First Ascent of Nevado Humantay South (5455m) with Sky High Andes 

Nate Heald, our amazing guide, in the tent up at 15,500 feet

Before I start to write about this CRAZY adventure I first want to give a huge shoutout to our guide, Nate Heald from Sky High Andes.

Nate spent a hour and a half with us at his house last month picking the perfect climb for us. Nate really catered to us and talk us through several different options before we made a decision. Nate choose a climb that he knew would be a doable challenge for us.

If you ever come to Peru and would like to do some amazing trekking, or climbing ;), I would definetly reccomend Sky High Andes.

The decision the three of us came to (at Nate’s suggestion) was the southern peak of a mountain called Humantay. It also happened to be unclimbed. The most likely reason it hadn’t been climbed is that it’s been overshawdoed by its much larger neighbor, Nevado Salkantay. We weren’t exactly sure how tall it would be, but our final check was 17,900 feet.

The sexy triangle summit of Humantay South!

On Sunday morning, myself, Emil, Nate, and two of Nate’s workers/cooks, Rocki and Macario drove from Cuzco to the small town of Soraypama. Not even a town really, just the start of the famed Salkantay Trek. The Salkantay Trek is similar to the Ausgantae trek, a beautiful multi-day trek through the mountains that is over run by tourists in high season. The Salkantay Trek however, finishes all the way in Machu Picchu, which is pretty cool. The trek itself is pretty touristy, but there are other ways to do it, which I’ll talk about later.

Salkantay, the second highest peak in the area at 20,551 feet. Nate is the only person to climb Salkantay more than once. Luis Crispín, who we stayed with last week in the village of Pacchanta, was the first Peruvian to climb Salkantay!

The picture above was our view for our one night stay in Soraypampa, absolutely incredible. We stayed at Refugios Salkantay,  a place I would reccomend if you are planning to come to the area.

Because we were in the tourist we did need to get a tourist pass. We didn’t need to get a climbing permit, which was pretty cool, just a $3 ticket to enter the trek as a foreigner.

Recommendations, access “prohibited” to the snowy

The next morning we left Soraypampa early to start our hike to base camp. We started on the actual Salkantay Trek which made the approach not too bad. A huge downside of the actually Salkantay Trek is that once you pass the mountain, that’s it, you descend out of the mountains for the rest of the trek. You only really get to see Salkantay the first morning.

Nevado Salkantay!
Emil and I with Nevado Humantay South in the background.

This pass is the highest point of the Salkantay Trek. I felt pretty bad for the tourists who were hiking the trek. This was their last view of the big mountains!

After the pass we started the hike on scree to make it to our base camp. The idea was to get as close to the glacier as possible. As soon as we left the main trail trail we wouldn’t see anyone else for several days.

By early afternoon we had finished our approach to base camp.

You can actually see the route pretty well here. We much were under the large rock formation, taking the ridge line.
Nate up on the right. The view was so incredible (and a much flatter area) so we all decided to move our tent up there. And WOW what a view.

The camp we ended up at was spectacular. One of those moments you’re just kept breathless. The world below you. Honestly one of the most beautiful sights in my life. We were just so happy to be up there.

We then had an amazing camp dinner of mash potatoes, cream cheese, and milk (yes, it’s actually amazing.) Nate tells us it took years to come up with this spectacular dish and wow it hits the spot at 15,500 feet.
The three of us went to bed at around 6:30pm with an alarm set for 12:30am. When we woke up it was chilly, probably in the teens. We were amazed to wake up to an unbelievable starry sky as well as the moon. The moon was bright enough to be able to see the mountain, but dark enough to see the milky way sprawled across the sky. Something you want to wake up to when getting up for a climb.
And so we started, at around 2am. The first hour or so was getting up to the glacier through the scree. A hour and a half later, we were climbing. As soon as we got on the glacier we were passing huge crevasse drops. Mellow at first, but quickly turned to 45 + plus alpine ice climbing. I’ll be honest I was so focused on the challenging climb I don’t remember how the exact route went, other that it was tough. When Nate submits our first ascent to the American Alpine Journal, he will write a more accurate description of the route. Here are some photos of us climbing up, most before 7am.

The start of the gully to the ridge. Two technical ice axes, using all of my strength to climb! Nate occasionally used ice axes and snow pockets to secure us. NOT easy.

The final gully before we hit the start to the ride was challenging. It must have been 200 meters or so of hard alpine ice. Mind you this is the first time Emil and I have done any sort of ice climbing. The climbing we’ve down before has been max 40-45 degrees, just for a short section. Calfs were BURNING. After climbing up to the ridge we took a short break. We could see the summit up a few hundred meters. We were getting stoked! The weather was good and it looked like we were going to make it!

The final push to the summit took us about 2 hours. We passed several large crevasses on our 50 degree climb up to the summit. At one point I even jumped over a crevasse, must have been a 15-20 foot drop!

Nate on the push to the summit.

Finally, at around 9:30am we reached the summit! Honestly I was so tired it was hard to be super happy. I never felt like I needed to turn around on the climb up, but whenever we had the chance to take a break, I was happy.

Hard to believe it, but we were the first people in history up on the summit of this mountain. Two stupidly ambitious 18 year olds and an experienced guide. For Nate, he was just adding another first ascent to his list, but for us, the start of a lifetime in the mountains, and a huge accomplishment. It’s a really special feeling knowing we were the first people up there.

Nate on the summit with Humantay North in the background. Nate also has the first ascent for Humantay North.

Maryland pride!

The way down was not easy. With climbing a mountain, getting up is only half the journey.

On the way down we did a combination of down climbing and rappelling. Due to my inexperience with rappelling and the fact that the route down was incredibly gnarly, AND it started to snow, it took us a long time to get down. We were rappelling down the other side of the mountain, into the Ahobamba valley. I have to say, heading down the mountain was not exactly super pleasant.

Emil rappelling down.

Looking all the way down into the valley from the summit.

On the way down it started puking snow. Cold and wet, we continued down the mountain. Finally by 6pm we thought we were done rappelling and could just walk off the mountain. BUT we still had a crazy rappel, cliffed out! 60 meters down a cascading waterfall in darkness. By now we were extremely tired. Another night camping at around 15,500 feet on the moraine. A long, 16 hour day. Happy to be off the glacier, but still not off the mountain.

Pretty much going straight down!
The unclimbed face of Salkantay. Nate attempted this route a few years ago and one day hopes to try it again. This was our view from our campsite coming off the mountain.

The hike down into the the valley was magical. We started on moraine and by mid morning, we’re nearly in the jungle. I saw a mountain lion on the hike down! Incredibly special.

MASSIVE incredible waterfall on the hike down into the valley.

We were hiking down to the house of a friend of Nate’s. Nate is also working on a house here for himself and his clients. The Ahobamba valley is honestly one of the most magical places I think I’ve ever been to. I’ll explain more about the valley in my next post, in our long hike out to the road. My next post will be about the Salkantay-Ahombama trek. Today we’re hanging out in Aquas Calientes, the town by Machu Pichuu.

A rough route description.

Final reflections on the climb:

This was one of the hardest, yet most exhilarating outdoor adventures of my life. This was a challenge I was happy to be able to complete safety. And of course, spending it with my best friend was incredible. I’m super proud of Emil and I’m super proud of myself. Pretty special that our first technical climb was a first ascent. I hope this is the start of harder, and more technical climbs. It’s a lot different that just walking up a mountain. This was the perfect challenge.

The perfect challenge is pushing your limits.

And that’s what I did.

And that’s what climbing is all about.

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