The Beginner’s Guide to Climbing Nevado Mateo
Have you always wanted to climb a mountain, but you’re not sure if you’re ready? Does the idea of ice climbing on glaciers and in snow make you a little nervous? If so, you’re not alone. I felt the exact same way when we first began considering climbing Nevado Mateo in Huaraz, Peru.
The photos looked beautiful and the tour agencies insisted it was fine for beginners, but we had such an exhausting and terrifying experience climbing Misti Volcano in Arequipa that I didn’t trust the agencies at all when they promised we could do it. I couldn’t find much information online about the mountain and if it was suitable for beginners, so I’m here to answer that question for you.
We decided to take the risk and try climbing Nevado Mateo and I’m so glad we did. It was amazing, easy, and safe – even for beginners. If you’re considering climbing it but are on the fence, read about our experience below.
Is Nevado Mateo for you?
Climbing Nevado Mateo is definitely suitable for beginner climbers, but not for total novices. Like, I wouldn’t recommend it to my mom. But if you have been doing some high altitude hikes in Peru, if you’re in good shape, if you’ve done some uphill treks like Laguna 69, Rainbow Mountain, or Salktantay, then this climb is definitely for you. I’ve done a lot of trekking and hiking in Peru, but Nevado Mateo is the first time in my life I’ve used crampons, harnesses, ropes, and ice picks. Actually, though, it was easier than most of the other trips I’ve done here. Trust me, if you’re in shape, you will be fine!
Distance: 3 km/1.8 miles
Elevation: 400 m/1,300 ft
Altitude: 5,150 m/ 16,900 ft
Hike Time: We’re fairly slow, and it took us 4 hours total to climb and descend
Total Trip Time: 9 hours from pick up to drop off at our apartment in Huaraz
Cost: $90pp for all gear, English speaking guide, and transportation. You’ll need an additional $3.50 each in cash for entrance into Huascaran National Park. If you plan on visiting more during your stay, you can buy a 3-week pass to the park for $20.
Tour Agency: This is the first and only agency I’ve recommended in Peru because they went above and beyond to make the experience safe with high-quality gear and equipment. I definitely recommend Dario at Peruvian Classic Adventures for your tours in Huaraz (and no, I’m not getting paid to say this, they really are great.) When choosing an agency, ask to see the gear you’ll be using and keep in mind that licensed mountain guides are only allowed to take 3 people per guide up the mountain with them. So, if your guide is taking more than that, he’s either not licensed or not following the safety guidelines correctly.
The day started early with a 4 am pick up from our apartment. This isn’t a very popular climb (there were only 7 other people on the mountain with us) so we just had a small group of me, Daniel, and our guide Dario. We were picked up in a taxi and the three of us slept (or tried to) on the two-hour drive out to the base of Nevado Mateo in Huascaran National Park. The roads are bumpy and wind up a mountainside, and by the time we arrived I was feeling incredibly nauseous from the drive.
Huaraz is at 10,000 feet and we started our hike at 15,750 feet. I’m not sure if it was this altitude change on the drive, a lack of sleep, or the winding roads, but when we got out of the car I was definitely not feeling my best. Luckily, Dario had coca leaves to save the day. A couple minutes chewing them, and all was cured… except the cold! I couldn’t believe how absolutely FREEZING it was at the start of climbing Nevado Mateo. My fingers were numb and hurting within 2 minutes of leaving the warm taxi. This is another reason why you need to vet your tour agency well… if they don’t provide warm clothes you’re going to be miserable.
We quickly put on all our gear. For me, that meant leggings, a sweater, a jacket, headband, and the agency’s heavy waterproof pants, down coat, and ski gloves. Whew. Then we packed up the harnesses, ice picks, crampons, water, and snacks, and put on our helmets for the climb.
Climbing Nevado Mateo
We started climbing at 6:30 am when we were immediately confronted with the rocky mountain face. We started going up and could walk for the most part, but at times needed to use our hands as well to grab a hold of the next rock or keep steady on the climb. Clear ice lined a lot of the “trail” and Dario made sure to point it out to use so we could skip over it without slipping. The wind was also shockingly strong. At one point a powerful gust hit me square in the chest and almost knocked me off my feet, but luckily Dario grabbed me before I went flying off the side of the mountain.
We climbed up the rocky outcropping for about an hour and a half, enjoying the stunning views from Nevado Mateo. Huascaran, Peru’s highest mountain, was in full view, along with other snow-topped peaks, green valleys, winding rivers and glacial lakes. It was one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen and is just one of many reasons why climbing Nevado Mateo needs to go on your bucket list for Huaraz.
Finally, we reached the glacier that sits at Nevado Mateo’s peak. We found some flat rocks and began gearing up. First, we put on our harnesses, then Dario helped us fit the crampons onto our boots. Next, he tied us all together: Dario leading up front, me in the middle, and Daniel in the back. We grabbed our ice picks and after a quick tutorial, we began climbing the ice. It was so much fun. Some parts where the wall was steep were hard to climb, but other parts were covered in snow and easy to walk up. It was strange getting used to the rope, and pulling against someone when you were going too slow or fast. All in all, though, it was definitely easier and more fun than I thought it as going to be!
The Summit and Descent
We climbed the snow and glacier for about 45 minutes, and then finally reached the peak! What a great feeling! It was kind of cloudy, but the views were still amazing. On one side sat Huascaran and the peaks and valleys. On the other, bright blue glacial lakes and mountains as far as the eye could see. We also got close-ups of Nevado Mateo’s neighboring peaks and their stunning white and blue glacial ice coverings. We snapped a few pictures and sat in the snow, enjoying the view and our accomplishment.
All too soon, though, it was time to head back down. Dario taught us to take tiny, hard, steps, slamming our ice picks and crampons into the glacier to keep our balance on the way down. He also explained that if someone falls, the rest of us have to fall too and slam out axes into the snow, to keep from sliding down the mountain. (Luckily, we never had to do so!)
The walk down was in the opposite order, with Dario in the rear and Daniel leading the way. We had a couple slips and close calls and had to stop to refind the right route again a few times, but it wasn’t too hard (just a major thigh and calf workout!)
We made it back to the rocks, took off our gear, and finished the descent back to the car. In total, the descent took about an hour and a half. We reached the taxi, had a few snacks, and made a quick pit stop at the nearby turquoise glacial lake to take a few pictures, then we were on our way home. We finished the two-hour drive and were in our apartment in Huaraz again by 1 pm. It was a short but amazing and exhausting day!
Climbing Nevado Mateo is honestly one of the most fun and most beautiful things I’ve done in our four months in Peru. If you’re in Huaraz, definitely don’t miss it. Nevado Mateo is safe and fairly easy, and a perfect first ice climb for beginners. Do your research to find a good agency, and I promise you’ll have an absolute blast!
All my love,
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