I packed my minimalist camping gear, planning to go on the Mardi Himal trek via the normal path (the ridge with teahouses), if weather permits to fly over behind the Sarangkot ridge.
Day 1 - Getting to the start
In the morning, I headed out to Cafe 17, which seems to be where solo paraglider pilots in Pokhara gather, to see if there are any motivated pilots for a trek. I found there Kristin, a girl I knew from Switzerland (she flew with us and gave us some local hints when we went to the Lauterbrunnen valley on a CVLD outing back in 2017). She and a couple of others also had in mind to go on the Mardi Himal trek, so I had company! I went back to the hotel and left most of the camping gear (except for the poncho-tarp and the bivy bag, you never know…), and at around 13h30 we took a taxi up to Sarangkot.
We took off and managed to climb just above the ridge height, and one by one Kristin, Medhi and Juliette headed off to the back towards the Green Wall. They left very low, almost at ridge height, so I scratched around a bit more hoping to gain a bit more height. In the end, the day was getting late and I ended up starting my transition just as low as them. With only 100m to spare, and flying conservatively because there was a slight hint of lee turbulence on the hillside I arrived to, I didn’t manage to climb out. I landed 1km from where I saw Medhi also flying low, and a local kid showed me the mountain in the shape of Buddha laying down:
The others were together, and they managed to arrange a lift with a guy in whose field Medhi landed. They came to pick me up and we started our journey towards Sidhing, a village at 1900m, which seems the most efficient way to get to the ridge.
The ride was an adventure, riding in the caged back of a delivery truck. Our driver and his two friends have never been there, and didn’t seem to understand indications on our maps, so at a certain point they asked a bus driver who seemed to be going the same way for directions. Turns out that even the bus driver was lost, so after nearly getting to Dhampus (up on a different hill), both we and the bus had to drive back to the valley. Finally we ended up in Lwang, a “home-stay village” at 1500m, which is some 400m lower and 5km further than Sidhing where we wanted to get to. It meant more hiking, but that was ok with us.
In Lwang, the whole village was in party mode. It was Friday, the day Nepali people usually go out and party, moreover it was soon after the Tihar festival. During the last days of Tihar, teenagers sing and dance the Deusi and Bailo and collect money, which they then spend on a picnic together. Lwang was full of groups of teenagers that came for their “picnic”, and there was dancing and partying the whole night. After a while, I displayed my boring side by abandoning the party in order to go to sleep (isolating earbuds definitely helped!).
Day 2 - Starting the trek
From Lwang, we took the path going up to the ridge, and started our long day of hiking. Around sunset we stopped for the night at the “Low camp” (3000m).
Day 3 - High camp and bivouac
Next morning, we hiked up to “High camp” (3500m), and spent the day there.
Around noon, Kristin took off. She soon got caught by the inversion layer so couldn’t climb too high, and had to fly away towards the valley (turns out she managed to fly all the way to Pokhara!).
The frenchies and I stayed at the camp until around 15h, practicing juggling (Medhi brought a when we went on a hike. Medhi and Juliette stopped around halfway, and I, having decided to bivouac, continued until the “Viewpoint” a bit above 4000m. I set up the tarp inside a bivy place built up with strategically placed flat rocks to protect from the wind. It even had some straw on the ground, and I had my bivy bag and silk sleeping bag liner, and the wing kept me warm enough for the around -5º it went down to during the night. It wasn’t as comfortable as having a proper sleeping pad and sleeping bag, especially because it gets slightly stuffy inside the wing, but it was surprisingly ok and for sure I wasn’t cold. For dinner I snacked some instant noodles dry, as I’ve seen Nepali tourists do, and some biscuits, perfect 😂
Day 4 - Flying back
In the morning, I packed my stuff, and waited for Medhi and Juliette to hike up from High camp. My water froze a bit, but not completely, and the strong sun melted it fast enough.
Around 11h they arrived (apparently they got checked for the flying permit at a hut just 100m below where I spent the night), and we took off soon afterwards. It was good flying, with strong thermals in big mountain environment. There were even some small thermal clouds above the Annapurna ridge (7-8000m!).
The frenchies dared scraping up the flanks of Mardi Himal close to the terrain, I was searching more conservatively further out. Medhi got up to the level of Mardi Himal (5500m), and Juliette just a bit lower. I only once got up to 4700m, and after a while I gave up on the idea of crossing the Korchon ridge, and decided to try to get back to Pokhara via the ridge we hiked up on. It’s a long way, so delicate piloting or good thermal conditions are needed in order to make it back. Unfortunately below 3500m the airmass was very stable, with many inversion layers (i.e. once you lose altitude, you never gain it back), and my “delicate piloting” skills are average at best. I did manage to get across to the main Sarangkot ridge, but I was missing 100-200m of height to get back to the Pokhara landing. Nevertheless, I was quite happy, as I ended up landing only around 4km from Pokhara (at the same place where I landed after bombing out on my first Korchon attempt).
I don’t have a lot of pictures from the flight, as I only dared taking out the camera once I decided to start flying towards Pokhara.
As soon as I started walking on the road, two nice Nepali fellows in a van carrying eggs picked me up, and brought me to Pokhara. (The frenchies had an awesome flight, they went down the Korchon ridge for a bit, then transitioned towards the Green Wall. Medhi easily made it to Sarangkot, and Juliette landed in the valley behind)
To my disappointment, Tropical Hut seems to have closed business. It was a nice little place where I took habit of going to after flying, to eat their excellent natural smoothie bowls and to read an interesting book from their shelf (Ten Thousand Miles Without a Cloud). It’s true that I was often the only client, but it’s a pity for the restaurant, the staff was nice and the food tasty and healthy; and last but not least, I was only halfway through the book! 😭
A beautiful hike&fly, definitely worth doing. I understand why it’s one of the classics of paragliding in Nepal. Compared to the Korchon trek&fly, it is longer, less difficult, more frequented, less wild, and the views (especially of the Annapurnas) are more impressive.