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Is The Himalaya’s Next Great Challenge Even Possible?

There are iconic unclimbed peaks, faces, and features that captivate the collective imagination of the mountain-climbing establishment at different times, precisely because of their apparent impregnability, their stubborn resistance to repeated attempts by would-be summitters. With each failed attempt, the allure and mystique of such peaks, whether in the Karakoram, Himalaya, or elsewhere, grow. Challenges such as K2 in winter fit this mold. On a more technical level, Link Sar or the still-unclimbed (to the summit) North Ridge of Latok 1 follow the same script, sometimes resisting the best efforts of dozens of expeditions. Conrad Anker famously needed three attempts to tame the Shark’s Fin on Meru, even while others attempted the same feature. 

Could a little-known peak called Tengkangpoche (6,487 meters)—or, more specifically, the North Pillar of Tengkanpoche—be one of the next biggest challenges in the Himalaya? The North Pillar of Tengkangpoche (pronounced Teng-Kang-Po-Chay) is a soaring monolithic buttress that looks as difficult as it is, and is proving a vexsome riddle for even the best alpinists to solve.

Quentin Roberts (right) and Jesse Huey in front of the North Pillar of Tengkangpoche.
Quentin Roberts (right) and Jesse Huey in front of the North Pillar of Tengkangpoche. Photo: Quentin Roberts

“I really do think it’s one of the great problems of the Himalayas,” says the Welsh climber Quentin Roberts, 29. He should know: Roberts has waged two campaigns on Tengkangpoche’s North Pillar, and gotten further than anyone else on his 2019 expedition with Finnish climber Juho Knuutilla.

Just a week ago, Roberts and his American partner Jesse Huey returned to North American soil after a nearly two-month expedition trying to climb the North Pillar. Though unsuccessful, they feel encouraged by their fast pace on the terrain that they did climb, and the thought that—if weather cooperates on a future trip—they might be able to take it to the top.

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