Touching the Void II: An Adventure in the Andes


What happens when you move to as wild and rugged a place as Peru, where your next adventure is only minutes or hours away? Well, naturally, you become friends with wild and adventurous people. Our friend Nathan Heald is exactly that — every time he shows up at our door, I feel a flood of relief knowing that he’s made it back from yet another dangerous expedition in the mountains. He came over last month and within a day my husband was gone for almost a week (“How long will you be gone for?” I asked him. “Um, I dunno… something like 6 days?” he responded) exploring forgotten Incan ruins and climbing untamed areas of Peru that few tourists have ever even laid their eyes on.

Last week, Nathan showed up at our door again, and before I knew it I found myself gone for 3 days overcoming my fears of mountaineering and alpinism, which have never been my things. Too many Everest books and that insane survival story, Touching the Void, have kept me from even thinking about the sport. Yet, somehow, thanks to Nathan, I found myself hiking, climbing, and cramponing my way to the top of 18,000 ft/5486 m Cerro Soray peak in the Salkantay region of Cusco, Peru.

We keep a policy in our Adventure Agency that we only offer trips that we’ve done ourselves, which means we get to ride the best trails, hike the sickest valleys, and climb mountains overlooking the vast Amazon jungle — it’s clearly a good policy for selling trips, dialing them in when they are still in their infancy, and living a good life at the same time. But it also means that, every once in a while, one of us might have to do something a little outside our specialty or comfort zone, which is what happened when this particular opportunity to go mountaineering came up; there was no choice, I was the only option. Bill already went last year.

I wasn’t fearful at the time. Nathan laughed about this hike — he called it a “walk in the park,” and Bill calmly said to me, “There’s no way to fall off that mountain unless you jump on your butt, lift your feet in the air and slide… right, Nate?” to which Nate shook his head and gave a little laugh.

On the first evening, we slept in some beautiful, simple cabins with views of Humantay and Salkantay peaks. We still weren’t close enough to hear the crashing of avalanches so it was a perfect place to relax and drink some pisco before our big adventure.

A semi-relaxed morning sent us headed out with our day packs and helmets to base camp. We passed the pristine glacial lake Humantay and continued on to base camp at 16,000 feet. On arrival, Capt. Nathan unabashedly let us know that he was counting on us to help him with the building of his already-established base camp. While slaving away under his stiff gaze we were at least close enough to Humantay that we could see and hear avalanches and watch the glaciers change form as they crashed away in front of our eyes.

At 2 a.m., Captain Nate let us know it was time to start our assault. We were in the dark, slightly dazed, and completely unaware of what lay ahead of us. Headlamps blazing, crampons and ice picks packed, we climbed off into the darkness.  Now promoted to lieutenant, Nathan pointed out the beginning of a glacier that none of us could see,  even though out of pure fear we all confirmed the sighting. He also did not refrain from letting us know we were weak (it’s a good thing I love Nathan; so I didn’t really care). I just laughed it off — I assume that, compared to him, we are. When the sun was still below the horizon but just letting in some light I could begin to see the insane rock field we just climbed.  At this point, I remembered Nathan’s “walk in the park” comment and began questioning the meaning of the word “park.” It wasn’t long until we reached the glacier.

Inexperienced and lacking Nathan’s years of climbing, we fumbled with harnesses and crampons while he made funny faces and said things like, “No, that’s not right, it’s backwards,” or, “You have to buckle those.” Now a 5-star general, Nathan was up the steep part of the snow in seconds and the other two guys weren’t far behind him. I stepped on to the glacier with my crampons and immediately began sliding and falling on myself. I looked up and all three guys were staring at me with their arms crossed. I looked at the snow and began digging my crampons into the ancient mass of ice. One hell of a “park,” I thought. We were told to keep the line taut, meaning that when the guy in front of me advanced he pulled on my line making me stumble forward, and when the girl behind me moved slower than me I would get pulled backwards. Needless to say,  I felt a bit like a burro.

We summited at 7:20 that morning. There was very little room to sit – on each side of me there was an immense drop off into an abyss of nothingness. We were above the clouds and had amazing weather. However, it was hard to enjoy myself when all I could think about was getting back onto the glacier where I had more than two feet on either side of me. What I didn’t realize and probably should have was that the summit was only halfway there; now, we had to navigate our way back down.

