Nevado Veronica (originally called “Wakaywillque” by the Incas, translating to “Sacred Tears”) is an emblematic peak in the Cordillera Urubamba that stands guard over the passes to the jungle close to Machu Picchu. Almost every visitor to the area will see it looming over the Sacred Valley. Most of the climbs on Nevado Veronica have been on the northern side, a couple have climbed the SW ridge, but the mountain is not climbed often.

Veronica taken from the plane arriving to Cusco, by Kerly Heald

Notable Ascents:

1st Ascent: May 15th, 1956 by Lionel Terray (France), Raymond Jenny (Swiss), Cornelius Egeler, Tom DeBooy (Dutch) and Eliseo Vargas (Peru) on the Northeast ridge.

American Alpine Journal 1957, pg. 167

Cornelius Egeler account in Dutch Magazine “De Berggids”, Sept 1956, pg. 175-178.

2nd ascent: K. Schafer and Wagner (Swiss), July 1963
The second ascent of Nevado Veronica was by the Swiss team: K. Schafer and Wagner, in July of 1963. They did not appear in AAJ but told the editor Evelio Echevarria of the Survey of Andean Ascents 1961-1970 through personal correspondence.

Notable Attempt: Scottish Andean Expedition 1964,
UK Alpine Journal 1965 pg. 240-245, Malcolm Slesser – The Andes are Prickly 1966

3rd ascent: Koichi Iwatami y Hajime Tanaka (Japan) – September 6, 1967
From a base camp at Chillca in the sacred valley they climbed Marconi, Bonanta and the Southwest Ridge of Veronica using 3 bivouacs above base camp.

4th ascent: Eugeniusz Chrobak, Roman Gutkowski,
Tadeusz Laukajtys and Ludwik Wilczyñski (Poland)
September 14th, 1973
This route traverses along the north face, underneath the NE Ridge.

5th ascent: Richard Toon (England) and Tom Hendrickson (USA) – August 26th, 1977
South West ridge

6th ascent: After this I cant find a report of an ascent until 20th of October 2009!
Locals from Cusco Alfredo Zuñiga and Jorge Sirvas climbed what appears to be another line, further to the right on the North face to the NE ridge.

Jorge Sirvas on the summit, photo by Alfredo Zuñiga

I had already climbed the normal North face to NE ridge route of Nevado Veronica a handfull of times over the last decade (2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2018) years and had the opportunity to see another approach from high on the mountain, the East face on the other side of the NE ridge. I just had to wait for the opportunity to climb it.

On one of these trips we got a GPS altitude reading of 5,911 meters above sea level, making it higher than Nevado Sawasiray (5,818m) at the eastern end of the Urubamba range. Many older sources said that Sahuasiray was the highest in the range and that Nevado Veronica was only 5,682m or 5,750m high; but I believe that Veronica is higher after having confirmed the higher altitude a few times with different devices.

Another ascent of the NE ridge was made by Oriol Baro and Jordi Marmolejo (Spain) in late June 2019.

The author on the summit with Salkantay in the background

A great summary of ascents can be found on the blog “Andes Info” here in Spanish:ónica

Nevado Veronica North East Face
(Red: 1st ascent route 1956) (Yellow: Polish ascent 1973) (Purple: direct variation author has climbed and guided 5 times)

East face to NE ridge (900m, D)
September 12-15, 2021
Nathan Heald and Urs Jermann

In August 2021 Urs Jermann, from Switzerland contacted me about climbing Nevado Veronica and Salkantay in September. Being an avid climber it looked like a good fit, so when he arrived in Urubamba I asked if he was interested in going on this new route.

On September 12th Urs, our porter Macario Crispin and I went towards the Malaga pass but got off well before at the community of “Collpa”, at the entrance to a steep valley going west. We skirted around an installation for excavating construction material and started through the forest on intermittent trails that came to dead ends. There usually are game trails that go up into these high Andean valleys, used by cow herders but the problem is finding where they start. After fighting through the forest for 40 mintues we spotted the trail off to our left and began to gain altitude quickly. But the rain started falling and we hid under a large boulder roof. It cleared and we went higher but had to repeat again when the valley leveled out to a big flat area. Above us the clouds hung at the level of the glacier, so we made camp at 4,500, without commiting to any one way through the rock bands.

