On Sunday evening, I decided to give the Korchon trek&fly another go.
Last time I tried I had completely bombed out as soon as I took off from the ridge above Kaskikot. It was bad luck (took off in a bad cycle) and finer piloting would have helped, but also I was overloaded as I packed a lot of water, having read that it’s tricky to find water on the Korchon ridge. When I measured the bag after getting back to the hotel, it turned out that I was flying 8kg over the top of the weight range! That’s way too much for my Mentor; I have noticed on some previous occasions that 2-3kg over is still ok, but more than that and the floatability takes a hit quite sharply.
This time I wasn’t going to make the same mistake, so I optimized as much as I could, giving up on the tent, and a few bits here and there, I even took out my precious flacon of olive oil! Still 23kg with 2 liters of water, but not much else I could safely leave out…
Day 1 - Starting the trek
In the morning, I went to my favorite sandwich shop and ordered two (falafel and tuna&cheese, if you insist to know), largest size and to takeaway please. Then had a great fruit salad with muesli and yogurt at the fruit shop just opposite, and then started hiking up to Sarangkot. The hike up was uneventful, I start knowing that path quite well, I even know the shortcut that avoids passing in front of the wasps nest (there’s a nest by the trail and many people got stung).
Got to the takeoff by 10am, waited 1h-1h30 for conditions to properly turn on, then took off. I managed to climb out relatively easily, and headed towards the west on the ridge, targeting the clouds that were already quite well formed there. Cloudbase was low, around 2000m, but at least I could get about 300m above the ridge. Above the place where I had camped the other day, I decided to try the transition. I had enough height to get across the valley to the start of the trek, but I wouldn’t have minded to find a lifty line or some thermals on the way in order to try and see if I could top land as high as possible. On the first ridge I crossed I found some weak lift, but it had a lot of drift, and felt like in the lee, so I got out of there as fast as I could. Not enough margin to do much else, I went to land near a village that looked like the closest safe option to the start of the trek (there was a village even closer, but it looked too be in the lee of a small hill).
I packed up while chatting with a local kid, much nicer than the ones closer to Pokhara who can be quite obnoxious (Gimme chocolate! Gimme money! Etc. etc.). Then started hiking, through a couple of villages and fields and then on the trekking path. The path was the usual stairs hell. When I reached the middle of Ribhan, I stopped at a water tap, and filtered 2l to fill my water bag, and filled my 2l “dirty water” bag as well. At the top of the village, as I was removing the stronger-than-velcro seeds i picked up (it only took 1 second of inattention to completely cover my socks!), I met a super friendly old lady who told me that there was water higher up on the trail. So i promptly discarded my dirty water, happy to carry 2kg less.
The trail was quite interesting, turning into a proper path (as opposed to stairs) a while after leaving the last village, going through rhododendron forest, featuring the giant nettles I discovered in Bir, and giant ferns (check out the picture of one leaf more than double my height) and many other species of plants. I eventually reached Lalka camp (2360m), didn’t find much there except for some rudimentary shelters and some buffaloes. I decided to continue a bit, but then stopped just 30m higher where I found a good flat spot. I set up my poncho-tarp properly for rain protection, ate dinner, and soon it got dark, so not much to do but go to sleep.
Day 2 - Forest hike until the cave
In the morning, I went back to the camp where I found the shepherd milking the buffs. He was quite friendly, and gave me the indications to the water source just 5 min away. On my way back from the source, I took a picture of one of the buffs standing guard funnily at the top of the trail and staring at me.
I started preparing the stove etc., but before I could finish it started raining. So I took shelter under the tarp (thankfully I had left everything set up) in the sleeping bag, and made breakfast (instant noodles + tsampa, miam !) while waiting for the rain to pass.
When the sun came out again, I packed up, filled my water bag with filtered water, and started hiking again. This section was very nice, the path becoming really narrow and wilder. It was most often obvious, but sometimes there were other paths / animal tracks that often just ended up as overgrown jungle tracks hard to follow anyway. After taking a couple of these “shortcuts” I finally realized that the trees in the side of the main path were marked with a machete.
On the way I saw a lot of wild orchids, the “viewpoint” which had an amazing view of the fog i was in, another buffalo farm, more giant nettles (twice my height! 😱) etc.
At a certain point, having gained just 400m of elevation, the rain was menacing again so I not-so-expertly set up the poncho-tarp among the trees. None to soon, because as soon as I had it more or less set up, it started coming down as hail/rain. I waited it out, eating my last sandwich, reflecting on the intelligence of the decision to go on a trek when the forecast predicted two days of rain (to my defense, the forecast was systematically wrong before!), and surprising 2 cute yellow-throated martens running around in the forest (they hunt in pairs).
Then I went a bit ahead without the pack to see what’s next. I only had a couple of hours of daylight left, and the next camp seemed to be outside of the forest, and 400m higher, so I wasn’t too keen on reaching it. I found a shepherd’s campground close-by, and even better, a small cave-like place under a huge boulder. I brought my stuff over to the camp, but then decided to go to the cave, much drier and better protected from the wind. I gathered some of the drier firewood leftovers, and set out with my “machete” to prepare some kindling. That was boring and inefficient work, and after trying about 3 times to light the fire, I ended up giving up. To be honest, I didn’t need a fire, it was just for the ambiance (at least that’s how I was justifying myself). After another rainy episode, I went out and set up my poncho at the camp as a water collector. I walked around a bit taking pictures, the jungle scenery was quite amazing, very Lord-of-the-ring-ish. Then I set up my sleeping quarters, boiled a quick Hüttensuppe and went to bed.
