the longest river in Asia, the Yangtse, flowing for 6,000km. After a recent brush with disaster that saw Maghnus lose his raft and possessions, the duo are back on the water, heading toward their destination in Shanghai.

In an exclusive extract for the Limerick Leader, Maghnus provides an update from the expedition:

WHAT a difference a couple of months make. This time two months ago I was raft-less, in need of new equipment and desperately trying to convince Chinese Immigration to give me a new visa on a temporary passport. I write now from Chongqing nearly 2000km further down the river and at the end of the whitewater.

In the meantime we have had some of the most difficult, exhilarating, terrifying and memorable moments we have ever experienced. Trying to capture those experiences in their totality is difficult and i fear may not accurately reflect how I felt on a daily basis. Thus I again look to my diary to better articulate one such day;

The rapids keep coming. Every corner seems to bring something substantial and there appears to be no end in sight. Four long messy sections greeted us in the first two hours on the water. On the last of which I took a stupid swim entirely because I switched off. Our skill level, or lack thereof, dictates that we be ‘on it’ constantly.

The relentless spells of total focus numb the mind after a time and I got flipped before I even knew what was happening.

A couple of kilometres later we arrived at a very large rapid.

We scouted it and reckoned that although the swim would be unpleasant there was time enough to self rescue before the next bend. Unlike earlier we were both switched on. Despite this the waves proved two much for us and my raft was flipped back on itself and I was again swimming. The swell sucked me under a few times before I eventually righted the raft and clambered back in just before being swept around the next bend.

The current condition of the river is pushing us further and further toward what we cannot handle. It is also demanding more and more of us mentally just to get through the day. The river is often referred to as The Dragon’s Back and at the moment we are barely holding the reigns.

The day finished with three back to back rapids. Burnsy scouted ahead and reckoned they were just about manageable and that the carrot at the end of a watery stick was a possible campsite beneath a waterfall.

The first of the rapids we both passed through with not a small amount of difficulty. The second, though, was one which I will not soon forget. Edging in on the lip trying to avoid a very messy left hand side I was hit from the right by three or four large waves pushing me directly into the worst of the mess on the left.

Waves, bubbling aerated water and whirlpools of huge proportions seemed to crash and form all around me. I forgot all thoughts of lines and direction as I spun wildly. Sticking my paddle into the swirling mass simply to stay upright. Just as I resigned myself to a nasty swim I was spat out the right way up.

No time to reflect we hit the last of the three and with manic excitement we both squeezed through before eddying out at the base of the waterfall. In hundreds of nights camping we have never experienced a more special site.

Water hazed from 100 metres above bouncing off glistening rock before plunging into a shallow pool as if rain.

It has truly been a testing stage, filled with adventure, genuine danger, and at times great fun. The mental fatigue we both currently feel is testament to the size of the task it has been.

Although we are both reticent to say it aloud we feel we are now within touching distance of completing what we set out to do so many months ago. It is far from over with over 2000km of hard slog ahead, but in making such a sustained push at a time when such a push was most difficult we have taken an important step.

I believe, or rather hope, that when we look back at the river in its entirety those few weeks will be the ones that convinced the dragon to permit us passage.

For more information and to donate, go to Sand2Snow.




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