Disabled adventurer Karen Darkes plans to ski to the South Pole only with arm-power

Posted: Oct 14, 2009 04:06 pm EDT

(ThePoles.com) Karen Darke fell off a cliff and became paralysed from the chest down. That was the beginning of an extraordinary new adventure life she stated. Her latest plan is to sit-ski from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole in 2011.

Fell off a cliff

Luckily I've got an adventurous gene, as life in a wheelchair is full of unexpected adventure, Karen writes on her website. She was a keen runner, climber and all round outdoor addict, and then at the age of 21, she fell off a cliff and became paralysed from the chest down.

There begins the opening chapter of my book If You Fall and the beginning of an extraordinary new life.

South Pole plans

The Pole of Possibility team, Karen and her partner Andy Kirkpatrick will, according to her website, attempt a 60-day, 1200 km trek to the South Pole.

She explains, I'll be using a special sit-ski and propel myself with my arms, whilst the others pull sleds with enough equipment to survive for up to 60 days in the savage polar conditions.

The challenges

No-one has ever skied by arm-power across Antarctica to the South Pole before, she says. I can understand why, as at times the challenges of paralysis seem too great to overcome: not being able to walk; lack of sensation and susceptibility to frostbite; inability to regulate body temperature; and other personal care and logistical issues.

With hard work, partnership, and support I'm sure we'll find a way.

38-year old Karen Darke from the UK has to challenge her own physical and mental barriers, completing many trips that others, including myself, believed impossible; from marathons and triathlons, to kayaking, sit-skiing and hand-cycling in some of the most inhospitable places on the planet, she says on her website.

These trips included a crossing of the Tien Shan and Karakoram mountains of Central Asia on a hand bike (1997), handcycling the length of the Japanese archipelago (2000), sea kayaking a 1200 mile length of the Canada Alaska coastline (2003), crossing the Indian Himalaya by handcycle (2006), skiing the Valle Blanche on a sit-ski and traversed the Greenland ice cap (600 km).

I994 Norwegian Cato Zahl Pedersen, who has lost both arms at age 12, skied unsupported from Berkner Island to the South Pole, together with countrymen Lars Ebbesen and Odd Harald Hauge. Their expedition was called the Unarmed Expedition. They completed the distance of approximately 1300 km in 54 days. At the age of 12, Cato's life came to a halt. A high voltage accident stripped him of both his arms. That's a major disaster, more so to a little guy dreaming of big adventures. Cato's destiny became to prove that the farthest corners of our world are not exclusive to the super fit. Devoted to sports, Cato won 11 gold medals in the Olympics for the disabled in 1980, 1984 and 1988.


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Karen Darke sit-skiing across Greenland. Image courtesy of ablemagazine.co.uk (click to enlarge)
Sorting out climbing gear (click to enlarge)
On top of another cliff. Above two images courtesy of karendarke.com (click to enlarge)

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