Italians Fabrizio Manoni, Enrico Rosso, and Paolo Stoppini attempted the long, unclimbed east ridge of Nevado Santa Cruz, which begins with a steep triangular rock buttress. They first climbed the right flank of the buttress, starting at 5,100m, and established a high camp at 5,530m, before returning to base for a rest. They regained the camp and the following day continued up the north flank of the buttress, over snow and ice to 80°, before making a 90° exit onto the ridge at 5,800m, just north of the ice-dolloped buttress top. They could see the way ahead was badly corniced and the flanks of the ridge unclimbable. However, they could also see an excellent line on the east face of Santa Cruz Chico. They changed their goal.
Despite the Santa Cruz Group being one of the most popular in the Blanca, Santa Cruz Chico (Atuncocha), which lies on the ridge between Nevado Santa Cruz and Santa Cruz Norte, has rarely been ascended. Before 2000 there was only one route on the mountain, and it is likely that no one has ever trod the highest point. Chico was first climbed during the productive 1958 North American Andean expedition. David Michael and Irene and Leigh Ortenburger spent 12 hours on the icy northeast face, reaching the north ridge and continuing along the crest until three or four m below the huge cornice forming the summit.
In 2002 the very steep, mixed, 450-500m east face was climbed by Scots Jason Currie and Guy Robertson, on their second attempt. After 600m of climbing at TD, they were forced to stop 20m short of the highest point due to unstable cornices. Due to the rocky nature of the face, the Scots were of an opinion that a logical central line will most likely vary over time, due to changing snow/ice cover.
On June 16 Manoni, Rosso, and Stoppini climbed the next gully to the left (with a step of 90°), before moving left again onto the face. Continuous ice climbing, with one vertical section, led to the huge capping seracs. Here they were forced to make a long, intricate traverse right, crossing serac walls (90°), to join the Scottish route, which they followed to the summit ridge. The Italians too were faced with a summit meringue 10m high and stopped immediately below, as it was too unstable to climb.