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Leica’s little C in a land of many big cameras and not a few yaks

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It was in May 2019 that a little Leica C (Typ 112) entered an isolated domain to be met by many other big-brother cameras. It wasn’t daunted one little bit. And I was able to scamper around like a three-year-old, relieved of all that DSLR nonsense.

We were a group of nine westerners whose aim was to trek within China Tibet to the northeast foot of Mount Everest. The sight we were aiming for was the Kangshung Face. Reputation is that it is a spectacular two-mile-high vertical cliff to the peak of the mountain. The trek was to be nine days across some high passes and along steep valleys, traversing a long circuit which sees a minuscule number of trekkers compared with the Nepal side of the mountain. It’s an isolated region of the world and no mistake.

Heed the warning sign
Heed the warning sign

The camera that I chose to carry was a little Leica C Typ 112. You might know it as the Panasonic LF1 but without the little red dot. It’s certainly not the latest and greatest, but it satisfied my primary need of a compromise between image quality and the lightest possible piece of kit to carry within the outer pocket of a trek jacket. At 5,000m-plus I certainly didn’t want to lug around a Leica SL and 24-90mm Vario-Elmarit.

A No-Go Zone

At our base camp, we were informed that we could trek a few days into our planned route but were to go no further than the Shao La Pass. At over 5,000metres it would be our first high pass, about halfway to our intended destination at the foot of Everest. The reason given was that snow was too deep on the mountain passes for the yaks carrying our gear to get through, without unduly risking breaking their legs. A very sensible primary reason.

A secondary reason could have been potential dangers posed by heavy snow out there. Trekkers and their yak herders have died in avalanches near the Kangshung Face in recent years, so if the snow was deep it probably wasn’t the smartest place to be. And the fact that the region is highly controlled by the Chinese military meant that there could have been other tertiary reasons to prevent our planned circuit.

Whatever the real reason or reasons, our guides informed us that the trek was to be accompanied by a local official to ensure that we didn’t go beyond the first mountain pass. So we set out in good spirits, simply intending to enjoy being in a very isolated part of our planet.

Yaks, the quiet achievers

The Chinese authorities allocated yaks and accompanying herders. They were most efficient, loading and quietly carrying our gear with no fuss. It was always a comfort to look back some distance behind us and see that our kits and tents and thermal mattresses were following.

Cameras, and more cameras

I’ve mentioned the isolation of the area that we were in, in the midst of the Himalaya near the China Tibet border with Nepal. It’s rugged, and in the time that we were trekking out there, we saw only one other sign of human life. It was a family of nomadic yak herders who had already moved their stock into a high valley for the oncoming summer.

Although we didn’t see anyone else, we were sure that there were always people keeping an eye on us. Every campsite was within close range of a brand new communications structure. Sparkling new metal, solar-powered, cameras transmitting to who knows where. And communications-enabled such that we were could even transmit a daily SMS message to families back home (but MMS image transfers were blocked). There had been nothing like that in place just a year or so before.

So near, yet so far

Well, we didn’t get to the Kangshung face, but we had a great time out there near it. We did trek through the snow to the top of the Shao La pass, but no further, as instructed. At the top of the pass, it was Darryl, one of our group, who climbed to the top of an adjacent peak to see whether he could see through to the Kangshung Face. He returned to report that there was at least one other mountain blocking the view.

But for us, the sights and experience of the region were still wonderful.

Every cloud has a silver lining

The changes that are occurring in China Tibet present two sides of the same coin. On the one side, the old Tibetan culture is being changed forever by the influx of Chinese development and modernisation. If you want to see the Tibet of old then visit soon. Sadly perhaps, it will be harder to find in the future.

On the other side of the coin, the rapid development is providing new and improved housing, schools, hospitals and clinics, communications, roads, transport and infrastructure. The next generation will inherit a new, advanced China Tibet. It’s fascinating to see such societal change in action.


Read Wayne’s article on cameras at Everest, a century apart

More articles from Wayne Gerlach

25 COMMENTS

  1. The last three are wonderful really expresses that region. I was amazed not to see lines like have been shown in news this past year. Must be your gang was off season. Please keep your camera busy, where to next?

    • Hello John. The China Tibet side of Everest doesn’t see the crowded trekking lines that occur over the other side in Nepal. It is a strictly controlled region, with only a relatively very small number of trekkers and climbers permitted. In fact, we became aware that a German trekking group who were supposed to follow a few days after us were prohibited from entering the area.
      “Where to next?” you ask? It’s already happened 🙂 I’ll put something together for our Editor Michael to consider.

  2. Fabulous images of a part of the world I’ll probably never see. The mere mention of 5000 meters brings on shortness of breath. I salute you for trekking in such a region. Your story brings home how quickly the region is changing, in some ways for the better, in others perhaps not so much. It’s a shame the best of both worlds can’t be combined, but I have seen many examples where that has failed.

    • Yes Richard, it is changing fast. Three years from now there will be a road heading right in to the north east side of Everest. We saw the new roadworks happening, replacing old village tracks, and infrastructure being rapidly put in place. It will be very interesting to see how it evolves.

  3. A wonderful article Wayne. The one before last image is truly amazing.I also like the way you document campsites. I admire the way you cope with height sickness. Even with a slow ascent 4000 meters is my limit nowadays. You did a grand job with that little Leica. Thanks for sharing If you ever come to France you’d love the valley of Valgaudemar and the grand tour of l’Oisans (good way to escape the Australian winter.

