In search of snow leopards

Hi anyone on this trip?

I'm booked on the Feb 28th departure into March.

Hopefully taking a decent sized lens in case we get a good sighting. Any other shutterbugs coming?

Hi Phill,

Just booked on today. I've just come back from the Peaks of Ladakh trek, where we think we spotted a Snow Leopard and two cubs (although it was in the distance and they were little more than dots against the snow). Our guide thought they were wolves but another group with a guide were convinced otherwise. We came across the tracks a few minutes later and they were defintiely cats prints. I didn't have the long lens with me (weight was very much at a premium on that trek). I loved the area and really fancied spending some time snapping the wildlife rather than struggling up the passes.

Dave

Ah yes was over there years ago climbing Stok Kangri and we saw a fuzzy ball through a camera teams spotting scope.

I'm a Nikon dslr man and hoping to bring a couple of lenses weight allowance permitting. 

You a Canon or Nikon user? No bias here.

I'm flying out of Manchester for this trip and looking forward to it. Love the mountains - how did you find your trek?

I also checked with Exodus and we will be returning to same hotel in Ladakh and Delhi so could leave a change of clothes behind for flight back.

I used to be a Nikon user but about three years ago I sold up and adopted the Fuji X system. I still have a few manual Nikon lens which I can use on the Fujis but the weight saving of the Fuji kit makes a huge difference.

The trek was tough - 6 passes around 5000m and the weather finally conspired against us so we couldn't attempt Dzo Jongo. But what a great adventure. It was a good group (which makes a huge difference), Valerie and the crew were amazing and apart from two days of rain and a blizzard, the scenery was stunning. I'm hoping for rather fewer river crossing, though!

I can't comment on the Delhi hotel as it's different to where we stayed but if we use the same hotel in Leh - the Glacier View - it's great. The staff are really friendly and they have a reasonably priced laundry service too. The change of clothes at Delhi was most welcome. As it was so humid there, I saved the fresh set for the day of travel. 

I'm heading to Heathrow on the 29th for my flight.

Sounds like you had a suitably epic trip - I do love the moutains out there and was last in Nepal in 2017.

Valerie is also very good, met her once on another trek and she just has that enduring spirit of adventure.

Had a chat with Paul Goldstein before booking and he's talked me into taking the dslr and 600mm so I will be hauling a decent weight. If nothing else I'll have a hell of a spotting scope on my camera 😀

Actually have hired local porter to put money into economy and potentially bring a tripod / see how we go with camera. If nothing else can ask him about local area and get a bit of cultural insight too.

I'm with Qatar Airways out to Delhi so will meet you there.

Can your Fuji autofocus with Nikon f-mount? 

 

It was a great trek despite the weather. We managed a lesser summit, and most of the time the weather was ok (summit day was a beautiful summer's day and very hot). I'm thinking of going back next year to attempt Dzo Jongo again.

Yes, I think the big lens is the way to go, judging by our encounter. Is your 600mm a prime? I used to have the Sigma 150-600 for my Nikon and that was a stunning lens, but also a stunning weight. I'm still thinking about what to take, but my 100-400 plus teleconverters are a must.

The Nikon lenses I still have are Nikkor manual primes. I don't have an autofocus adapter (I'm not sure they exist). I've kept them because they are fast and I still have a D300 which has been converted to take infra red and they're good for that.

My main concern at the moment is ensuring the kit copes with cold and damp. I've had a camera fail because of temperature (not the Fuji, yet!). It's the first time I've really looked at the camera specs! (You know you're a lost cause photography geek when you're more concerned about camera operating temperatures than your own personal warmth and comfort).

I think we're with BA. We flew Virgin Atlantic in August and they were great.

Haha true I've got a D850 and D500 that have been to Svalbard so hopefully they should survive. My Canon point and shoot has been through Nepal and up Kili too.

I asked about lenses as have a few Nikons that are af-s so would have seen if any were worth bringing for you to mount instead of manuals.

I have the 80-400 that has travelled Africa and Asia and 70-200 or 35mm might come along on the d500.

Sadly 15kg weight allowance out of Delhi and 7kg carry on means thinking hard about choices. 

Trip will be amazing even if limited photo ops, it is the scenery and people that make the adventure.

