From October 24 to 30, the U.K. alpinists Matt Glenn and Tom Livingstone made the first ascent of the Northeast Pillar of Tengkangpoche (6,487 meters) in Nepal’s Khumbu Region. They christened the route Massive Attack, and while they have not explicitly provided a grade, they feel that the proposed grades of past attempts—up to 5.11, M7, and A3—are fair.
The pair arrived in Nepal at the start of October and were greeted with clear and sunny weather for acclimating. It was Glenn’s first time climbing in the Himalaya and he likened the conditions to high alpine summer: Tengkangpoche’s freezing level hovered at 5,500 meters, providing reasonable free climbing conditions with just enough snow to travel along the two major ledge systems which provide key passage up the pillar.
The Northeast Pillar of Tengkangpoche with the line of “Massive Attack” and its bivy sites. (Photo: Courtesy Tom Livingstone and Matt Glenn)
The weather remained stable for their first attempt, a two-day effort partway up the first headwall at around 5,700 meters, but Livingstone took a whipper while aiding, ripping a fixed copperhead and slicing open his little finger as he fell.
They fixed their ropes and rappelled to their bivy ledge to dress Livingstone’s wound. Returning to their highpoint, with Livingstone firmly out of leading, Glenn said the route had become doubly intimidating. “We knew that the climbing would continue to be challenging and I would be forced to lead most of it,” Glenn said. “Which [we weren’t] super keen for. Starting up this massive headwall [and] knowing that I would have to lead all of the aid.”
(Photo: Courtesy Tom Livingstone and Matt Glenn)
The pair spent the night on the ledge and decided to head down in the morning, taking all of their equipment and ropes with them. Glenn felt that there was little chance of them succeeding on a second attempt. They returned to the valley for a week and watched as their glorious weather window came to an end. The mercury dipped, and with it came an increase in wind and heavy snow. Temperatures fell as low as -13°F. But as they sat in the village, their psyche returned. Glenn said their solid first attempt, and a retreat without incident, took away some of the Pillar’s mystique and provided more answers than questions. And after some debate of other appropriate objectives, the pair felt that the Northeast Pillar was their best option.