Tengkampoche NE Pillar: Was the Route “Poached”?

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Tengkampoche's north side, during Roberts & Knuutilla's 2019 attempt. Photo: Juho Knuutilla/AAC

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“A lot of your food…was going out of date [so] we ate the bars, gels, and a couple of the freeze-dried meals,” Livingstone wrote.

Exactly 28 protein bars, plus gels and fuel, and not going out-of-date at all, Bisharat noted.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

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About the Author

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides

Senior journalist, published author and communication consultant. Specialized on high-altitude mountaineering, with an interest for everything around the mountains: from economics to geopolitics. After five years exploring distant professional ranges, I returned to ExWeb BC in 2018. Feeling right at home since then!

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jams
jams
28 days ago

A very dick move, two English tossers.

+1
Tee Ar
Tee Ar
28 days ago

It’s not that this sort of thing is new, it’s long been an ugly part of the game, it’s that the ‘community’ never seems to grow out of it despite the world never in history being so open to new route potential. When the sport’s ‘ambassadors’ are fine doing it why should anyone else be otherwise?

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Geoffrey Eble
Geoffrey Eble
27 days ago
Reply to  Tee Ar

Incorrect. There’s always been competition between parties for first ascents, such as in Yosemite big wall climbing, but parties never looted their competitors’ caches!

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Matt
Matt
28 days ago

“Sorry guys, we climbed your route!” was not a quote from the UK climbers, and extremely misleading to put it in large font. As they themselves say: “the idea that investing time and money into a mountain makes it (or any other line) more ‘yours’ seems to be more entitled than anything we’ve done or said”.

I understand that Exweb likes to stir things up a bit to increase traffic, but may I regardless suggest an update of this update to, dare I say, give it a bit of balance?

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Last edited 28 days ago by Matt
glu
glu
28 days ago
Reply to  Matt

I disagree that it’s “extremely misleadning”, the actual quote is “I’m really sorry – we just climbed Tengkangpoche north east pillar.”, is that not pretty much the same thing? Anyway, it’s not climbing the same route that is the problem here but stealing their stashed gear obviously..

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Pure Gold
Pure Gold
28 days ago

Wow! Incredibly strong Dick d’Or award contenders!

+1
Craig Quigley
Craig Quigley
28 days ago

Sounds like sour grapes to me. They shouldn’t be leaving all that trash on the mountain anyway, no one is ever a 100% certain to comeback and use/dispose of it.

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Paulo
Paulo
28 days ago

The first climbers on the wall deserve the credit for this route. In this case, I think an “almost did it” is a lot more valuable than the dishonest climb of the entire route. I feel ashamed how some climbers think ethics are something not to care about.

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Jake
Jake
27 days ago

Here is Colin Haley’s thoughts on the drama. I found this interesting and worth reading, and thought i’d share here: “A few hours ago I heard about Tom Livingstone and Matt Glenn’s successful ascent of Tengkampoche’s northeast pillar. I was naturally a bit envious of their achievement, but also impressed and surprised. Checking back into the internet an hour ago, I see the social media storm that has been brewing surrounding one detail of their ascent: that they used some gear that had been left low on the wall by Quentin Roberts and Jesse Huey. I know that the safest… Read more »

Last edited 27 days ago by Jake
Trish
Trish
27 days ago
Reply to  Jake

Great job Jake! I’m glad you posted a voice of reason in this dumpster fire. Thank you for your wisdom.

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Benny Smith
Benny Smith
27 days ago
Reply to  Jake

Thanks for the clarification. As a friend of the guys involved, this helps to clarify things. In the end, nothing really bad happened…

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gian piero
gian piero
27 days ago

Nothing new. For example, when Bonatti, Mazeaud and their partners retired from the Freney pylon, Bonington and Desmaison with respective teams went up immediately after, using material on site without any respect for the tragedy that had occurred. Mountaineering is also this!

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Vladi
Vladi
27 days ago

from Tom Livigstone website: We ate about 10 energy bars and gels from Quentin and Jesse’s pack. In Quentin’s own words, they had ‘gone bad.’ They had expiry dates around summer 2021. We ate two freeze dried meals which had a similar expiry date. The two gas canisters were very rusted and corroded (particularly around the threads, and would likely become dangerous soon, but they seemed to work ok for now). We borrowed two pegs, an etrier (not two) and two jumars. We only ate their food and used their gas for our second and third day, and then ate… Read more »

Don Paul
Don Paul
27 days ago

Seems over the line even if the powerbars had expired. Not the worst thing I’ve heard of. That would be, the climbers walking by dying people on their way up Mt. Everest. They could have at least replenished it somehow after they descended. The punishment should be: that whoever cares about or keeps track of these first ascents always notes that the first ascent was done with stolen gear, which was stolen from other climbers trying to get the first ascent.

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