I shall also be saving a change of clothes for flight home, if nothing else but to be kind on the fellow passengers

Thanks for the offer of the lenses. I tend to start to think about these things early so that I can try out combinations while training - the same with clothing and so on. The scenery was indeed amazing in August (apart from the low cloud days, the photos from which ended up as black and white conversions). We were off the beaten track so on the trek itself there were few locals other than the crew. I understand that we will have a full day at the Stok festival which I'm looking forward to and Leh should be less touristy in March. 

I suspect that there'll be a couple of primes as well as the big zoom, and I always carry a small fixed lens Fuji as well, which takes care of the candids and general stuff.  

We had a 12kg limit for kit bags on the actual trek and our 15kg flight limit included the technical climbing kit, so this time around I expect it will be a little easier to meet the allowance. In addition, all of our bags were checked in one job lot on the internal flight, and our allowance was calculated including Valerie and our local guide, who had no check in luggage. A few were slightly over but it was all covered by the group allowance.

I understand that including you and me, there are 9 currently booked on this trip. Do you know of anyone else going?

Sadly most of my friends have young families so coming on adventures with me is rarely an option. Just me on this trip.

My 600 is a prime ( almost 4kg) and chopped in my old 500 for it with an eye on this trip. Have a Tamron 150-600 which is similar to Sigma and they are great for covering a lot of ground.

Baggage sounds same as Nepal and we are going to be getting full value out of a set of thermals and a couple of midlayers - I have boxes of kit but inevitably can survive on a set of wets and drys and an extra warm layer for the cold day. I start out paired down to bare minimum packing, an hr later I've found a shiny pair of down gloves with liners and I'm packing 10kgs.

Reckon my Trango Alpines will do as good mountain boots just not super warm - but don't want to wear Nepal Extremes if not going front pointing as weigh a ton.

Will be packing a few kilos in my bergen and wandering a few hills to reacclimitise to carrying life on my shoulders soon

Ouch - one lens 4kg? No wonder you've hired an extra porter! It'll be worth it for the image quality though.

I tend to over pack - I did for the trek. But I made a point of noting how much stuff I actually used so hopefully I'll be packing a lot less for this trip. I suspect there'll be a lot of standing around so the thermals will get an outing. Besides, I have to make weight savings so I can include the vital Snickers supplies.

I became addicted to dates climbing mountains so those are my thing.

I've trapsed around Africa with 4kg of camera and lens on my neck before so it isn't too extreme. But at altitude might be a bit tougher

Main thing is the photography has to be complimentary to the trek not intrusive and taking over - ie bag full of lenses and not able to enjoy trek because I'm carrying kitchen sink.

Snickers are my energy source of choice and I tend to reward myself with a Fry's Turkish Delight after significant summits (I nearly fell asleep mid Turkish Delight in the camp after Kili - but it had to be eaten).

I agree with you about trek vs photography. It was very much that on my last trek but I regretted not having a longer lens for my main camera. I had to rely on the little Canon point and shoot, which was ok for snap shots and a record of the trip. I think this one will be the other way around for me, though, as the itinerary is more photography orientated.

Have you got your visa yet? I got mine online for the last trek and it's valid until next April. Don't mention Ladakh when applying for it, it can cause problems.

Snickers are my energy source of choice and I tend to reward myself with a Fry's Turkish Delight after significant summits (I nearly fell asleep mid Turkish Delight in the camp after Kili - but it had to be eaten).

I agree with you about trek vs photography. It was very much that on my last trek but I regretted not having a longer lens for my main camera. I had to rely on the little Canon point and shoot, which was ok for snap shots and a record of the trip. I think this one will be the other way around for me, though, as the itinerary is more photography orientated.

Have you got your visa yet? I got mine online for the last trek and it's valid until next April. Don't mention Ladakh when applying for it, it can cause problems.

I'm having trouble replying to your post, each time I hit save my reply disappears. This is the third attempt. They'll probably all appear at once next Thursday!

Snickers is my energy source of choice and I usually reward myself with a Fry's Turkish Delight after a signficant summit. I nearly fell asleep while eating a Turkish delight in camp after Kili. It had to be done, though.

