Snow leopard tracking

Here at Responsible Travel we get to chat with some pretty spectacular people and Colin Tovey, a well travelled, 75 year old customer of ours from New Zealand, is most definitely one of those. He has travelled the world to see big cats, but a recent vacation was his first time to see snow leopards, and his first time in the Himalayas.
These very unique vacations take you trekking in Ladakh for around two weeks, with expert local guides. Colin opted for a tailor made trip that was 17 days long, not put off at all by spending nine nights camping in the mountains. As one awesome cat aficionado and well travelled chap, the campfire stories must have been something else.
My daughter in law asked me recently how it ranked out of 10, and I said it was really a 15.
Winter camping in Ladakh

Winter camping in Ladakh

Winter is the best time to see snow leopards in Ladakh because this is when these beautiful creatures descend below their normal habitats above the tree line to go in search of their usual prey – the bharal or blue sheep, Asiatic ibex and argali sheep. So yes, it is really cold, and yes, you do camp. Leopard love doesn’t come easily, but these days, high tech winter trekking and camping gear boast and high levels of cosiness. But do expect very cold nights of -10°C and snowfall, although you will often get sunny days with daytime temperatures rising to 10 - 15°C.
Yes it was very cold! The first night it went down to -10, so that is cold. You get out of the tent for breakfast and it’s a toasty nought degrees! And I have always said I didn’t like traveling where it was cold.
Thoughts on trekking

Thoughts on trekking in Ladakh

As you need to be reasonably fit, with many days of trekking, Colin had put this vacation off for a long time thinking that he might not be able for it. But take comfort in the fact that he certainly was – at 75 years old. He had been reassured by other trekkers he met elsewhere on his travels, who had been to Ladakh, that they had met lots of mature people snow leopard trekking, so this helped Colin take a leap of faith. And his tour operator was able to give in depth advice on the best gear to bring.
It gets windy in Ladakh, so Colin invested in a good quality ‘puffa’ jacket, thermal gloves and a cover for his face to keep it warm. For the rest of the time, base layers were the way to go. As for rain, during 14 days in Hemis National Park, the home ground for the snow leopards, it didn’t rain once on Colin’s trip.
As well as my warm clothing and puffa jacket the best thing I took to cope with the cold was an extra blow up mattress for camping, as well as a very good quality -5°C sleeping bag. I always had a good night’s sleep.

Our top Snow Leopards Vacation

Snow Leopard tracking in the Himalayas

Snow Leopard tracking in the Himalayas

Join expert guides and track snow leopards in the Himalayas

From £2395 to £2675 17 days ex flights
Tailor made:
This trip can be tailor made between November - March
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Lovesick for leopards

Lovesick for leopards

There is a chance of altitude sickness in the Himalayas. Leh, the capital of Ladakh, is at an altitude of 3,500m, and you’ll be trekking up even higher in search of snow leopards, so your body needs time to adjust. This is part of the reason why these expeditions are quite long, so that you can take it gently with lots of rest time to acclimatise. The reduced oxygen here can cause headaches, shortness of breath and broken sleep. Even though Colin had trained for the trekking before arriving in Ladakh, he knew there was no way to prepare for the thin air.
I knew I was fit because I had been going to the gym for three or four months but I knew that the breathing thing was going to hold me back, so I was best not going in a group. Each morning, walking 200 or 300 metres up a relatively gentle gradient, I had to stop. And the breathing thing at night for the first two nights was bad, but after a couple of nights I didn’t have a problem.
Is it worth the journey?

Is it worth the journey?

Big cat lovers agree unanimously on this one, and with our vacations boasting up to an 85 percent sightings success rate, it most definitely is worth it. During his time in Ladkah, Colin saw six snow leopards and he would have been happy to have seen just one. Your guide will be equipped with top class binoculars or Swarovski style spotting scopes to assist your viewing, and of course there will be plenty of other wildlife to see too. These include yaks, Tibetan ibex, bharal, hares, wolves, red fox and lynx as well as golden eagles and lammergeyers.
At last we could see there was actually a pair of snow leopards... and I was able to see them completely silhouetted on the skyline. One of them sat down and the other was upright.
Ladakhis & leopards

Ladakhis & leopards

Between leopard tracking, you will spend time in local villages, drinking tea or eating with local families, or perhaps spending the night in homestays. It is a tradition to have the fire burning at all times in Ladakhi homes, and this warmth is something you will find in their ethos and outlook as well as in their front rooms. You will also see villagers going up and down the mountains with their pony trains to carry bits and bobs from one place to the next. As people living off the land, there has been a history of conflict between human needs and conservation ones in Ladakh, as snow leopards will prey on livestock. Colin talked about this issue with his guides and with people he met along the way and was delighted to see that local people are now protecting their local feline royalty.
The whole thing has turned around and they are compensated now if a snow leopard kills one of their livestock. The Ladakh people revere animals, and would never kill a snow leopard. However I have seen documentaries of tribal gatherings and you will see people wearing the pelt of a snow leopard, so I suppose historically, it must have happened.
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: Snow Leopard Conservancy/Jammu & Kashmir Wildlife Protection Department] [snow leopard trekking: USAID Afghanistan] [Winter camping 1: Ravi Sangeetha] [Winter camping 2: Alan Jones] [Thoughts on trekking 1: Karunakar Rayker] [Thoughts on trekking 2: Jorn Eriksson] [Thoughts on trekking 3: Garvit B] [Lovesick: McKay Savage] [Is it worth the journey 1: Ksuryawanshi] [Is it worth the journey 2: Ksuryawanshi] [Ladakhis and leopards: Jorn Eriksson]
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