Dave Campbell is a pro sales rep for Patagonia and a badass climber. Dave spent 2 months this past summer in China through a really cool work program Patagonia has in place for their employees. Dave spent a lot of time in the mountains, and also worked with Nature Conservancy China on an really cool project. This is his story. Adventures in China with Patagonia’s Dave N. Campbell | “Journey Through a Scroll Painting” | Unofficial Networks

Adventures in China with Patagonia's Dave N. Campbell | "Journey Through a Scroll Painting"

Adventures in China with Patagonia's Dave N. Campbell | "Journey Through a Scroll Painting"

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Adventures in China with Patagonia's Dave N. Campbell | "Journey Through a Scroll Painting"

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Dave Campbell is a pro sales rep for Patagonia and a badass climber. Dave spent a couple of months in China this past summer, working through a really cool program Patagonia has in place for their employees. Dave spent a lot of time in the mountains, and also worked with Nature Conservancy China on a really cool project. Here’s his story:

It was February 2005; my Tibetan climbing partner Luo Rijia and I had just pulled ourselves onto the summit of Aotaimei Mountain in China’s Sichuan Province, becoming the third team ever to reach its 17,523-foot summit. Half of our climbing rack consisted of Luo Rijia’s hand forged pitons and most of the satellite peaks around us had virgin summits. We were standing above one of the last regions of the world to shelter reclusive animals like the giant panda and golden monkey. For a moment I felt like I was in a land forgotten by the outside world and time, though with 1.3 billion people and the inertia of the world’s fastest growing economy just over the horizon, it was hard to not wonder what would soon become of Aotaimei and the last wild regions of the Middle Kingdom.

In spring of 2011, I spoke with our environmental department about my personal interest in working with The Nature Conservancy in China; as a result they offered to cover my regular wages for two months while I volunteered overseas as part of Patagonia’s Environmental Internship Program. Within a month I was on a plane crossing the Pacific.

Founded in 1951, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) works in 30 countries and has created solutions to protect more than 119 million acres of land, 5,000 miles of rivers and over 100 marine conservation projects. It began doing conservation work in China in June 1998 when it was formally invited by the Yunnan Provincial Government to help create a plan for integrated conservation and sustainable economic development in the northwest part of the province. Through the collaboration they introduced the American national park model to China and initiated many important projects, including an ongoing program to save the endangered Yunnan golden monkey.
TNC’s focus has grown to include many projects on nationwide environmental conservation plans, one of which involves working with members of the Chinese government and hydropower companies to make pre-existing and future dam designs on the Yangtze River more sustainable and with less of an impact on freshwater ecosystems. I flew into Beijing on July 3rd 2011. Although I spent several years in mainland China (as well as a year in the capital city), I hadn’t been back to Beijing since 2001. The biggest change I recognized was the city, which inevitably has become bolder. The iconic structures of Beijing’s dynastic eras – such as the Forbidden City – now have a staggering backdrop of some of the most modern skyscrapers in the world. The capital city is the headquarters for the Communist Party of China and is now also home to 41 Fortune Global 500 Companies. The culture of China is largely agrarian, and these roots hold strong even in China’s largest urban centers. Beijing now also has a large and growing business class, bringing international education and viewpoints to the metropolis. These 20 million or so residents and migrant workers use a balance of finesse and brute force to negotiate each day in the rapidly growing city.
I found a low-key place to stay down one of the traditional alleyways known as the Hutongs, just 10 minutes walking distance from Tiananmen Square and a few subway stops from TNC’s office. On the first day of the job I was given a desk and met with TNC China’s director Zhang Shuang. We began with the usual pleasantries then dove straight into an intense conversation about China’s wilderness and mountain sports. The focal point was Sichuan Province and Zhang Shuang informed me of a land trust reserve that TNC is currently building there, in collaboration with 23 of China’s richest and most successful entrepreneurs, including Jack Ma. The land they are acquiring is in northern Sichuan’s Pingwu County, which is home to one fifth of the world’s giant panda population. During their last visit TNC’s director of north Asia, Charles Bedford, actually saw a giant panda and her cub in the wild from only 20 feet away. Below is a photo taken in the reserve last May by a TNC installed infrared motion-censing camera.
For many years now, the private sector around the globe has purchased land with the purpose of environmental preservation. Patagonia and the Chouinards, for example, are huge supporters of a similar project called Conservacion Patagonica; however, the land trust reserve in Sichuan is the first of its kind in China and will hopefully serve as a model for future conservation efforts in the rapidly developing country. Any time you obtain a large area of land in China and make it off limits to agriculture and logging, it is critical to also introduce positive new occupations to the local people.
A massive change to the region will have a large impact on their livelihoods – solid planning and communication will consequently determine the level of support gained for the project. Zhang Shuang mentioned that he wanted input on ecotourism in the area. While discussing river guiding, we made a surprising connection – our mutual friend Travis Winn. Travis and I went through University of Oregon’s China Program together and then went on to share an apartment in Sichuan’s capital city Chengdu between 2005-06. Last year Zhang Shuang and Travis rafted the Great Bend of the Yangtze River, floating through a series of dam sites that in the next two years will inundate the Grand Canyon-like section. In light of this correlation, Zhang Shuang decided that it would be beneficial if Travis and I could visit the reserve together and jointly give advice on ecotourism and infrastructure development opportunities.