We arrived at a thin rock chute that is normally covered by snow and easily navigable. I was the third one down after Nathan and the other girl. At one point I began sliding and fell, and when I grabbed onto the closest, largest rock to stop my fall, I somehow dislodged it. I mentioned to Aaron, the guy behind me, to avoid the loose boulder and kept climbing down. And then, a test from the Apus (the Incan mountain spirits): Aaron slipped, kicked up a mixer-sized rock which came rolling right past the guy above me and hit the boulder I had dislodged. Newton’s law was right in front of me. The little rock basically nudged the washing-machine boulder off the small ledge on which it precariously sat which, in turn, gave it the momentum it needed to barrel down the mountain, toward my head. “ROCK!” Nathan screamed.

I jumped as fast as I could onto some sharp, loose rocks behind a small rock wall and covered my head. I looked up just as the massive rock smashed off the ledge behind me and plummeted into nothingness. The looks on everyone’s faces said it all. It was that close to me; in that moment, I was literally inches from death. It wasn’t over, though — from up above we heard a yelp and I knew immediately that it wasn’t good. Aaron had twisted his ankle. He was at 17,000 feet/5180 meters and we still had to hike down 6,000 feet.

I knew from reading mountaineering adventure books that, sometimes, alpinists have to leave injured people on the mountain if helping them down would put everyone’s lives at risk; the hope is that the others can get to medical help for a professional rescue. I wondered if this should be one of those cases. Despite that impulse, though, we decided to risk helping him back down to base camp ourselves. It took us quite a while to get back to base camp with a twisted ankle, of course, and once there we wrapped it up for the final stretch and a car back to Cusco.
On the way back, I found it hard to believe that the past 24 hours had actually happened. I went, I suffered, I even thought about leaving my husband with four kids for his “walk in the park” comment, but I did it. It was an incredible experience and after reading so many expedition books I feel like I’ve partaken in the crazy, ongoing human saga that is mountaineering. This is the fury of the mountain; this is the adventure of mountain climbing; this is why you do it. You do it to touch the void.

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Backcountry Mountain Road & Cross Country

Our Cross Country MTB tours take you from one spectacular destination to the next. On these, you’ll cycle literally across whichever country you’re visiting. For instance, check out our Andes to the Amazon tour, where you travel from Cusco to the Peruvian Amazon. 

Our current XC vacations are made up of long-distance rides on backcountry roads. If you are looking for XC singletrack, get in touch with us, and we’ll set up a one-of-a-kind MTB tour suited to your needs.

How we define XC: Anywhere from old logging or fire roads to rolling singletrack, Cross Country trails are generally long distances with both ascents and descents. While trails may be somewhat technical with rock gardens and tight switchbacks, they generally do not have intense steep rock gardens like those you might find in DH or Enduro racing.

An XC bike is often lighter with a slacker head tube angle for better climbing ability and tends to not have a dropper post although the trend is changing. Usually it will be a hardtail or a full suspension bike with a smaller amount of suspension — 100-130mm.  

Most XC riders do not wear pads such as elbow or knee pads and wear a half-shell helmet.


Our MTB expeditions are multi-day trips that involve camping, hiking and/or local home stays in the mountains with cooks and porters. At the moment Haku Expeditions offers one complete mountain expedition and also two packages that combine an MTB vacation with a smaller expedition nestled in it.

The front travel for DH bikes is usually somewhere around 200mm with the rear measuring slightly less. Because they generally aren’t pedalled uphill, these bikes are rugged and heavy and usually have less gears. DH riders wear full-face helmets, goggles, and body armor.

Downhill Riding

At the moment we do not offer a 100% DH trip. Contact us and we can make a custom trip for you! Below, you’ll find our Enduro MTB tours listed that are mostly all downhill and can be done either with a DH bike or an Enduro bike.

How we define DH: DH riding – or Downhill riding — is regarded as an intense, extreme kind of cycling, made for advanced riders who love to navigate roots and rocks and huge drops with furious downhill speed. It requires a stellar sense of balance and technique and a bike with slacker geometry. 

The front travel for DH bikes is usually somewhere around 200mm with the rear measuring slightly less. Because they generally aren’t pedalled uphill, these bikes are rugged and heavy and usually have less gears. DH riders wear full-face helmets, goggles, and body armor.

Enduro/All Mountain

Our Enduro/All-Mountain MTB tours are by far our most popular trips to date. While some of them focus more on descent like Ecuador and Peru, others include plenty of pedaling such as those in Colombia and Nepal.  