I agree with your trek vs photography. I limited the kit I took with me on the Peaks trek because I knew it wouldn't go down well if they were always delayed by me waiting for the light. I regretted not having a longer lens for my main camera. But this time, the itinerary is geared towards the photography side of things so I'll be bringing more along.

Have you got your Visa yet? I got mine online for the last trek and as it's valid for 12 months, it'll do me for the next one. If you're getting it, don't mention Ladakh as it can cause delays.

No my passport ends while I'm in Ladakh so renewing it and so doing once that is sorted.

Phill

I had forgotten how bureaucratically crap India was. Just jumped through the e-visa setup this evening to realise can only apply for it 120 days in advance. God I loathe this part of the travel as it is when they cock-up and can't sort it in less than 90 days.

Hopefully will run smooth and Google reminder set

And it's valid for 1 year from the date of issue, so if you're thinking of going back again, leave it for as long as you dare. To be fair, mine was granted in about three days.

So e-visa application in for a 5 yr one. New passport sorted, all I need now is to get out there now.

Forgot how soul destroying the e-visa system can be - enter all your countries for last 10 years (then rejects as you've got more than 20), crashes on the payment screen, can't try again for 15 minutes... Thankfully the country is gorgeous and people welcoming.

Next dilemma will be going through my mountaineering and alp kit and figuring out which down jacket / hardshells to take. Then additional lenses... 1st world problems.

I have the benefit of having been there just three months ago so my kit is pretty much sorted. The only change I'll be making is my 4 season sleeping bag and the extra layers necessary to cope with the cold. I guess my 1st world dilemma is light weight tripod vs monopod. I'm leaning towards monopod at the moment for the weight and maneouverability. 

Monopod will be quick but at long distances a tripod takes some beating. Suppose it depends on kit weight and how steady you can keep it. If you have weight to spare is it worth taking both or seeing if you can improv a mono with trekking pole?

Are you needing to buy a new sleep bag or have one to swap out with? A decent liner can add 5 degrees of warmth.

What temps did you get last time out?

Thanks for the suggestions. I think I'll stick with the monopod as my expeirence last time was mobility and speed will be the key to getting decent shots. The Fuji kit is smaller and lighter for a given focal length and my usual preference is hand held anyway unless I'm static. My walking pole has a thread on the top of the handle and I have a small tripod head so the weight saving is good. But knowing me I'll change my mind at the last minute.

My sleeping bag is fine (I only had a 3 season with me in August). It was much colder than expected - we had unseasonable weather which included heavy rain and a blizzard when we should have been expecting hot days and cool nights. I'm not sure what temperatures we had but they were defintley below zero in the night. The wind from the mountains dragged the temperature down further. The only problem I had was the night after our river crossings - we'd walked through a blizzard over a 5000m pass and I couldn't get warm again and ended up with my down jacket on in the sleeping bag. My 4 season bag will be fine. I have a liner which will come with me too. I've been following the weather forecast in Leh - its currently -19c!

Anyone else surfacing?

India and Ladakh are going through some very cold days at the minute, hopefully that will bring the wildlife down to us though.

Getting closer and exciting

Really excited about the trip. First time in Ladakh .Fully kitted up with camera gear . Canon 500 prime and carbon fibre tripod Will be booking porter for sure. Need to start practicing packing. Exercising as much as possible . How much walking on each day?

Hi Rich, I was beginning to wonder if it was just Phill and me! It'll be my second time in Ladakh - I was there in August last year for a full on trek. But my first trip dedicated tophotography. A practice pack or two is wise - I've already started to try and meet the internal flight weight limit. I think the distance we walk will be largely based on the location of the wildlife but I doubt we'll be going too far as we'll be returning to base for the evenings. Also the altitiude gain each day won't be too bad - but you have to be ready for that 3500m straight off the plane. You certainly feel it for the first couple of days.

Fellow snow leopardeers. I have been talking to our leader Valerie Parkinson by email in particular internal flight baggage weight both checked and carry on. I attach the following. 

Valerie Parkinson <[email protected]>

Date: 14/01/2020 16:55 (GMT+00:00)

To:

Subject: Re:RE: Snow leopard trip

 

 

Dear Richard

 

For the flight to and from Leh the check in allowance is 15kg which is strictly adhered to.

