Tales from the Mountains

Nepal is home to one of the most spectacular mountain ranges in the world, so it is perhaps unsurprising that Gurkha association with mountaineering runs deep in its veins. Two of the earliest attempts to summit Mount Everest were led by a British Gurkha Officer, Brigadier-General Charles Bruce, of 6th Gurkha Rifles, back in 1922 and 1924. Both expeditions were supported by Gurkhas and Nepalese porters, and although ultimately unsuccessful, marked an early association between Gurkhas and Everest. The Army Mountaineering Association was formed in 1957 however the British Army can trace its links to mountaineering much further back than then. The Army were closely involved in many climbing initiatives from the early 1900’s, which included a strong involvement in the large pre-World War Two reconnaissance expeditions to Everest. During the Second World War, the British Army fielded a Division of Mountain Trained troops, and by 1957 the Army had mounted a number of successful expeditions around the world, including Lieutenant James Waller’s and Lieutenant John Hunt’s trip to climb K36 (Saltoro Kangri) in Baltistan. Lieutenant (later Colonel and Lord) Hunt would subsequently become the successful leader of the 1953 Everest expedition.

Many Gurkhas have gone to do incredible things on the mountains, inspired by their homeland, ancestors, and military counterparts before them. In this exhibition we highlight some of the most incredible individuals past and present who pushed themselves and achieved great things on the mountains. With all of our online exhibitions we are delighted to share this free of charge. If you can give a donation to support the Museum and help us continue celebrating, honouring, and promoting the Gurkha soldier and his service to Britain, we would be very grateful.

Remarkable Feats | Breaking records on the mountains

Hari Budha Magar

Born in a remote part of Nepal in the foothills of the Himalayas, Hari Budha Magar fulfilled his fathers dream and became a Gurkha at the age of 19.

Whilst serving in Afghanistan in 2010, Hari stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED) and lost both his legs from the knee. Since being discharged from the army, Magar has gone from strength to strength taking part in a variety of adventure sports including, climbing, kayaking and skiing. However his greatest physical achievement to date was when he became the first double amputee above the knee to summit a mountain taller than 6000m, Mera Peak.

He was also influential in overturning the 2017 ban that stopped solo, blind and amputee climbers from taking on Everest.

Find out more about all of this as well as his next challenge in our exclusive interview with him.

Nims Purja

One of the most remarkable feats of mountaineering in recent years was the record-breaking ascent of 14 of the world’s highest mountains in just one climbing season. The challenge, Project Possible, was carried out in 2019 by Nims Purja MBE, a former Gurkha and SBS soldier, who shattered the previous speed record of just under eight years by completing the feat in an astonishing six months and six days.

’14 Peaks: Anything is Possible’, his film documenting the project, is currently available on Netflix.

More recently still, Nims became one of the first mountaineers ever to summit K2 during the winter season. K2, the second highest mountain in the world but arguably the most challenging, was the last of the 8000m peaks to remain unclimbed in winter until the successful summit in January 2021.

Find out more about Nims here

Stories from History | Standing on the shoulders of giants

Gurkha Soldiers and the Anglo-Bhutan War of 1864-65

Similar to Nepal in many respects, the state of Bhutan was the site of a brief but intense war which involved several Gurkha units in 1864 and 1865. In response to a history of raids south into British Indian territory and to perceived slights against British envoys involved in ongoing civil conflicts within Bhutan, the Governor-General of India ordered a declaration of war on Bhutan in November of 1864.

A Victoria Cross in Tibet – Gurkhas and Mountain Warfare

Gurkhas have many traits and many skills that set them head and shoulders above their counterparts in the battle. Coming from the hilly country of Nepal, skills in mountain warfare are one of them. The below story tells how the mountain warfare skills of a Gurkha solider and officer, won a close fought battle between Gurkhas and Tibetan soldiers. With Grant and Havildar Pun’s bravery and skills eventually taking the fortress of Gyantse Jong.

