the Degree Confluence Project

China : Chóngqìng Shì

4.0 km (2.5 miles) NNW of Heliang, Chóngqìng, China
Approx. altitude: 695 m (2280 ft)
([?] maps: Google MapQuest OpenStreeMap ConfluenceNavigator)
Antipode: 31°S 70°W

Accuracy: 5 m (16 ft)
Quality: good

Click on any of the images for the full-sized picture.

#2: Confluence Point looking (clockwise) North, West, South and group photo #3: Docks at Zigui with the Three Gorges Dam (upstream side) in the background #4: Ferry from Wushan to Qingshi #5: Man at the docks selling fried bread - Hauling a hoop up to the village near the Confluence Point #6: Swath of Destruction in Wushan below the 175-meter water level #7: Cooking and eating breakfast in Qingshi - Targ Parsons (left) and Richard Jones #8: Village house near the Confluence - Family's reaction to their photo on Richard Jones' camera. #9: Richard Jones looking down into the Wu Gorge from the roof of the guesthouse - A barge passing down the Yangtze through the gorge below. #10: Yangtze River Wu Gorge from the deck of the ferry - Wu Gorge from the hills of Wushan at dawn.

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  31°N 110°E (visit #1)  

#1: At the Confluence Point looking East

(visited by Peter Cao, Targ Parsons and Richard F Jones)

28-Jan-2003 -- Prologue

This is the second of a series of six Confluence Points (beginning with 31°N 111°E) visited by Targ Parsons, Richard Jones and Peter Snow Cao (scribe) between January 26 and February 2 during Spring Festival 2003. We wished to make this journey to document the confluences before the filling of the Three Gorges Dam Project, due to begin in mid-2003.

Impetus: Targ had read the book, River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler, several months before and decided he would see the area after while attempting to visit several confluences. This book describes the life of an English teacher living in Fuling, Sichuan in the late 90’s.

Dedication: In honor of my charming wife, Xiaorong, for her patience and understanding, support and unending love, I have dedicated these stories to her.

Confluence Hunting - January 27, 2003

After a successful visit of 31°N 111°E, the three of us, Targ Parsons, Richard Jones and myself, Peter Snow Cao returned to hotel to grab our bags and head off in search of our second on this six-confluence point (CP) trip over Chinese New Year in 2003. Luck was on our side this time as we arrived back in town just as a bus was leaving for Yichang. We needed to return the way we came in order to head up the Yangtze River to our next objective, 31°N 110°E. The bus trip this time revealed a vastly different environment as the fog from the previous day had lifted and the hills and mountains could be clearly seen.

We seemed to be on a roll as the first bus dropped us off at the vehicle ferry where a bus was waiting to board to cross the Yangtze just east (and downstream) of the Three Gorges Dam Project. This time we were headed to Zigui on the south side of the river and got to see the other side of the dam project. A mianbao picked us up and took us down to the matou (Chinese for dock) where the riverboats were stationed. We just missed the fast boat by five minutes, so we had a four-hour wait before the next boat. Targ was hell bent on getting 2nd class tickets in a private four-bed cabin so we could relax a bit before the next phase of the journey. The plan was to take the boat to either Badong or Wushan and then a smaller boat to Qingshi near the CP. The problem is that the boat left at 8:45 PM and arrival times were 2 or 4 AM, depending on the location.

We got a late start on the boat to Badong at 10:30PM, so when we asked when we were expected to arrive in Wushan, they said 7 or 8 AM. We opted to stop in Wushan instead. Like most things in China, things rarely end up as expected. I woke up at 4 AM thinking that we might be getting close to the CP, so I braved the cold breeze on deck to get a reading on the GPS. I was surprised to find that we had already passed the CP by about 7 km. Not knowing what lay in store ahead, I took a night photo of the boat’s light on the shore in case we couldn’t return in the morning. Ten minutes later, the crew was rounding up everyone who was to disembark in Wushan, and I found my surprised, half-asleep co-CP hunters frantically rounding up their gear to make a quick exit. I had been checking the hot water in our bathroom all night long, and as we entered Wushan, it finally felt warm; but it was too late for a shower.

