About the Location: The majestic snow leopard. What makes finding this elusive cat so challenging is the harsh environment they call home. The only way to see one in the wild is to immerse yourself in their surroundings.
Imagine opening your eyes in the pre-dawn hours realizing that it’s 15 F degrees inside your tent. You know that getting up will be painful. If you’ve forgotten to put your water bottle inside your sleeping bag, it’s frozen solid. Your clothes for the day are ice cold when you put them on and your trekking boots feel like you’re putting your feet into cold stones – heavy and stiff.
Before you can shake the chills and get it together, local Ladakhi spotters have already left the camp with their powerful scopes and have climbed the ridges deep within the valleys of Hemis National Park. The network of trained spotters is the only chance you have of seeing a leopard that day.
About the Shot: Sitings are rare. Some days there are no leopards to be found. Only small herds of bharal (blue sheep) graze on distant slopes. You may spend days trekking 8-10km at 13,000-15,000 feet and not see a snow leopard. You may finally have a chance to see a leopard, but it’s only briefly visible on a ridge 3km away as a small reflection through a Swarovski scope. And as you can see, the animal is so perfectly camouflaged for its environment, that they are easy to miss.
But some days are remarkable. A day like the one captured here, where this adolescent leopard was spotted less than a kilometer away, and got as close as 300 meters. We observed him stalk and hunt multiple times, narrowly missing a kill.
It was breathtaking to watch. I was in awe when I first got a glimpse. I was excited watching him traverse ridges in minutes that would have taken me an hour or more to climb. And my adrenaline was pumping when he was stalking a bharal and then a local farmer’s cow. The farmer, a brave man hardened by mountain living, rescued his cow before the leopard could mount a second approach.