Ash Dykes

Feature

Record 6,500km walk for six-part Yangtze series; adventurer Ash Dykes on the first months of the year-long adventure

Wolves, bears, leopards, snow leopards, landslides, mainland police, altitude-sick guides, hospital beds, warnings not to walk at night, exquisite views... That pretty much sums up British extreme adventurer Ash Dykes’ life since August this year, when he set off from the Jianggendiru Glacier on the Tibetan Plateau to become the first person ever to walk more than 6,437km along the Yangtze from source to sea.  

Almost four months in, #MissionYangtze is on the 308 Provincial Road between Zhongtai and Zhongcun, moving towards Jin’An on a year-long journey being tracked for the six-part half-hour documentary, "Into The Heart of China: Walking The Yangtze". 

The series, scheduled for delivery in Q4 2019, is a partnership between Singapore-based distribution/production agency Bomanbridge Media and production house Mandarin Film. 

Speaking by phone from the road, Dykes outlines the expected, the not-so-expected, the disappointments, the effects of spicy Sichuan food, the increase in dangerous wildlife population, and, generally, the stuff of which great adventure television is made. 

"Blow your whistle, take this knife," Dykes was warned by locals as he embarked on an early part of the journey. The reason? Bears. 

"Wildlife has increased massively, these guys were saying. I thought it would have decreased but no... he said bears were now coming off peaks, off the mountains, because it's too cold for them. They're obviously looking for as much food as they can get before they go into hibernation."

"He gave me a knife and he said, 'look this is really dangerous don't walk at night'," Dykes says.

The warning came along with a story about a village two days trek ahead where a bear had killed three people. "That was really scary as you can imagine. That morning we saw bear footprints and wolf footprints. It's kind of like an animal highway...it's scary really scary. Very nerve wracking."

Although he is joined by camera crews and support teams at various stages of the journey, Dykes has so far spent between 50% and 60% of the journey by himself. Filming the journey is a mix of DIY – “I had a few lessons” – tech (a drone and a few GoPros) he carries with him and professional crew at various points.

Dykes is already a two-time world record holder – for a solo/unsupported walk across Mongolia in 2014, followed two years later by being the first person to talk the length of Madagascar.

He says the China adventure took about two years to plan and was massively complicated in terms of permits, permissions and logistics. At the same time, he is no stranger to China, with a burgeoning business, including modelling for an outdoor clothing company. In addition, his book is being translated into Chinese. 

He says he started thinking about the Yangtze project before he started his Madagascar challenge. 

“I always find that if I’m thinking of the next trip it always motivates me to get this current one done”.