1986 Sino-USA Upper Yangtze River Expedition

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The 1986 Sino USA Upper Yangtze River Expedition was not Ken and Jan Warren's first attempt to raft the Yangtze. In 1983, they believed they had permission from the Chinese authorities to organize an expedition to China. With six tons of equipment, river and film crews, and a payment of $150,000 for the permit, they entered China. They sat for one month in Chengdu, China, waiting to go forward. Without explanation, they were told to go home. Ken and Jan sent the crew home, but they traveled to Beijing in search of their lost money. They met with representatives of China Sports Service Company and came to an agreement for a 1984 expedition. At that point, the Warrens went home to organize. But because they could not raise the full $800,000 permit fee, the 1984 trip was canceled. In 1985, they tried again to raise the funds, but again were unable to raise enough money to meet the terms of the agreement.

"When Dreams and Fears Collide: The true story of the 1986 Upper Yangtze River Expedition" picks up the story of their last attempt and their last chance to realize their great dream of rafting the Upper Yangtze River.

A telex arrives stating that the 1986 Sino-USA Upper Yangtze River expedition, with over 40 departments involved, has been approved by the highest authority in China, the State Council. This would be a first in joint ventures and joint efforts between the two countries, and would introduce the sport of whitewater rafting to China, with Ken and Jan Warren on the ground floor of opening China to adventure sports in river rafting.

After transporting nine tons of equipment into China, the expedition makes its way to the highest point of any river expedition known to history. Rafting from the source, at 17,400 feet elevation in the great Himalayan glaciers, to the city of Yibin, the goal was to travel the 2,000 miles of uncharted water. Even making it to the source was celebrated as a phenomenal success for all who understood the years of sweat and tears required to make it that far.

But the death of a teammate, a so-called mutiny, and several all-Chinese rafting teams racing ahead of the expedition in an attempt to be first, turn a perfect trip into a voyage of drama, disaster and unexpected challenges. Four team members quit the Sino-USA team. Those who stayed prepared to face the unknown as they head into some of the biggest whitewater in the world. They knew their character and courage would be tested by the challenge.

The rest of the expedition takes them through whitewater so huge, it is off the chart. To survive, they must work as a team through the body-bruising, mind-twisting rapids that greet them at every turn. They strategize and end up rigging together their four 18-foot rafts to maneuver the enormous rapids. Facing injury, exhaustion, equipment damage, and uncertainty of the river below, the expedition ends short of its goal.

Upon their return to the United States, Ken and Jan are propelled into controversy and a web of legal battles, including a wrongful death lawsuit that becomes bigger than the whitewater they encountered.

Following that vein of controversy, Jan Warren’s account rivals Riding the Dragon’s Back: The Race to Raft the Upper Yangtze, by Richard Bangs, which was heavily influenced by the four team members who abandoned the expedition after the death of a team member. Forced into silence by a tangle of legal battles, the Warrens were not allowed to refute Bangs' account. But now, after twenty-five years of silence, Jan Warren goes on record with the only first-hand account of the risks taken in pursuit of this dream.

"When Dreams and Fear Collide: The true story of the 1986 Upper Yangtze River Expedition," is a story about dreamers. People who think large, whose imaginations are not limited by normal expectations. We all have dreams. Each woman and each man must always look deep inside to the depth of their souls and ask the question, Is it worth it?

Mutual of Omaha’s Spirit of Adventure DVD, “Challenging China’s Yangtze,” filmed during the 1986 Yangtze River Expedition, has been shown by ABC Sports, CBS, and ESPN and in over 20 countries.




Jan Warren in the Himalayas