Day 3 - Search for water then camp at 3200m
In the morning, I went to check the water collected in the tarp:
So I set off in quest of water, thinking that at worst I will walk until the last spot where I saw cows. After 10 min I realized I was walking in the wrong direction! But I did end up having some cool views before it got cloudy again, so it was worth it. I then walked back the other way, but in the end I couldn’t find any water. A bit stressed because of this, on my way back to camp I started gathering water from the leaves on the ground, but it’s an endless process, getting 5-6 drops at a time.
After eating a quick noodle breakfast, and watching a couple of martens (probably the same from the day before) playing in the trees, I packed up and started hiking in the direction of Korchon, planning to spend the night either there or at the camp a bit below, at 3200m. At around 2900, I found another camp, and a small pool of okish water. I filled my dirty bag using a leaf, and continued much relieved.
Around 3100m I found some berries that looked like raspberries, but with strawberry-like leaves. I gathered a handful, and stored them until I could connect to the internet and check what they were (turned out to be rubus nepalensis, tasty!).
When I reached the 3200 camp, there was actually water in big barrels collecting rainwater. It wasn’t super clean, but I trust my filter ;) So that was a sign (that and the thick fog), I was staying. Just before arriving I had heard nepali voices behind me, and sure enough, 15 min later it turned out I was followed by a huge group. The trekkers were 9 middle-aged Dutch and in total with guides and porters somewhere around 30!, they were going up Mardi Himal. Until here I haven’t seen a single person except for the buffalo shepherd. They must have thought I was completely crazy going solo with my tarp and 20-something kg pack. I set up camp a little bit away from them, near a nice tree. After eating a double portion of noodles, I installed myself under the tarp and started taking my notes; not much else to do when in the fog, and I didn’t really feel like socializing more with the rest (I had chatted with some of them while eating, that was enough social life for me for the day).
Day 4 - Korchon and missing the window
In the morning, beautiful landscape and sunrise. I took some pictures, packed away, and started hiking the last 400m until Korchon. The official path was easy to lose in the dry grass, but the terrain was easy so one could just go straight up until intersecting the path again. By the time I reached Korchon, wisps of cloud were already forming, quite too early (and too low) for my liking.
I got to Korchon at 8h30, and since I had to wait until 10am anyway (airspace rule), went around a bit taking pictures, and eating a celebration breakfast, the last homemade freeze-dried food bought in Bir, a delicious paneer butter masala.
Around 10, it was still foggy with only very short openings, and I didn’t feel like taking off in those conditions. Firstly, I was waiting for a bigger opening in the clouds for safety, but that wouldn’t have been a huge problem because lower down it seemed more open, especially earlier. And secondly, I thought it would be a pity after all the effort to just fly down slaloming through clouds without seeing anything of the Annapurnas behind!
The trekkers passed by around 10h30-11h. Around 12h30 I shook the snow pellets off my glider, bunched it up, and took shelter under the Korchon hut (I think “hut” is a bit pretentious 🤣). Turns out the clouds never went away until late in the evening, so around 14h30 I gave up completely and set up camp under the hut.
Day 5 - Getting away and back to Pokhara
Next morning, I woke up just before sunrise and went out taking a few pictures, the day seemed very promising (even though the high inversion I was seeing, not far below my level, was worrying me).
I had very little water left, and the huge barrels at the hut were completely empty, so the past evening I gathered a bag full of snow pellets, and I slowly worked on melting it by having it in the bivy bag with me. It takes A LOT of energy to transform solid water into liquid, in the morning it was still half ice. I filtered the liquid part, started warming it on the stove, then poured the warm water again in the container. That melted all the ice nicely, and after passing it all again through the filter, I prepared my last 2 packs of noodles.
The day seemed to be developing slower than the previous one, but still I had my glider ready at 9h. And it was a good call, because between 9h30 when there were just a few wisps of clouds, and 10h, when I actually took off, the clouds developed super fast. I managed to get away without problems, but unfortunately it was still too early to easily stay up.
At a certain point close to the valley I played a bit with a smaller cloud, one of the few places that was lifty. The idea was to wait on the edge of the cloud, maintaining height, for conditions to become a bit better. But on the edge it was not easy to maintain height, so I had to actually turn inside of the cloud. After 5 minutes of this, I did gain 100m, but water was already dripping off my lines and risers, so I came out and went towards the Sarangkot main ridge. I didn’t find any lift at all, and ended up landing on the river bed near a road that I saw going up towards the ridge.
After packing, I hiked up to the ridge. Made acquaintance with a species of huge grass arching over paths and extremely keen on dumping most of its seeds on hikers’ clothing. The seeds are velvety, but very pointy, and annoyingly itchy. I didn’t manage to identify the plant, but in doubt let’s just friendly name it “devil’s spermatozoids”…
Being acclimated after many nights above 2500m, I felt like a superhero hiking up to 1700m. I reached the takeoff near Kaskikot at around 13h, and took off half an hour later. It was easy to stay up, and after one hour I went to land in Pokhara. I went straight to the hotel for a much-needed shower and then went out to eat some great food to change from the instant noodles.
The Korchon trek&fly is a great little adventure. Wild, not crowded, and with amazing views. The 3200m camp is definitely top-landable so in good conditions the hike can be skipped. Water can be an issue, but with a filter one can manage.
Since I didn’t have to show my single-entry trekking permit (nobody checking on this route), I can still use it, so I’ll probably be back to the Mardi Himal area, especially if I find some other motivated pilots!