The idea for this book was born on Mt. Everest in 1992 when Major Bronco Lane of the Special Air Service Regiment and Ned Gillete, American ski champion, author and adventurer, were gingerly making their way down the infamous Khumbu Icefall.
The two men were glad of each other's company as they made their way beneath threatening ice serac towers and across yawning crevasses. The conversation was about the British Services adventurous training system and how it inspired mountaineering on some of the world's greatest peaks.
Following his retirement Bronco Lane, who successfully climbed Everest with Brummie Stokes in 1976, "when nature had her back turned", put down his ice axe and picked up his pen. Three years of careful research and having all the right military contacts have produced this book, the first ever history of British military mountaineering.
The 296 page book, illustrated with more than 50 mostly colour photographs, covers a 50 year period from the foundation of military mountaineering in the 2nd World War to the present.
Military Mountaineering explores the three units which engage in climbing as part of their mission - The Reconnaissance Troop of 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines, Mountain Troops of Army Special Forces and Mountain Rescue Teams of the Royal Air Force - as well as many other units who have engaged in mountaineering or adventurous expeditions.
These men are climbing's "unsung heroes" who, unlike civilian climbers, have rarely told their stories. Yet, as mountaineers, they have helped to evolve climbing knowledge and expertise, sometimes in dangerous operational areas. Their training is second to none, based upon hard won experience. In addition the book covers the philosophy and importance of adventurous training in relation to service personnel.
No other country in the world allows its Armed Force's the independence and responsibility for this type of individual training. Self-funding, adventurous training aims to ensure maximum involvement by team members in all aspects of planning, preparation and implementation.
Bronco Lane explains the uniquely British method of military activity supported by the Joint Services Mountain Training Centres and the command and co-ordination of adventurous training led by the Physical Training Branch of each Service.
Military Mountaineering has been reviewed by the Ministry of Defence and is the definitive record of miliatry mountaineering and adventurous training over the latter half of the 20th century. As such the book describes the key events and the people who have moulded the units and adventurous training into its present form.
With a preface by the current Chairman of the Army Mountaineering Association and a comprehensive index, the book is not only fascinating reading but also an excellent reference book.
Bronco Lane writes in a clear, concise style. His accounts are factual and authoritative based as they are on military records, but they are never dull. The text is sprinkled with a good helping of humour, as well as some amazing tales of endurance and, inevitably, the occasional tragedy.
It is a book which will appeal to service people, to civilian climbers and to all who have an interest in the wild places of this world. The photographs, mostly supplied by kind permission of the Ministry of Defence, are of top quality and speak for themselves.
Military Mountaineering was published in July this year and launched at the Royal Geographical Society. Above all, Military Mountaineering is a soldier's straight forward account of some quite exceptional men in exceptional circumstances. It is a story of which our Armed Services can justifiably be proud.
Bronco Lane is an exceptional soldier whose spirit of adventure and readiness to take risks has led him to the most extreme and dangerous places on earth - including the summit of Mt. Everest. General Michael Rose
Bronco brings a freshness and a different style; there has never been anything like this before...It's quite remarkable what military expeditions have done over the years. Doug Scott, CBE
Throughout the difficulties of putting together this extraordinary book...Bronco has shown the same grit, determination and honour that is reflected in so many of these stories. Robert Swan OBE, FRGS
BRONCO LANE was a mountain man. He and Brummie Stokes reached the summit of Mount Everest in 1976, well before the current proliferation of commercial expeditions. I am not a mountain man, but I have been to Nepal and walked, rather haphazardly, around the Annapurna circuit - a challenge that I was proud to have met.
The Army Mountaineering Association, formed in 1957, has, along with other institutions, overseen the development of mountaineering within the tree armed services. Mountaineering skills are a vital component in warfare and have been put to good use in the Balkans, Falklands and the Radfan mountains of the Aden Protectorate. The armed forces benefit hugely from allowing their men and women to face the challenge of the mountains.
The author describes the development of the Royal Marines Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre and the Royal Air Force Mountain Rescue Teams. The Army's moutain troops are not dealt with in detail, as security requiremnets demand an element of censorship. However, the majority of the book covers the expeditions involving personnel of the armed forces from 1945-1999.
I particularly enjoyed the sections covering the 1940s and 1950s. The simplicity of the equipment and the real sense of the unknown all added to the fun of climbing mountains.
The book also covers the attempts on Everest, including the successful 1953 expedition and, in more depth, the expedition of 1976. But Everest is only one, albeit substantial, challenge. As Eric Shipton said in 1953: "Thank goodness! Now we can get on with some real climbing!"
Many other challenges are described, in Greenland, Alaska, South America, Pakistan and Kyrgystan. All had their own merits and difficulties. As I found, whatever standard of climb you attempt, and whatever climbing experience you have, the challenge is fulfilling.
However, the mountains are dangerous. Many people have died on them and their stories are given the proper respect they deserve. Nor are all expeditions effective in team-bonding - as the infamous Borneo rescue drama of 1994 illustrated.
The last section of the book, on planning an expedition, should be read by anyone trying to organise a complex overseas adventure trip.
Military Mountaineering has excellent photographs and it is good fun contrasting the shots from the 1950s with those from the 1990s. Mountain expeditions have changed over the years, but because of nature, and the mountains themselves, the challenge, as Bronco Lane would support, remains the same. The Royal British Legion Magazine, January 2001