(Press release) Paralympic silver medal winning handcyclist and Berghaus athlete Karen Darke has completed the latest stage of preparation for her planned expedition to be the first paraplegic to reach the South Pole from the edge of Antarctica under her own steam.
Darke, along with her brother Simon, Mike Christie and Andy Kirkpatrick, spent a week on the Hardangervidda Plateau in Norway, testing the effectiveness of a special snow-handbike against that of a cross country sit-ski.
Pole of Possibility is Karen Darke's long planned adventure, a 1000km journey from the edge of the Antarctic continental shelf to the geographical South Pole. The expedition will involve surviving the most difficult environment on earth, and negotiating a frozen wasteland filled with crevasse fields and ice boulders potentially the size of buildings. Never before has a paraplegic attempted a challenge so physically and mentally demanding. To give Darke the best chance of succeeding, she needs an effective and reliable method of moving across the Antarctic terrain and the trip to Norway was used to test the most viable options.
Karen Darke comments: "It's been amazing to be back in the mountains and witness low winter sun turning white mountains pink, glittering lakes of ice, and huge expanses of virgin snow. And of course, I had my latest adventure with Andy, Simon and Mike.
"I returned feeling a bit tired after a week camping and journeying through snow and ice, and sharing a tent space the size of a double bed with three snoring blokes. I also feeling very weird in the chunk of my body I can't feel - three quarters of me - and am not sure that being squashed up in a sit-ski, tied in with straps, covered with layer after layer to stop the cold biting and working my arms so hard they feel leaden, is the ideal way to feel good!
"Discomfort aside, it was our chance to test ourselves and our kit as we develop our plans for the Pole of Possibility. Sadly, the amazing snowbike that I had really struggled in the soft snow there is a reason why no-one has yet biked to the South Pole and there's a reason why nobody paralyzed has travelled across Antarctica to get there!
"I feel inspired by my week in the wilds, though I realize that I was pinning my hopes on the snowbike. So now I am pondering the challenge of crossing Antarctica in a sit-ski that is so demanding on the body, and so dependent on ski glide which in cold, uphill conditions doesn't happen readily. The answer, as it is for so many things in life, is to rest, reflect, learn, re-plan, and then go and try again. We certainly learned plenty in Norway to help us do that."
Karen's Biography courtesy of her website: "Luckily I've got an adventurous gene, as life in a wheelchair is full of unexpected adventure. I was a keen runner, climber and all round outdoor addict, and then at the age of 21, I fell off a cliff and became paralyzed from the chest down. There begins the opening chapter of my book ‘If You Fall…’ and the beginning of an extraordinary new life."
"Just the night before my accident, I said I would rather die than be paralyzed, but little did I know what lay ahead. Instead I found fortune in my misfortune, inspiration from people in similar and more challenging situations all around me, and began pursuing alternative ways to access the outdoors. Not being able to move or feel anything below my chest level has of course been a challenge, but I've come to learn that nothing is impossible if we set our mind and our efforts to it."
Some of Karen's adventure challenges:
- 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
- Crossing Greenland on a sitski
- Climbing the kilometer high overhanging precipice of El Capitan, a giant granite rock face in Yosemite National Park, USA
- Competing in the 2012 Paralympics.
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