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National Army Museum
  • 10.00am - 5.30pm
  • FREE
  • Chelsea, London

Special Forces

Bronco Lane: Everest adventurer

Warning: This article contains some graphic content.

Major Michael Patrick Lane aka Bronco

Major Michael Patrick 'Bronco' Lane, c1970s


Michael Patrick Lane, nicknamed 'Bronco', joined the British Army aged 16 in November 1961. Initially in the 7th Parachute Regiment, Royal Horse Artillery, he was selected for the Special Air Service (SAS) in 1967.

He served in several campaigns including the Aden Emergency (1963-67) and Northern Ireland (1969-2007). But in 1967 he found himself in an SAS Mountain Troop where his interest in adventure really developed.

In 1968 Bronco joined the Army Mountaineering Association. Between 1972 and 1975 he took part in expeditions to the Canadian Arctic, the Indian Himalayas and the Nuptse mountain range in Nepal.

Sport, adventure training and participation in expeditions are important parts of life in the modern British Army. These activities develop soldierly qualities such as leadership, fitness, physical and moral courage, initiative, powers of endurance, teamwork and independence.

Mount Everest

Mount Everest

Mount Everest

Everest expedition

In 1976 Bronco joined the first all-military expedition to climb Mount Everest. He reached the summit along with Sergeant John 'Brummie' Stokes. But on the way down terrible weather forced them to spend the night in a snow hole.

With his fellow climber suffering from snow blindness and breathing becoming difficult, Bronco had to remove his glove to open an oxygen bottle. After an hour, his hand was frozen. By the morning, both mens' feet were badly frostbitten. 

‘Totally exhausted in the darkness we huddled facing each other sitting on our sacks with the bottle between us... In total desperation, I took off my outer mitt and wearing just my thin contact glove was able to get a sound coupling. We swapped over the mask every few minutes throughout the long night.’
Major Bronco Lane interviewed about the expedition, 2009

Ice axe used by Bronco Lane on the expedition to Everest, 1976

Bronco's frostbitten toes

Bronco’s frostbitten toes

Bronco's frostbitten toes

Missing digits

On his return to Britain in the summer of 1976, doctors attempted to save Bronco's frostbitten digits. Unfortunately, the warm weather didn't work in his favour. He reported a tingling sensation in one foot and found it infested with maggots. Naturally, he removed them with a cocktail stick! 

Bronco eventually had all ten toes surgically removed. He also lost the fingertips of his right hand. 

It took six months for Bronco's amputated stumps to heal. He returned to active service soon after.

Bronco's frostbitten fingertips

Giving us a hand

Now the owner of 15 amputated digits, Bronco had them preserved in formaldehyde. He initially lent them to the Wellcome Collection. But after returning from display, they ended up in Bronco's garage. 

In 2000, the National Army Museum approached Bronco for some memorabilia to commemorate his Everest expedition. He gave us his fingers and toes!

‘I haven't got any use for them any more and I thought it would be nice to see them exhibited.’
Major Bronco Lane, 2000

Intending to display these frostbitten body parts in the Soldier gallery, we recently sent them to UCL's Pathology Collection to be cleaned and remounted. The fluid they were stored in had become discoloured and pieces of tissue were flaking off. 

Watch the video below to see how the conservation work transformed them, giving a fresh and clean appearance.

Return to Everest

In 2006, the British Army marked the 30th anniversary of the Everest climb with a new challenge. It was an ambitious attempt to climb the most difficult route to the summit, the West Ridge. Only 13 climbers had ever successfully climbed this route before; none of them British.

Unfortunately, conditions were against the 2006 team too. After three years of preparation, the team had to stop just short of the summit.

Bronco continued mountaineering. In 1984 he led another expedition to Everest. He has also taken part in several expeditions to Antartica.

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