Summer in Zanskar gifts the trekker around 5 viable months of snow-free trails. From flower-rich meadows in June to the rich autumn colour and hard frosts of October. This is the optimum time to put on your trekking boots and explore. In June, at 5000m, the trekker may still encounter the remnants of winter snow and possibly the odd cornice (of course glaciated passes such as the Kang La or Umasi La, hold snow all year round). However, early in the season it is the snow that is melting that is much more problematic; Zanskar's rivers are awash with melt water until late August. Depending on where you are trekking in Zanskar, up to 50% of the trails could be out of bounds until the low water levels of late summer open up river-crossing intensive routes such as the Zhunglam.
Here are a few additional points you may want to consider before heading out in the summer:
- tap into local knowledge before you hit the trail. Routes that negotiate steep ground are often destroyed annually by avalanche or melt water. If you are trekking early in the season enquire about trail conditions as Zanskaris may not have had the opportunity to repair or maintain the trails in the vicinity of their village. Bridges may also be damaged and river levels may be too high to ford. In early summer be aware of diurnal trends in river levels, not only for crossing purposes, but also if you intend to camp near a water course.
- it can be hot in the summer. Sunhat, good sunglasses, long-sleeves and a robust hydration system are all very useful. Covering up will also be appreciated in villages - it's astonishing the amount of trekkers that walk through villages as if they are casting for Baywatch.
- increasingly the odd monsoon shower skips over the Greater Himalaya and dumps on Zanskar. Showers are usually localised but sometimes the majority of Zanskar endures a day or more of solid rain (or snow on high ground). Take a light waterproof, and an umbrella is sometimes handy. If you are trekking in the rain then watch for stone fall and mudslides.
- inspect legs and ankles for ticks, these are usually found in sheltered vegetated areas up to 4300m.
- be aware of domestic animals using trails, especially when the summer pastures are vacated in October. I make a habit of standing on the inside/uphill side of passing yak, dzo or loaded horse, that way they squash you against the mountain instead of bumping you over the edge down to the river!
- sourcing a horseman or porters can be difficult when the harvest is underway, prices may also fluctuate (almost always increase) according to supply and demand.
- Research your route for water, if you are trekking later in the season it is not unusual to find that smaller watercourses and springs have either dried up, or are frozen. Be prepared and try to keep some water in reserve.