January 28, 2003

Dumped on the shore of Wushan at 4:30 AM, we groped around for our next move. We wanted to catch a boat downstream about 12 km to Qingshi as soon as possible. We questioned people right and left, some said Dock #9, some said Dock #5, and dockhand who, using a bamboo stick and some rope, carries goods to and from the boats, assured us it was at Dock #2. He started to lead us the way along the shore, over and under dock cables, through sewage streams and a small tent city to a dock at the east end of Wushan. When we got on the dock, it was about 5 AM and totally deserted, a rare sight in China. There was a bench there and we opted to move it out of the wind so we would be more comfortable. Targ paid the man three yuan in new coins. Targ hates getting these coins since most of the money is paper and tries to get rid of them whenever he can. The dockhand looked at them very suspiciously, and asked us what currency this was. He appeared to only half believe us when we told him it was Chinese RMB.

Next I went looking for more benches so we could stretch out a bit while we waited. While wandering around the barge, I ran into a short and squat 50ish woman who looked like she was rudely awakened, and in a rather foul mood. She asked what I was doing here and I told her I was waiting for the boat to Qingshi. She then started yelling at me and followed me back to where the others were. I told her that our dockhand said this was the place to wait. She then launched into a tirade calling him all sorts of insults. Not long after, her husband arrived looking even more pissed off and tried to take the bamboo pole from the dockhand apparently so he could beat the crap out of him. I told Targ and Richard that we should get the heck out of there ASAP and let them argue amongst themselves. A few minutes later, our dockhand sheepishly caught up with us and tells us that we were at the wrong dock and that our boat won’t leave until 10 AM. He showed us the correct dock and then disappeared into the night.

At that point we opted to return to the area where we disembarked and sit down at one of the all-night teahouses to try and catch some Z’s. By this point Targ was awake and eager to get moving onto the confluence. The teahouse operator was a chatty guy who spoke in Putonghua (Mandarin Chinese as opposed to one of the many dialects) and the two of them hit it off pretty well. Meanwhile Richard and I tried to sleep amidst the soundtrack of an old Hong Kong gangster movie where almost everyone in Hong Kong gets killed by gunfire two or three times over.

As dawn broke, Targ and Richard went for a walk while I tried without success to sleep. Like our other encounters on this trip, the arrival of daylight totally changed our perspective on the area. The town was in total chaos as it was demolished below the 141-meter elevation (Phase 2 of the Three Gorges Dam Project) and a new town was being built above the 175-meter elevation (the final elevation of the water level when the dam is completed). I branded this area the "Swath of Destruction." It was as if a giant hand had swept through the lower bank annihilating everything above ground level. Stubs of building walls outlined a ghostly past of an area thickly settled. The remains lay strewn like confetti, but there was no one celebrating. Dust churned in the air as vehicles plied the remaining streets and pedestrians covered their faces. War zone in appearance, it left no doubt that China was going forward with this project.

At 9 AM we walked over to the correct dock and boarded the small barge that was converted into a passenger boat. The hull was packed to the gills with people, and every male was puffing madly on a cigarette. There was no way I was going down there. We opted for a spot on top of the barge cover, but were forced back behind the boathouse for safety reasons (so the captain could see where he was going). We left promptly at 10 AM and thoughts of arriving in 20 or 30 minutes were coming to mind. After all, it was only 12 km downstream to Qingshi. However, the boat made several intermediate stops where an already very full boat was packed even further. One guy walked on board with a double-bed mattress strapped to his back, followed by another with a refrigerator. Thoughts of the Titanic came to mind and I wondered just exactly how many life vests there were onboard. From where I was sitting, I could count ten.

As we moseyed down the Yangtze through Wuxia (the Wu Gorge), the steep slopes and high mountains made our quest for a CP in this area look extremely foolish. It looked like it was going to be recorded as an attempt after all. However, when we rounded the last bend before Qingshi there was a glimmer of hope as the village was set on a picturesque slope. Our maps indicated that the CP was at about elevation 650 meters and about two kilometers south of the Yangtze. As we exited the boat we were encouraged by the presence of a bus. I encouraged Richard and Targ to hurry so we could get on before the bus filled up. When we got to it we all laughed out loud as it was a gutted shell that hadn’t moved in years.

