Tom Livingstone and Matt Glenn claimed the first ascent of the north pillar of Tengkangpoche (21,283 ft.) in Nepal’s Khumbu Valley. But controversy surrounding a ‘stolen’ gear cache has tainted their ascent.
On October 30, Tom Livingstone and Matt Glenn stood atop the north pillar of Tengkangpoche after a 7-day first ascent bid. The two climbers benefited heavily from the goodwill of two previous hopefuls for their success and expressed their gratitude via Instagram.
By all accounts, it was a sterling accomplishment: technically challenging, high-altitude, and sustained. And the feature had previously stifled the likes of Ueli Steck and Will Gadd.
However, the first ascent (FA) team’s questionable use of a gear cache left behind by Quentin Roberts and Jesse Huey immediately stirred the pot. Accusations that Livingstone and Glenn had arrived unprepared, and then stole from said cache, swirled around the internet.
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Patently, Roberts and Huey never gave Livingstone and Glenn permission to raid their cache.
Roberts and a previous partner, Juho Knuuttila, had come up painfully short of the summit on their 2019 Tengkangpoche bid. In 2020, Roberts returned with Huey but got shut down by bad weather. Vowing to return the following season, they elected to stash food, stove gas, pitons, climbing shoes, and other gear low on the wall.
Livingstone and Glenn beat them to it and made effective use of it, reaching the summit by avoiding a blank section near the top that had turned back Roberts and Knuuttila. They also did it with substantial beta, generously provided by Roberts (for which Livingstone repeatedly thanked him).
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Certainly, Livingstone and Glenn hadn’t stolen the mountain from Roberts and Huey. But had they stolen the gear? And if so, what were the ramifications?
‘Slimy’ but Successful: A Divisive First Ascent
The internet is a prickly place to hash out climbing ethics. Roberts registered a strong kneejerk reaction to Livingstone’s act of propriety. In a text included in an article by Andrew Bisharat on Evening Sends, he said:
“The ethics of these things are so weird. Nobody owns the mountain but maybe we do have ownership over our process? … Guy is so slimy. Got a sword in my stomach but got to keep a straight face.”
Bisharat’s article also shared that Livingstone privately admitted he knew the swipe was “a bit of a dick move.” And many of the 200+ comments on Livingstone’s Tengkangpoche FA announcement bear that attitude out.
Livingstone promptly addressed the gathering storm via his blog. He sought to set the record straight, especially in terms of the advantage the cache had provided him and Glenn. Based on his report, the loot itself is nothing to get excited about.
The entire catalog consisted of 10 energy bars and gels plus two freeze-dried meals (which Roberts acknowledged had “gone bad”), two rusted stove gas canisters, two pitons, an étrier, and two jumars.
They used the boosted food and gas on just 2 days out of seven. And they used the borrowed gear to supplement their own — not as emergency replacements for the equipment they’d neglected to bring, as previously alleged.
Finally, Livingstone apologized and promised to replace the borrowed items.
Gear Caches, Ethics, and Fair Game: Conclusions on Tengkangpoche FA
But had Roberts and Huey “stashed” their kit for later, or effectively dumped it in the wilderness? There’s no questioning that the two intended to come back for it — but, as Livingstone pointed out in his blog, intent is different than action.
Caches left behind by climbers with good intentions routinely get left in the mountains for a multitude of reasons. If you leave something behind in the mountains, it’s impossible to guarantee that you will get back to it.
Thus, some other climbers never saw a problem with Livingstone and Glenn’s ethics.
Colin Haley, whose long resume includes the first solo ascent of Torre Egger, leveraged his experience on Facebook. “Gear that was left on the mountain by a different party the previous season” is fair game, he argued.
He also pointed out that the practice is relatively common in alpine climbing, which takes place in arenas that demand more decisive behavior than their front-country counterparts.
Haley also acknowledged that backcountry gear caches are only questionably ethical in principle. Then he concluded: “… nothing big going on here: A couple guys left a gear cache on a mountain, hoping to eventually retrieve it, and a couple other guys took stuff from it the next season.”
In the end, the “nothing big” attitude seems to have won out regarding the Tengkangpoche FA. In the wee hours of November 3, Roberts appeared to put the controversy to rest:
“This debacle has gone rogue! Everybody please, please settle down,” he wrote on Instagram. “They did take from my cache without permission, but they also had gear at camp and could have climbed the route without that stuff. I do think that the beta I put online, and shared with Tom was more important to their success than the gear.”
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Roberts added: “Tom, Matt, and I have spoken, and realized that so much of this came down to poor communication between us. When passion is added to the mix, it is especially important to be clear with one another.”
“Massive Attack,” by Tom Livingstone and Matt Glenn, remains ungraded by the first ascensionists. The nearly 5,000-foot route, as climbed by Roberts and Knuuttila to an altitude of 19,455 feet, goes at 5.11 A3 M7.