Dispute over first ascent on Tengkangpoche defused

Tengkangpoche
Tengkangpoche (on the right the Northeast Pillar)

It reminds me a little of the video proof introduced in European football. Spontaneous joy in the stadium over a goal is hardly possible anymore, because in the back of the mind there is always the thought: Hopefully the video assistant referee won’t take the goal back.

In mountaineering, there is no such referee, but when I hear about a success, I think more and more often: That sounds great, but maybe I should wait and see before reacting enthusiastically. Social media is a key contributor to this reticence. To put it drastically: No sooner is a sow on the market than it is driven through the village with a loud roar – and is difficult to catch again.

This is what happened after Tom Livingstone announced yesterday that he and his British compatriot Matt Glenn had succeeded in making the first ascent of the technically demanding Northeast Pillar of the 6,487-meter-high Tengkangpoche in Nepal. A little later, an article was published on the portal “Evening Sends” under the title: “Poaching on Tengkangpoche: A ‘slimy’ first ascent”.

Trust betrayed?

Tom Livingstone (r.) and Matt Glenn in front of the Northeast Pillar of Tengkangpoche.

It quoted from an email Tom sent to Canadian Quentin Roberts and American Jesse Huey. The two climbers had left an equipment deposit on the lower part of Tengkangpoche Northeast Pillar after a failed attempt, for their next expedition. Tom informed Quentin and Jesse that Matt and he had taken from it some energy bars and two portions of freeze-dried food – expiration date already passed or about to be – and two rusty gas cartridges.

He added that they also had borrowed two pegs, two jumars and an etrier, which they would now be happy to leave in Thame, the village near Tengkangpoche, or in Kathmandu for Roberts and Huey. Livingstone thanked the two climbers in the message for “all the information” they had given them about the pillar.

Roberts then accused Livingstone of “weird ethics,” saying, “(I) Wouldn’t have shared so much about the route if I truly thought someone was going to do that!” On the web, Livingstone and Glenn were called “thieves” after the article was published: not only of equipment, but also of ideas.

Mutual accusations

On the summit ridge

Livingstone disagreed. He had climbed with Roberts several times in 2019, he wrote: “I’ve always been completely honest with him and I said from the very beginning of my plans for a trip to Nepal that I was interested in TKP (Tengkangpoche) as a potential objective, amongst other mountains.” Tom apologized for having taken food and gas from the depot, as well as borrowed the gear, without first asking permission. “We regret this and, as previously offered, will replace it completely.”

Livingstone would not let the accusation of lack of honesty and ethics stand, but returned it to Roberts and Huey. It was unfair, he said, to go straight to the public instead of trying to have a direct conversation. Moreover, Roberts himself had played with wrong cards, Livingstone accused: “Quentin has repeatedly said this mountain shouldn’t be climbed using bolts (“by pure means [no bolts] or not at all.”) Matt and I were therefore dismayed to find a hand drill and bolts in the discarded pack when we looked inside.”

Livingston also criticized (rightly, in my view) the bad habit of many climbers of leaving back depots on Himalayan mountains for possible later expeditions: “I know many, many climbers who have left gear on the mountain, promising they’d go back, but have never returned for a multitude of reasons.”

Poor communication

According to Quentin, he has since spoken with Livingstone and Glenn about their dispute. They had “realized that so much of this came down to poor communication between us,” Roberts wrote on Instagram today. “When passion is added to the mix, it is especially important to be clear with one another. We were obviously not clear enough, and that has created two angles of the same story. – Let’s all remember that good people do stupid things.” The issue, he said, has gone rogue. “Everybody please, please settle down.” I can only agree with that. But the joy is still kind of gone. Too bad.