    • In terms of photography, the attenuated trek provided a unique opportunity that we likely wouldn’t have had time to enjoy if we were pushing hard each day. Mt Kangchenjunga, at 8,566m (28,169ft) is the world’s third highest peak after Everest and K2. Its reflection in the lake that morning provided us all with a special time playing with cameras.

      And thank you for the invitation. Nothing is impossible.

      • Hi Wayne
        Sorry this site is in French but gives you a very good idea of what Valgaudemar looks like. It is nicknamed the French himalayan valley without Yaks and Asian people. Hikes usually take between 6-7 hours and 10-12 hours with no yak to carry your gear. Have a nice day.
        Jean
        http://valgaudemar.free.fr/

  4. Very impressed with your account of this amazing trek and what excellent images. `I particularly like the ones across the lake to Kangchenjunga. Great to see your yak wagon train is well featured. Love to know what you ate and drank? Thank you for a most interesting article.

    • The yaks were wonderful. Truly quiet achievers.
      Eating? Our trek was well served by JB, our great cook. You will see him if you click back on the link to our base camp (Michael embedded it in the first line of the early section titled “A No-go Zone”. He was a Nepalese cook, specially brought into China Tibet to prepare our food. He’s been trained by World Expeditions to prepare food hygeinically, and succeeded in that not one bout of stomach upset was suffered in the group. The menu was prepared by Birsing, our head guide few days before we started, and JB and a driver loaded up the truck as they drove the two days from Nepal to meet up with us.
      The meals were fabulous. Generally three courses, generous, calories, carbs and tasty. On the trek the yaks carried the food in large screw down plastic barrels.
      Liquids? Tea, Instant coffee, and boiled water safe for drinking.

  5. That little C has done both wonders, and you proud. I love the colours that I would expect from a Leica. The last three images show off your journey well, and I really like the sunrise shot with its golden reflection.

    Did you carry multiple batteries, or does it shoot forever on one?

    • Hello Dave. For the C112 it was four little batteries, fully charged, in addition to the one in the camera. No problem with the airlines, given that they were packed properly and carried in hand luggage.
      Trek colleague Tony did it differently. he took a fully charged little Powerbank. Sufficient for a few recharges. And he did recharge my iPhone as well. A sensible alternative to multiple batteries in isolated places.

      • Cheers, both strategies sound useful, although I do like the powerbank idea as that makes it a little lighter and more flexible in the long run.

        Roll on the result of your next expedition, or the last one you went on.

  6. Some marvellous pictures from your trip – especially that sunrise one for me. I applaud your choice not to weigh yourself down with heavier equipment. I, too, am impressed with the picture quality and range of the Leica C – a little gem in my armoury, too.

    • True, John. The Leica C 112 punches above its weight – Well, mathematically it has to since it is so lightweight 🙂
      It was our 2012 long trek up to the Nepal side of Everest that made me decide to take the minimum weight possible, along with the smallest size possible so that it would be easy to slip in and out of a trek jacket pocket, particularly if the weather took a bad turn.

  7. Excellent article Wayne which admirably illustrates the Leica C Type 112’s capabilities. My ‘C’ usually accompanies me everywhere and this afternoon was used to photograph a miniature dinosaur specimen just 20cm in length … the ‘C’ has an excellent macro mode. I’ve learnt to use the ‘C’ upside down and from one side for macro shots. The built-in flash illumination then ‘grazes’ the close-up subject – and being a relatively small sensor the DOF (from the side) is more than adequate. I was very lucky to win my ‘C’ in the Leica Society 2014 AGM raffle. The ‘C’ is a very under-rated camera which seldom appears in dealers’ s/h lists – maybe because users do not often part with them. However, I spotted one listed today by LCE Leamington Spa at a bargain price.

    • Thank you Dunk.
      Following your prompt I found the website of LCE. Wow, what a chain of toy shops. Along with Michael’s friend Ivor at Red Dot cameras it could do serious damage to cash reserves whenever I next visit the UK.
      While your C112 was provided in the most cost effective way, the little silver example in the LCE catalogue does look like excellent value.

  8. Cheers Kevin. The views, the changing light, the reflections and the quiet calm, being out their with a small group of great people – That unhurried morning as the sun rose on Kangchenjunga was very special.

  9. Wow, what a great article and amazing images. We enjoyed Tibet when we visited 10 years ago but didn’t do anything as energetic as you. We found it difficult to breathe in Lhasa so cannot imagine what it was like at the altitudes you reached.
    One question, I’d be interested to learn if you had any problems charging camera batteries.
    Thanks for posting this most interesting read.

  10. Hi Tom.
    I mentioned battery strategies while trekking in answer to Dave Seargeant above.
    In regard to hotels we found that even in three star rural town hotels there would always be a two pin AC plug somewhere, to be used with an adapter. Even at the Rhongbuk monastery guesthouse adjacent to the North West base camp there was a power point available.
    That said, I did like to “juice ‘em up” whenever a power point was available.

  11. A truly lovely documentary of a fascinating experience. The pictures are all great and I particularly enjoy the second last one. I have asthma so my trekking days are over but it is wonderful to share in your experience in the wilderness in the clouds.
    Remember to wear red for the other photographers in the group!

  12. Hello Brian. A small “flash of red” in an image is a trick that my wife pointed out to me in the evocative paintings of many of the masters – Turner, Constable and many others used it.

    In photography it’s interesting that red is the colour that is sometimes troublesome for CMOS sensors.

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