Hand baggage is supposed to be 7kg but no-one checks it and if it is camera gear it is fine to carry all camera gear by hand. So no problem really for camera gear.

Just make sure the checked in baggage is no more than 15kg.

 

To get to our camp luggage normally goes on horses. What your kitbag weighs for going to camp is no problem. If it is more than 15kg it is fine.

For Daypack/camera gear that you carry in the day you carry what you can.

If you want to hire a special porter for your camera gear for the snow leopard part let me know and we can organise that. Or you can decide in Leh.

Valerie

Valerie has invited anyone with questions can contact her by email above 

Hope this helps 

Rich 

Fellow snow leopardeers. I have been talking to our leader Valerie Parkinson by email in particular internal flight baggage weight both checked and carry on. I attach the following. 

Valerie Parkinson <[email protected]>

Date: 14/01/2020 16:55 (GMT+00:00)

To:

Subject: Re:RE: Snow leopard trip

 

 

Dear Richard

 

For the flight to and from Leh the check in allowance is 15kg which is strictly adhered to.

Hand baggage is supposed to be 7kg but no-one checks it and if it is camera gear it is fine to carry all camera gear by hand. So no problem really for camera gear.

Just make sure the checked in baggage is no more than 15kg.

 

To get to our camp luggage normally goes on horses. What your kitbag weighs for going to camp is no problem. If it is more than 15kg it is fine.

For Daypack/camera gear that you carry in the day you carry what you can.

If you want to hire a special porter for your camera gear for the snow leopard part let me know and we can organise that. Or you can decide in Leh.

Valerie

Valerie has invited anyone with questions can contact her by email above 

Hope this helps 

Rich 

Dave, Phill, & Rich,

Will join you on this trip. Nikon guy from US. 1st trip to India. Practice packing with difficulty! Can we pay for extra weight? Looking forward to the trip.

Hi Rick, long way for you to travel but it's well worth it!

I don't know if you can pay for extra baggage allowance - might be an idea to contact Exodus about that. The leader, Valerie, is very knowledgeable as she is based in Leh.

I've had an email notification that Rich has posted a message from Valerie regarding the internal flight and weight limits but I can't see it on here.

I'm a Fuji X system user so the size and weights for my kit are about 30% less than the equivalent Nikon/Canon. I was a Nikon user before changing over. My current plan is to take the camera (XT2), 16-55mm, 50-140mm and 100-400mm with 1.4x and 2x teleconvertors. The camera and lenses weigh in at around 5kg so that will be in my carry on luggage. But my kit bag is currently 17kg so I need to do some work on that! On my prevous trip we were able to leave stuff at the hotel in Dehli and the hotel in Leh.

Dave

Hi fellow snow leopardeers.

Please see following from Valerie Parkinson 

For the flight to and from Leh the check in allowance is 15kg which is strictly adhered to.

Hand baggage is supposed to be 7kg but no-one checks it and if it is camera gear it is fine to carry all camera gear by hand. So no problem really for camera gear.

Just make sure the checked in baggage is no more than 15kg.

 

To get to our camp luggage normally goes on horses. What your kitbag weighs for going to camp is no problem. If it is more than 15kg it is fine.

For Daypack/camera gear that you carry in the day you carry what you can.

If you want to hire a special porter for your camera gear for the snow leopard part let me know and we can organise that. Or you can decide in Leh.

Valerie

Valerie has also provided email if anyone wishes to contact [email protected].

Hope you all can see this!

Rich 

Great intel Rich. Thanks for passing it on. I always hesitate in packing anything associated with camera gear in my checked bag and this news helps alot! Guess I can take an extra set of undies!

Dave, et al,

Thanks for the note. I'll have my day pack full of camera gear. One or two bodies, four or so lenses, and a 2x tele. Like Phill I've asked to hire a porter to help with the load. I'll need to develop some methodology for splitting gear between Mr. Porter and myself.

Phill - Have you had any thoughts on what you'll hand off to the porter and what you will keep in your own hands?

