In 1995, Masauki Kitamura participated in an expedition to find the source of the Mekong in Qinghai with the cooperation of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (see Search for the Source of the Mekong link). In 1999, he led an expedition back to the source and followed the river downstream to a point where it was large enough to float, then began a first descent of the river to Qamdo, Tibet. Put-in location was near 33.453767°, 94.435355°, 15,450', take-out at the Nanchen Dam (the first on the Mekong) at 31.151666°, 97.134172°, 10,700'. The expedition took about 30 days. The average gradient was about 12' per mile, Class 3-4, and required three portages, over the 400 mile distance. Flows began at a few hundred cfs and ended at several thousand for the August - September trip.
See the Japanese magazine Mountain and Valley, February 2000, p. 134-137 and the Japanese Magazine Gakujin, February 2000, p. 136-145. For an English language summary of the Gakujin article, go to First Descent of the Mekong Headwaters.
The Japanese team beat an American team to this first descent by two days because United Parcel Service lost a passport and plane ticket for one of the American participants, causing a three day delay. The American team made up two days, but lost a day due to a snowstorm at the putin. The American team took out about 20 miles below Zadoi, while the Japanese team continued past Zadoi to Qamdo, Tibet. Go to Mekong Headwaters Expedition for photos and details about the American expedition.
With the exception of Snow Leopard Falls on the stretch above Zadoi and a Class 6 rapid in the section below the dam at Nanchen (three portages), this stretch would be a good repeat run at summer flows.
In 2010, Travis Winn and Li Wei Yi of Last Descents River Expeditions kayaked the stretch from Zadoi to just above the reservoir at Nangchen to confirm that this stretch would be a good commercial run. The Japanese team portaged a Class 4 rapid that Travis felt was probably raftable, so in 2011, he and his parents (Pete Winn and Cindy Appel), his sister Carmen Winn, Tang Jing Zhang and Wei Yi's brother and a good friend of theirs rafted this stretch successfully. It is a remarkably beautiful river with numerous Class 3 rapids and abundant Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and mani paintings.