The Royal Game: Princes Who Found Time for Adventure

Today’s passing of Prince Philip at the age of 99 got us thinking about royals (not just aristocrats or the upper class) who managed to combine their regal duties with adventure and expeditions. The late Duke of Edinburgh himself served as patron or president of over 700 organizations and charities, many of which involved adventure. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, for example, has introduced hundreds of thousands of young people to the outdoors. Others included the Mount Everest Foundation and Braemar Mountain Rescue Team in Scotland.

Royal service may have minimized any adventurous ambitions that Prince Philip may have had, but here are a few other royals who have managed to squeeze in some high old times in the wilderness. We’d be interested to hear of those we might have missed.


Prince Luigi Amedeo, Duke of Abruzzi

Prince Luigi Amedeo in full finery.

Prince Luigi Amedeo, otherwise known as the Duke of Abruzzi, was the son of King Amadeus of Spain and the cousin of Italian King Victor Emmanuel III. He is well known to those with an interest in mountaineering history. After learning how to climb in the Alps, Abruzzi made the first ascent of Mount St Elias in Canada (5,489m).

He lost two fingers to frostbite on an 1899 expedition toward the North Pole, where members of the sledding party reached latitude 86° 34’, then a new farthest north marker.

But it is his expedition to K2 for which he is largely remembered. In 1909, Abruzzi led a team that reached 6,250m on the East Ridge, now known as the Abruzzi Spur route. Of course, the prince managed to bring along a healthy supply of champagne, cognac, and other luxuries.

Prince Henry of Wales

A young Prince Harry (left). Photo: Walking With The Wounded


Prince Henry of Wales, the Duke of Sussex, known to most as Prince Harry, has always had a rebellious streak and a taste for adventure. Before giving that infamous interview to Oprah with his wife Meghan Markle, Harry served two tours of active duty in Afghanistan, including one as an Apache helicopter co-pilot and gunner. While fundraising for the military charity, Walking With The Wounded, Harry experienced polar sledding. In 2011, he joined a guided trek for the final 300km to the North Pole, although he withdrew early to attend a wedding. Two years later, in 2013, the Duke of Sussex completed a 335km guided race to the South Pole.

Rosie Stancer

Rosie Stancer. Photo Martin Hartley

Perhaps a tenuous link to royalty, but Rosie Stancer is the first cousin once removed of Queen Elizabeth II. Stancer has skied to both Poles, including the Hercules Inlet-South Pole route, and she aborted just one degree short of a full solo North Pole expedition (which included self-amputation of two frostbitten toes!). Most recently, Stancer completed a full-length crossing of Lake Baikal in 2019.

Prince Albert of Monaco

Albert II at the North Pole


When not fighting off claims of illegitimate children or rolling in oodles of money, Prince Albert II of Monaco has found the time for adventure. In 2006, Albert reached the North Pole after a 100km guided dog sled trip from the Russian Camp Barneo on the Arctic Ocean. Albert II’s father Albert I undertook numerous expeditions in the Spitzbergen area in the early 20th century.


Prince Sheik Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa

Prince Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa. Photo: Nepali Times

The Bahraini Prince is one of four sons of the King of Bahrain and apparently serves in the Bahrain Defence Force, leads the Bahrain National Endurance Racing Team, and is head of Bahrain Olympic Committee. When not busy with these duties or batting away allegations of torture, Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa has turned his hand to mountaineering. In 2020, the Prince and his Royal Guard team climbed Lobuche Peak (6,119m) and 8,156m Manaslu. This season, bin Hamad Al Khalifa is headed for Everest.


Sheikha Asma Al Thani

Sheikha Asma Al Thani on the Arctic Ocean. Photo: Gripped magazine

Sheikha Asma Al Thani is a princess in the Qatari royal family, and is a senior female official on the Qatar Olympic Committee. As a strong advocate of women’s rights (which are presumably pretty poor in Qatar), Al Thani is currently on a quest to become the first woman from the Middle East to complete the much-maligned Explorers Grand Slam — the Seven Summits plus last-degree treks to the North and South Poles.

For someone from a hot country, Al Thani has fared well in the cold in recent years.  In 2018, she completed a guided last-degree ski trek to the North Pole, and in 2019, summited Aconcagua to add to her successful 2014 Kilimanjaro climb. This season, she too is off to climb Everest. She previously trekked to its Base Camp in 2019.


King Albert I of Belgium


Albert I of Belgium climbing in the Dolomites.


King Albert presided over Belgium between 1909 and 1934, taking over from the murderous Leopold II. Albert I had a penchant for alpinism and rock climbing, although his climbs do not appear to have been well-recorded. King Albert was found dead at the foot of a cliff in March-Les-Dames, Belgium in 1934. It was assumed he had died in a climbing fall, although conspiracy theorists have always suggested that he was murdered.

Royal Hunting Expeditions


King George V, right, and the Prime Minister of Nepal, Chandra Shumsher Rana.

Okay, not an individual, but an acknowledgment that historically, royals have traipsed to the far corners of their empires on hunting expeditions. The slaughter of tigers in India was practically a royal sport for British bluebloods from the middle of Victoria’s reign until just a few years before Elizabeth II ascended to the throne. For example, in 1911, King George V went on a 10-day hunting expedition across Nepal after being crowned Emperor of India. His party killed 39 tigers, 18 rhinoceroses, 4 bears, and a handful of leopards and porcupines.