Best wishes - Rick

I tend to use clothing as my wrapping for the camera gear - great for outward journeys but you have to be careful of the state of the clothing on the return! :) There's an opportunity to donate clothing at the end of the trip - I'm using fleeces which I'll be leaving behind which will help on the return packing - everything seems to take up more room on the way back! We had leakage problems in August - it rained a few times and the kitbags got soaked despite being wrapped in sacks by the pony men. I've got everyting in drybags but any plastic bags will do.

I'm contemplating a second body and I was saying to Phill earlier in this conversation that I wasn't sure about a tripod as we'll be mobile a lot of the time and my walking pole doubles as a monopod. But I'm back to thinking I'll bring a travel tripod with me too. Just in case. I'm still practice packing so all this might change! :)

Well my backpack is packed. 2 bodies,500mm prime. 150-500, wide angle and travel lens. Plus essential accesories.  Carbon fibre tripod strapped on. Would like to cover all bases. Guessing porter will be close by?

Yeah me and Dave were worried we were using up all our conversation if we were only ones going 😀

Kitwise go with layers and remember 3 or 4 days in everyone is in same boat so don't think you need 16 tshirts. 

I break my kit into essentials, easier life and nice to have category. 

A set of gloves is essential, set of glove liners normally essential but could be nice to have. A set of overmitts is luxury. So if you can pack all your essentials you then have space for the next category and finally the last.

My plan is to pack my duffell into a suitcase. Leave the suitcase in Delhi with clean clothes and a nice shiny razor and go mountain-style until I return.

At the airport just remember pockets on a down jacket store many an item. You'll need the down on landing and your duffell can get those items put in when you pick it up.

I would however see how you go on the mountain - if you're not used to trekking at altitude it is easy to overpack and exhaust yourself with even a daypack. I think keeping it light and accessible and see how you go - it isn't just a camera you need warm kit and water in there too. I plan to have d500 round my neck but my d850 and 600mm will be stowed probably with my porter. When we go static I'll have the tripod and it on the go.

I'll also be taking a lightweight spotting scope ( 9-27x) instead of my usual bins.

Photo p##n incoming:

D850 with 600mm f4e

D500 with 80-400 f4.5-5.6 ( crop factor makes a 560mm equiv)

35mm f1.8g for stars

Canon g7x for point and shoot

1.7 and 2.0 teles

Benro carbon tripod and gimbal

And all of that means nothing if you try and haul it and not able - AMS is serious and overexertion big factor. 

But we're going to have an epic whatever we see

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I was running out of conversation, Phill, and the next stage would have been Christmas cracker jokes. Lucky escape for you! :)

Thanks for the rundown on kit. I like the idea of categories. For me, glove liners are a ‘must have’ as to use my kit will mean taking off any thicker gloves. I’ve bought a pair of oversized waterproof outers so I can wear thicker liners. Hopefully these will keep my fingers warmer for longer.

If we stay in the same hotel in Leh as I did in August, (and I hope so as it was very nice) they provide a laundry service, but drying is weather dependant. I’m hoping to leave the clothes I wear in our three day stay there for washing so they’ll be fresh for the trip home. Leh is at 3500m and the first couple of days is a struggle with acclimatisation – very much strolling everywhere. Even going upstairs in the hotel was exhausting and it was a little embarrassing to have the porters (all female) breeze past me carrying the kitbags!

I understand we’ll have a generator at camp to charge electricals. If you’re thinking of taking a solar panel to supplement this, I took one with me last time and this was accepted as check-in luggage on all flights (it didn’t have an integral battery).

The night sky in the mountains was absolutely stunning and so I agree with Phill to have something wide and fast for astrophotography if there’s room. That will be on my ‘should have’ list.

Phill, Rich - are you both on the BA group flight from Heathrow on 29 Feb?

Not sure what happened there. :)

Yeah I am on BA flight.  Lots of great information.  Have packed photography gear . Will lay out clothes etc. tomorrow and start packing practice.  So much to look forward to. I have 6 camera batteries so hopefully will last trip what with cold.  Altitude is always an unknown factor.  Have enrolled in pilates class and been swimming along with walking so fitness will be improving. Need to apply for Visa without mentioning Ladakh.!

Keep up the comments  Hopefully others on trip will join in. Looking forward to meeting up.