How we define Enduro/All Mountain: Enduro mountain biking, also known as All-Mountain biking, emphasizes technical ability. If you’re looking for a more adventurous ride, this is the kind of ride for you; usually, an Enduro/All-Mountain trail will involve adrenaline-pumping downhill mountain biking along with sustained climbs.

Enduro riders need bikes that can take burly drops and rugged technical obstacles efficiently while still being light enough to climb with; they almost always use full-suspension bikes with wide tires and longer rear and front suspension travel. Dropper post is a necessity and standard. The front suspension can be anywhere from 140mm to 170mm. Full-face enduro helmets and body amour are a must for Enduro racing.

Price Breakdown

How do you help?

1 – The Haku Christmas Drive, which includes yearly clothing giveaways, shoe drives, and a public hot chocolate panettone lunch.

2 – School supply giveaway for children of the High Andes.

3 – Bringing bread and fruit to kids living at elevations where none is available.

4 – Facilitating connections between local organic farmers and local restaurants.

5 – Affordable MTB classes for locals taught by professional coaches

6 – Sustained commitment to hiring out locals to work as drivers, office workers, etc., allowing a great amount of flexibility for family commitments, and paying them fair, livable wages.

7 – Donating 1% of all profits to help educate children in a technical field such as carpentry.

8 – Helping young adults begin a small business working in their technical field or purchasing products from them to help them get started after high school.


General Fitness Ratings

1 – Getting your heart rate up isn’t really your thing, and you rarely (if ever) exercise. Your idea of a perfect vacation is total relaxation: sitting on a beach, sipping a mojito, and just generally vegging out. 

2 – You don’t necessarily work out regularly but you aren’t averse to the idea of doing something active. Although you don’t exercise that often, you don’t necessarily consider yourself out of shape.

3 – You exercise one to two times a week but do not have a normal schedule that keeps you biking or doing other activities weekly. You don’t go to the gym or train for any specific sports but you lead a relatively active lifestyle by biking, hiking, skiing, or whatever it may be. For biking: climbs and long descents give you some trouble and you tend to get tired after about 2-3 hours on the bike.

4 – You exercise 3-4 times a week and enjoy physical activities such as biking, hiking, skiing. You are active. For biking: you enjoy climbs that are are moderately long and being on a bike for 3-5 hours in one day doesn’t get you too tired or fatigued. 

5You exercise at least 4 times a week and are an avid athlete that is consistently in good shape. You’re more or less game for any kind of adventure. For biking: you’re comfortable with being on your bike for 5-7 hours a day. 

6 – You live and die for exercise, sweat, and suffering. You only want to climb higher, go farther, and prove how much of an animal you are. Steep climbs, long descents and big days are something you are looking to do more of and you can’t wait for your next adventure. 


Biking Skill Levels

You’ve been riding a mountain bike for a couple of years or less and you’re most comfortable on smooth single-track and wider, forgiving doubletrack. You like rides with scenic views; you like both ascending and descending on well-maintained, safe trails. You’re looking for an active but relaxing mountain bike vacation; you’re not into jumps, drops, super steep trails, rock gardens, roots or taking big risks on your bike.

You’ve got two plus years of experience mountain biking on single-track trails under your belt; you’ve gotten pretty confident behind the handlebars and are beginning to expand your mountain bike abilities. You like riding most types of terrain, and you’re comfortable both climbing and descending on single-track trails with smaller technical features such as rocky sections, small drops, and small steep sections. You aren’t trying to walk on most of the trail and are looking to take small risks with things like speed, jumps, rock gardens, and stair sets to improve your skills as a mountain biker.

Intermediate Tech:
You’ve got three plus years of riding on singletrack trails of all sorts with features such as rock gardens, steep sections, rolls and drops, roots, and small jumps. You are confident on the bike in most situations. You’re constantly looking to improve your riding skills and enjoy riding for extended periods of time climbing and descending in terrain of all sorts. 

Ten plus years of experience riding single-track, freerides and biking of all sorts. You live for steeps,  jumps, rock gardens, techy trails, long descents, big ascents and discovering new terrain. Mountain biking is one of your passions and you are ready and confident to do what you love in a new and challenging place.
You can handle anything we throw at you — jumps, rock gardens, steps, technical descents, tough ascents, etc. Biking is a central part of your life. For you, the bigger the challenge, the more excited you get.


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