For the last decade, China-based American, Travis Winn has done everything in his power to save China’s last wild rivers. His rafting company Last Descents has guided over 200 Chinese citizens, including members of the National People’s Congress, influential entrepreneurs and news reporters, down environmentally threatened rivers in China. Their expeditions are often the last descent of a river before it is dammed, hence the company’s name. Travis is also the director of the NGO China Rivers Project. At 27 years of age, he has done over 2,500 KM of first descents in China and has kayaked sections of every major drainage that runs off the Tibetan Plateau, including parts of the Yarlung Tsangpo.
It’s easy to pick Travis out of a crowd because he sports a thick beard and is typically surrounded by stacks of boats. Although it had been years since I’d seen him, I instantly spotted him across the Chengdu airport parking lot, orchestrating the sheer chaos of loading all of the expedition gear into our vehicles. His partner Wei Yi and TNC’s Sichuan project manager Zhao Peng were there helping with the giant game of Tetris; I couldn’t help but feel the wild inertia as I approached.

The Dharma Bum in me caught a surge of energy when we passed through the hometown of Tang Dynasty poet Li Bai (701 – 762 AD) enroute to Pingwu. The mountains became more rugged, the mist thicker. Bamboo softly rustled above the Qingyi River and it became easy to imagine Li Bai sitting by its banks, glass of wine in hand, writing the verses to Drinking Alone by Moonlight.

Zhao Peng navigated us deep into the heart of Pingwu until we were forced to park the cars where a rockslide had covered the road. We then walked the rest of the way up the valley to Wuxing Village and began drinking beer and homemade spirits with the villagers. It sounds like a ridiculous way to begin a journey in the name of conservation, but success in China hinges on the ability to make and maintain relationships. To build support, Zhao Peng has become friends with – and has expressed the purpose of the land trust reserve to – virtually everyone in its vicinity; thus he is greeted with big smiles. Travis and I were the first non-Asians to visit Wuxing Village and were humbled by the local people’s interest and hospitality. At one point a farmer put his hand on my shoulder and said “I’ve seen foreigners on TV, but never in real person. This is indeed a treat.”

The headwaters of the Qingyi flow through Wuxing Village with a soft pulse, bringing life to the landscape and its people. A few kilometers downstream it meets a tributary at Suojiang Village and becomes more substantial, running through the occasional canyon. It is often out of sight of the road. At Suojiang we used ropes to lower our boats to the river’s edge and then down-climbed to a good put-in spot. The villagers of Wuxing took any means of transportation available to them – from motorcycles to tractors – down the valley to watch, creating an amphitheater of spectators above us. Downstream we found equally serene settings, with numerous sections of Class-III water.

The following day Zhao Peng and Wei Yi joined us for the Qingyi’s middle reaches – which had sections up to Class II. After the boating, we spent the remainder of our time in Pingwu exploring the future land trust reserve by bike and foot. Once it was time to part ways, Travis and Wei Yi headed back to Yushu in Qinghai Province, where they are living hand-to-mouth out of a disaster tent. Zhao Peng held fast in Pingwu while I flew back to share my experiences and begin the next project with TNC’s Beijing staff.

To read the rest of Dave’s story click here.

 

 

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