Walking up the hill we passed what was becoming a common scene everywhere we went on this trip of destroyed buildings close to the Yangtze, below the 175-meter mark, and new construction above. We stumbled over the scattled remains on the way up the hill past a giant billboard indicating the 141 meter mark. We checked into a simple guesthouse, asked for lunch, and then made preparations to start immediately afterward. A quick reconnaissance of the area, we saw two peaks nearby and a saddle that looked promising in the direction of the CP.

The sun was shining and our spirits were high as we discussed the possible options for finding the confluence. Targ said, in his experience it is nearly impossible to bushwhack for very far at all and that we should take the main trail as far as we could. Distances are very deceptive in this environment and we tried to guess how far it is to various points along the mountain. What appeared to be clear was that our destination was beyond the peaks and we didn’t know if there was a trail up that far or not.

Eager to hit the road, we made a few false starts forgetting important things like water. Around 1 PM we hit the trail breathing hard and working up a sweat as we climbed the path into the unknown. The vegetation of brambles and briars along the side had us praying the trail would hold out. Targ said the setting of the approach of this confluence was his most spectacular of his 40 some to date. It certainly eclipsed 31°N 111°E by a long shot. The climb up the mountain was interspersed with short breaks where we would sit and gawk at the gorges around us.

The trail was veering away from the CP, but since we were still more than a kilometer away and with no other options than bushwhacking, we decided to continue on it. We passed several residences and everyone asked us where are we going. We responded we are just going for a walk in the hills. This area is well known in the hiking circles. When Targ was doing research on this confluence, he ran across several references to it on the internet.

After more than an hour of climbing, the trail turned promisingly to the left in the direction of the confluence. We couldn't believe our luck as the lay of the land formed a saddle in the direction of the CP. Neat rows of winter wheat and cabbage lay in the fields. The warm sun and pleasant temperature meant that everyone was out wondering what in the world these three foreigners could be doing in their village.

As we approached the last 200 meters, the locals warned us that the direction we were headed was a dead end. We persisted onward in that single-minded way with the taste of another confluence success on our lips. At 75 meters, the cultivated fields ended and we were left to fight the briars and thorns. All three of us took off in different directions search of our own CP. Fortunately the bush was not all that thick and by selection of a careful route we could avoid the worst parts. We circled around trying to make each of our GPS show all zeros after the degrees. At 2:20 PM on January 28, 2003 at elevation 707 m we recorded the successful visit.

I christened this one the Spectacular Confluence Point.

Returning from the CP, we met a local woman farmer who invited us to her house for some tea. She told us we were the first westerners to visit her village, something we found hard to believe. We took some photos of her family, and then took a leisurely walk down the mountain satisfied with another successful hunt.

When we arrived in Qingshi, three young Chinese guys were checking into our guesthouse having walked along the Gorge from Badong for the past three days. This was the last year this would be possible as the water was expected to start rising in May and would cover the trail soon.

After a hearty dinner, we made plans for our next confluence, 31°N 109°E. It looks like it might take two days to get to this one given the slow transportation options in this area. However, the dramatic scenery of the Wu gorge and the Yangtze made it a splendid place to sit back and relax.

 All pictures
#1: At the Confluence Point looking East
#2: Confluence Point looking (clockwise) North, West, South and group photo
#3: Docks at Zigui with the Three Gorges Dam (upstream side) in the background
#4: Ferry from Wushan to Qingshi
#5: Man at the docks selling fried bread - Hauling a hoop up to the village near the Confluence Point
#6: Swath of Destruction in Wushan below the 175-meter water level
#7: Cooking and eating breakfast in Qingshi - Targ Parsons (left) and Richard Jones
#8: Village house near the Confluence - Family's reaction to their photo on Richard Jones' camera.
#9: Richard Jones looking down into the Wu Gorge from the roof of the guesthouse - A barge passing down the Yangtze through the gorge below.
#10: Yangtze River Wu Gorge from the deck of the ferry - Wu Gorge from the hills of Wushan at dawn.
ALL: All pictures on one page