Tengkampoche NE Pillar: Was the Route “Poached”?

UPDATE: Late today, Tom Livingstone posted a response on his website to the allegations below.

The first ascent of Tengkampoche’s NE Pillar by Tom Livingstone and Matt Glenn was supposed to be one of the climbs of the year. It still is. But the style is not as pure as previously thought.

Neither are its ethics, at least according to Quentin Roberts, who had made two previous attempts on the pillar. When a cyclone foiled Roberts and partner Jesse Huey last spring, they promised that they would return. But they never expected another team to show up six months later, use the gear that they had purposely left on the wall, eat their food, and “poach” their route.

Sorry guys, we climbed your route!

It was only after they were done with the peak that Livingstone messaged Roberts and Huey, saying: “Hey, this sounds weird to write but I’m really sorry –- we just climbed Tengkangpoche northeast pillar…”

Roberts and Huey shared Livingstone’s text with climbing writer and podcaster Andrew Bisharat. He has reproduced the communication entirely on the site Evening Sends. The — quite embarrassing — read leaves no room for doubt.

Roberts and Huey had more than vaguely promised to return. The pair had fixed plans for spring 2022. Most of all, Roberts had made the effort to carry and cache lots of gear and supplies high on the route over his two previous attempts. Livingstone and Glenn, who admitted that they didn’t know the route would take that long, used and ate most of it. They also didn’t realize that they needed jumars, etriers, and pitons.

“A lot of your food…was going out of date [so] we ate the bars, gels, and a couple of the freeze-dried meals,” Livingstone wrote.

Exactly 28 protein bars, plus gels and fuel, and not going out-of-date at all, Bisharat noted.

Climbing cheeky-style

Then they added: “We didn’t have loads of food or gas to start with, so although we knew it was a bit of a dick move, we decided to use some of your stuff on our second attempt.”

Matt Glenn eats dried food on Tengkampoche’s NE Pillar. Photo: Tom Livingstone


So much for the “alpine-style” tag of the climb. Aid climbing is one thing, but using someone’s gear and food is a different story. The weight on the climbers’ backs is hugely significant. There is no info yet about whether Roberts had fixed ropes on the wall. And if so, whether the British team used them.

Needless to say, Roberts and Huey are far from happy. Roberts wonders if ethics are a thing of the past and considers the recent climb “slimy”.

Asked for beta

“[I] wouldn’t have shared so much about the route if I truly thought someone was going to do that,” the Canadian climber told Bisharat. Apparently, Livingstone had asked for info on the route, without mentioning that they had a climbing permit.

Roberts himself admits that the mountains belong to no one, and races have often been part of firsts in exploration. Witness everything from winter K2 to the Scott-Amundsen race to the South Pole. But the strategy is particularly sneaky here. The previous climbers had practically hung a “Will return” sign on the wall. Their supplies were also essential for Livingstone and Glenn to summit.

“If they had told us that they were psyched on this route, we would’ve invited them to come climb Tengkangpoche with us next spring and we could’ve all done it together,” Jesse Huey told Bisharat.

Now the route is done, and Roberts bitterly told Evening Send that “unlike Livingstone”, he has more ideas about what to do next. The next question should be, who’s gonna clean house after the party since it’s not likely that the Brits retrieved all the gear stashed on the pillar.

The debate is open, and points of view may vary. We have asked both Roberts and Livingstone for their thoughts. In the end, the sad fact is that a long-cherished first ascent of Tengkampoche’s NE Pillar has lost much of its shine.

You can read more about Quentin Roberts and Juho Knuuttila’s 2019 attempt on Tengkampoche, in which they reached 5,930m, in the American Alpine Journal.