Yes, altitude is the unknown. I had probelms in Nepal so now I take diamox. I've done three treks at altitude with it and (touch wood) have had no problems with acclimatisation. I get frowns and tuts from 'purists', but I'm not a purist, so I don't care! :)

Aerobic exercise to increase lung capacity can help with the actual physical exertions. I'm asthmatic and I've never had a breathing problem at altitude. From the trip notes, we won't be doing too much ascent so it shouldn't be too bad. My day to day pack weight last time varied between about 5kg and just under 7kg, depending on the water load for the day. That included a separate small camera bag.

I got my visa last year for the previous trip. I did it online, not through any third party agent, and it was pretty straight forward  - but yes, no mention of Ladakh. That might be wise for immigration at Delhi, too. The online form takes a little while and you have to attach scanned passport photos. I found it hard to get the file size down to the limit set.

Closer to the date we should arrange to meet at Heathrow.

I'll meet you in Delhi as flying Manchester to Doha to Delhi.

Fitness increases your enjoyment and lets you go longer but AMS can floor anyone. Had a marathon runner suffer walking up Mt Kenya - he was fit so he walked fast instead of giving himself time to adapt. 67 yr old Alpinist Icelandic with us took his time and was fine.

Give your body time to adapt, drink and eat and don't skimp on personal admin. Oh and anyone who says you shouldn't use diamox as cheating can go whistle. It is a tool to help you - I scuba dive, a purist might freedive but enjoy the hour I get to spend down their vs their 3 mins thanks.

Dave as you say gloves get liners too same with socks.

I'm on a BA flight from Washington DC into Heathrow and will join the group flight from there. Still working on lens selection but definite on 200-500mm and 17-35mm for landscape and night sky.

Phill - I'm with you on Diamox. It can be a life saver. I have my supply packed - part of essential equipment for me, especially for this trip with the potential for adverse weather and the flight to 3,500M with no intermediate stops to acclaimate.

Hi folks

We all the solo travellers or are there more of us to introduce?

Is everyone doing currency at hotel?

Hotel is best I think for exchange . I must look out some change I may have from m previous trip to tip porter if needed. Visa application gone In!

 

I did that last year. The rates were good and the guy was able to give me some small denomination notes. But he didn't give a receipt and so I was left with around IR300 that I couldn't change back. I'm thinking of getting a token amount (say around IR500) for the receipt just in case, and the rest at the hotel.

Online chatter indicates that the airport has the worst rates and that there are lots of exchange shops throughout New Delhi. I'll probably do a little at the airport and then check the rates at the hotel or an exchange shop nearby.

I've completed a practice pack on my checked bag and have met the weight limit but if they weigh my carry-on backpack, with it's load of photo gear, the howl will be heard airport wide! Guess I'll load up my coat pockets.

There were exchange places in Leh too, but that was high season and whether they would be open now I don't know. Some of the shops let you pay in Sterling or dollars. They were all giving good rates (close to the internet rate I saw before I flew).

My check-in bag is now on target (as long as you don't look too close) but my pack redefines 7kg as 'between 6 and 8.5kg'. Still, as I'll be standing next to Rick when they weigh his pack, I should be able to get through in the uproar! :)

Hi

Re earlier post on internal flight carry on luggage. Valerie says noone checks it. But check in baggage must not exceed 15kg. My camera gear weighs 13kg.Rich 

Thanks Rich, I understand their previous behavior; just hope they remain consistent. Appreciate you posting the note from Valerie. Any worry on my part is hopefully misplaced! My equipment backpack is at 11.5 kg but I have some accessories (batteries, charging units, etc.) still to be added. I will probably hit the 13-15 kg range when the bag is zipped. I'm sure we can trust in Valerie as she has mega-years of experience doing this trip. Look forward to meeting everyone at Heathrow/Delhi.

Rick I wouldn't worry but the two times it has been queried I have done the following - 

Had a pre-printed form that they are guaranteeing the safety of the lens and they said it had to fly in hold. Print total kit value out.

If persist ask to sign that they will be responsible for its safety / airline accepts they are invalidating insurance in doing it. Say you were told by insurance to get it signed by airline staff.

Wasn't over weight but the flight oversubscribed budget Australian airline. They picked someone elses back to go in the hold.

It won't be an issue though.

I just hope you aren't planning on carrying 11kg each day on the trek

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