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.
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.