Brigadier-General Charles Granville Bruce

Charles Bruce, born in Aberdare in 1866 to a wealthy coal-mining family, developed a taste for extreme sports early in his life, boxing, fencing and running down poachers on his father’s land. Joining the Indian Army in 1888, Bruce put his great strength and speed to good use, quickly taking up the local sports of wrestling and climbing. He soon joined the 5th Goorkha Regiment and took a profound interest in the lives and welfare of his Gurkha soldiers, becoming fluent in Nepali.

Olympic Medal for Alpinism

The Olympic prize for Alpinism was awarded between 1924 and 1936 for the most notable mountaineering feats accomplished in the four years leading up to the Olympic games.

This medal was awarded to Naik Tejbir Bura of 6th Gurkha Rifles as one of the participants of the unsuccessful 1922 Mt Everest expedition led by Brigadier-General Bruce.

Ice Axe of Tenzing Norgay

Sherpa Tenzing Norgay was born Namgyal Wangdi in Khumbu, north-eastern Nepal. Like many Sherpas Tenzing sought to begin a career in mountaineering, signing on at age 20 with the 1935 British Mount Everest Expedition under Eric Shipton. For the next 20 years Norgay served as a guide and porter on three further British mountaineering expeditions, and took part in his first Everest Summit attempt in 1947.

In 1952 Norgay took part in two Swiss Everest attempts as a full expedition member, rather than simply as a porter, and helped open up new climbing routes from the Nepalese side of the mountain. In 1953 Norgay took part in another expedition on Everest led by British mountaineer John Hunt. He quickly gained a rapport with New Zealand mountaineer Edmund Hillary, who selected him as a climbing partner for any attempt on the summit. After dealing with adverse weather conditions both Hillary and Tenzing made a final, successful attempt in the summit of Everest, reaching it at 11:30am on the 29th of May 1953.

Recent Success Stories | Staying on top

Major Gethin Davies

Major Gethin Davies has 13 climbing expeditions to his name out in Nepal. After climbing Everest in 2019, he chose the summit as the unique place to announce his new child to the world.

Davies has been chosen to lead the British Army’s expedition back to Nepal in April 2022 as they attempt to summit two unclimbed peaks.

Find out more about in our exclusive interview with him as well as photos of his snow boots helmet and oxygen mask.

Mountaineer stood on Everest with sonogram

Gurkhas summit Everest - 2017

In 2015, the 200th year anniversary of Gurkha service to the crown, the Brigade set out to scale Everest with the aim of placing the first serving Gurkhas at the summit. The majority of the team were at Everest Base Camp when the fateful earthquake struck Nepal on 25 April 2015, causing a devastating avalanche that ended the expedition as the team’s efforts were redirected towards rescuing injured climbers on the mountain. On 15 May 2017, the team returned and made history when they successfully placed nine Gurkhas and four British team members on the summit.

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Adrian Hayes: K2 - The tragedy and the triumph

Adrian Hayes served in the British Army for 11 years, as a Gurkha Officer with 7th Duke of Edinburgh’s Own Gurkha Rifles and for two years in the Special Forces, retiring in 1994.

Adrian is a British record-breaking adventurer, author, keynote speaker, leadership and team consultant & coach, documentary presenter, social commentator and campaigner. His adventuring achievements include trekking to both Poles, crossing the length of Greenland and the Arabian Desert and summiting Everest and K2.

He has set two Guinness World Records, the first for reaching the Earth’s ‘three poles’ (skiing to the North Pole, South Pole and summitting Everest) in the shortest period of time in history. The second for the longest unsupported journey in Arctic history with his Greenland vertical crossing.

A Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, his first book, Footsteps of Thesiger, was published in 2013, and details his 44-day journey across the Arabian Desert. His second book, One Man’s Climb: A Journey of Trauma, Tragedy and Triumph on K2, was published in 2019.

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