Tibet's Remote Chang Tang Plateau

Tibet's Northern Chang Tang Plateau


To locate herds of the endangered Tibetan antelope, the chiru, and follow females on their annual migration to their calving grounds somewhere in the remote Kunlun mountains to the north.


Rick Ridgeway

Galen Rowell

Conrad Anker

Jimmy Chin

Expedition Summary

(First published in the book “The Big Open” by Rick Ridgeway and reprinted with permission here)

Following my father’s profession, I grew up in Japan, Hong Kong, Germany, but summering on the family property on Old Priest’s Grade, near the entrance to Yosemite.


The mountains were always a big influence on my life. I grew up with a passion for wilderness, and starting as a teenager, for climbing.) I have worked for the North Face for 20 years, and in the last five years my duties have included the company’s environmental programs, and also a seat on the board of the Conservation Alliance, a consortium of companies in the outdoor equipment industry giving back to the outdoors. For the last several years on the board, I have worked side-by-side with Rick Ridgeway.


I first got to know Rick on an expedition to Queen Maud Land, in Antarctica, but it has been chiefly while working together on the Alliance that Rick and I have become better acquainted with each other’s commitment to saving the wildlands that not only have sustained our careers, but more importantly, our spirits and souls. Wilderness has been at the base of all the values we had as young men, and now it is the core of our endeavors in our middle years.


So I jumped at the chance to join Rick on the Chang Tang trek. It was an adventure infused with a real conservation objective.


The Conservation Alliance has focused on making grants to small grass root groups working with focus on specific projects, to save a neighborhood forest, to block a backyard dam. Individuals coming together, committed in vision to solving one piece of a larger problem. It’s the approach we use to climb any big mountain, and it’s the one we used to pull our rickshaws across Tibet. If you only look at the overall task, it’s daunting. Break it into pieces, and it’s manageable. As Rick said in the Gorge of Despair, the low-point of our trek, “it’s the way you eat an elephant- one bite at a time”.


This is the strategy we used to cross the Chang Tang on foot, and it is the same strategy by which the environmental crisis will be solved. There will likely be no grand solution, no single dramatic moment of victory, but rather an incremental accumulation of efforts by individuals organized to solve specific challenges, to eat the elephant one bite at a time.


In “The Big Open”, Rick describes just such a single, focused campaign: the effort on the part of a few individuals around the world to save one of the more singularly unique creatures on the planet, the chiru or Tibetan antelope. This animal is threatened with extinction only because it is giving its life to feed a fashion craze for shawls made from its wool, shawls that in New York and Paris cost $2,000 for a simple garment and well over $15,000 and more for one that is elaborately embroidered.


“The Big Open” revolves around our own contribution to this international effort: our effort to add to the knowledge of the chiru’s natural history by following the animal’s migration the only way it could be followed- on foot- until we reached their hitherto unknown calving grounds. If we were successful, it would give wildlife biologists the information they needed to convince Chinese officials to protect the area before the poachers got there first. It was a small but important piece of the larger effort. That we succeeded made the adventure, for all of us, one of the most fulfilling of our lives.


Despite our success, it is also an adventure that I will also remember with sadness. One month after we returned, our companion on the adventure, Galen Rowell, with wife Barbara, perished in plane crash. We dedicate this book not only to their memory, but also in celebration of the photographs and books they produced together, images that not only celebrate the mountains and wilderness they cherished, but inspire all of us to safeguard those wild places that will nourish the generations to come.