The following day it was still cloudy but was gettting progressively better. So we went up a sharp central ridge in the face for the most part easy, but at one spot having to traverse an exposed section of steep rock with loose snow on top. Where the ridge disappeard into the face just at the glacier we found a perfect well protected campsite (4,900m) and got to bed early after a few glimpses of the higher parts of the mountain.

Urs and I got moving at 1am, the climbing started right away with a full pitch of Alpine Ice 3 to gain the glacial plateau. Then we picked our way through the path of least resistance navigating serac fields and crossing from left to right on the face and going quickly through debris fields under the seracs on the central buttress. At 5,300m we turned up and left and wove through big seracs with short steep sections and even a tunnel to gain an upper ice field, below the final summit pyramid of the East face. It was just before dawn broke that we stopped and assessed the situation at 5,500m.

I wanted to go on a more direct route straight up the final part of the East face, but Urs was a bit tired and the upper shoulder of the known NE ridge was just off to our right so I gave him the decision. We got up on the ridge and moved well until a crevasse break in the ridge obligated us to swing out wide right and then come back left to gain the ridge again spending a lot of time in doing so.

Then again we couldn’t follow the ridge and had to swing out again and climb the final 300 meters on the north face to the summit, arriving at 9:30am. The weather was great up high and all the land had a blanket of clouds below, but it was somewhat windy and we only stayed for half an hour on top.

The descent was fine for a while but as we descended the clouds socked us in and made it difficult to find our tracks again. We slowed down considerably, trying to go back the same way and not get lost in a maze of crevasses. After several short rappels of 20-30 meters through the serac maze, we came to the debris fields. At this point I decided to go first to find what was left of our tracks, most of which had disappeared and Urs couldnt see the way. I told him to keep a tight rope and not to descend until I was descending also, so there wouldn’t be a bunch of slack on the line.

Just as night fell, I stopped to study where to go next and in a moment of impatience Urs came down behind me and slipped when his foot went into a shallow crevasse and he started sliding. With all the slack in the rope he slid 25 meters down the ice into a gulley before the rope went tight after catching on an ice horn a few meters above me. I waited and braced for more but the pulling stopped there and I heard Urs yelling down below. I moved up a step, but he screamed louder so I put in an ice screw and tranferred his weight onto it before going over to the ice horn to inspect it. It looked solid enough but just in case I put in another screw with a prusik to grab the rope on the other side and began to downclimb to his position. I arrived below to see him hanging upside down with the rope wrapped around his feet and his face all bloody, but relatively unhurt. I secured myself and started the process of transferring his weight to a screw more dierctly above him to flip him right side up, which only took ten to fifteen minutes but must have seemed like a long time for him as the blood rushed to his head.

After getting untangled and right side up we checked for major injuries, luckily he was okay except for his scraped face and left thumb which he couldn’t bend. I climbed back up to the ice horn and belayed him, so we could continue, this time with only a few meters of rope between us. My headlamp batteries started to die as we found our way back with only a few tracks that the wind hadn’t blown away since the morning, but after another hour we found the rappel just above camp and made a v-thread. Macario was flashing his headlamp to signal where was the safest spot to go down and finally we were back at camp at around 9pm after 20 hours on the mountain. We threw our gear on the ground outside the tent, drank some soup and passed out as it started to snow.

We awoke as the sun hit the tent in the morning, groggily I looked over at the dried blood caked onto Urs face as if he’d been in a melee. Outside we dried our snow covered gear the best we could and with Macarios help descended the rock buttress rapidly, making a rappel to get down the steep section. It took only a couple hours to descend 1,600 meters below to the road. Overall the altitude gain was 2,600m (8,528ft) from the road to the summit!

Urs and Macario

Urs thumb was not broken, but did have ligament damage, so the doctors in Cusco put a cast on his arm. Since he couldn’t grab ice tools with both hands, something as technical as Salkantay was out of the question so we saw what other options he liked. Over the next couple weeks we went on to climb the Volcanoes Chachani (6,075m) and Hualca Hualca (6,070m) above the Colca Canyon in the Arequipa region, and then Soray peak (5,446m) and Jatunjasa (5,350m) close to Salkantay.

Nevado Veronica photo by Nathan Heald
(SW ridge on left) (Unclimbed South face and SE ridge) (East face and NE ridge on right)

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