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Welsh Man Is First to Walk the Length of the Yangtze River

Adventurer Ash Dykes took over a year to walk from the river’s source in Tibet to its mouth in Shanghai

(Ash Dykes)
smithsonian.com

On Monday, 28-year-old Ash Dykes from Old Colwyn in Wales completed what is believed to be the first 4,000-mile trek along the banks of the Yangtze River, Asia’s longest river and the third longest river in the world. The river begins in the Tibetan plateau and stretches through China before discharging into the East China Sea at Shanghai.

Aamna Mohdin at The Guardian reports that the beginning of the adventurer’s epic walk through China was the toughest part. The source of the Yangtze is the Ulan Moron River, which begins in meltwaters at 16,700 feet, the height of Everest basecamp. “There were worries I wouldn’t get to the source,” Dykes says, and four of his support crew had to bail out at that point due to altitude sickness.

Once he got going, the adventurer claims a pack of wolves that recently killed a woman trailed him for two days through Tibet. “We could hear them howling and we felt super vulnerable of course. We had to stay vigilant,” he says. “There were moments when I thought what on earth have I put myself through for the past year.”

He was also detained by police several times during the journey, and at one point forced to turn around and start the journey over. The trek took two years of planning and training and the long walk itself took a year. The Yangtze is the largest river in the world contained by one nation, and the trek took the young man through 11 provinces in China, up and down countless mountains and through many villages where he took in the sights, interacted with the locals and even did some kung-fu training.

He tells the BBC that the trip wasn’t just about setting a new record—though that was the impetus. He was also interested in raising biodiversity awareness in China, highlighting projects by the World Wildlife Fund and Green Development fund along the way reports SkyNews. He also kept track of plastic pollution along the banks of the river during his journey. “The good news is that I've seen a huge increase in knowledge and understanding within the communities, towns and cities along the way,” he says. “People are aware of the damage being caused to their water sources and are now actively changing their ways for the better—it’s inspiring to see.”

According to a press release, Dykes found that the the western half of the river which flows through wilder, less populated provinces, was very clean. As he moved east, however, the impact of industrialization and increased population became apparent.

While Dykes describes the endless walking as a bit boring, the best part was engaging with local communities, experiencing support from people across the country, where he says millions of people have followed his journey on TV and social media. “Having had huge support from the Chinese media and people, this has not only been one of my most ambitious journeys, but also most enjoyable,” he says in another press release. “It’s been amazing to be able to share the whole journey on my social media, including Instagram and Facebook, as one of the most interactive world firsts.”

Dykes was originally scheduled to finish his trek on Saturday, but was delayed by Super Typhoon Lekima, which hit his intended finish line in Shanghai over the weekend.

This is not his first world record. The adventurer previously crossed Mongolia solo and unsupported and also walked the entire interior of Madagascar, summiting its 8 highest mountains along the way.

For this trip, a professional video crew accompanied him along the route, and Dykes hopes to create a documentary or television program out of his adventure in the near future.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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