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2nd February 2022

Last modified on February 5th, 2022

Karen Darke, a Paralympic Champion who has completed gruelling challenges on skis and bikes, despite being paralysed from the chest down, has received the Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture.

In 2006, she took part in an expedition that crossed Greenland’s ice sheet whilst sitting on skis using her arms and poles to cover the 372-mile crossing.

She is currently in training for the ninth and final leg of her Quest 79 project, skiing to the South Pole.

She will sit-ski with a team-mate, Iona Somerville, graduate of Scottish Charity The Polar Academy, which works with teenagers often low in belief and aspiration.

The pair will begin their exploration at 79 degrees latitude and aim to create a World and Guinness Record for sit-skiing to the South Pole.

Their aim is to explore and share the advantages of adversity.

Karen Darke, winner of 2022 Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture – photo © Pasi Ikonen

Karen is a Paralympic hand cycling champion (Rio 2016) and won silver at London 2012.

She is also a European Paratriathlon Champion (2014).

The award was announced by the organisers of the  The Fort William Mountain Festival.

Karen Darke, who is based in Inverness, said it was a surprise and a real honour.

“My soul is rarely peaceful without a mountain in its presence,” she said.

“On becoming paralysed almost 30 years ago it seemed at first that mountains were a thing of the past.

“Thanks to the interesting technology of bikes and skis, and to great friends who have been up for some adventures, mountain landscapes have worked their way even deeper into the fabric of my being.”

Karen Darke, Winner of the 2022 Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture – photo © Vicky Sherwood

Karen’s achievements are hugely impressive.

Before she was paralysed she climbed Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn.

In 1992 she won the Swiss KIMM Mountain Marathon.

She was 21 when she had an accident while sea cliff climbing.

She woke from a coma to be told she would never walk, cycle or climb again.

The first thing she bought after six months in hospital was a race chair.

A year later she completed the Great North Run followed by the London Marathon.

In 1996 she hand-biked across the Himalayas from Kazakhstan and across to Pakistan, while still adapting to being paralysed; through the Indian Himalaya in 2005 and 2018, and across the Tibetan Plateau in 2014.

Karen Darke, winner of 2022 Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture photo © Karen Darke

In 2002 she was part of a team that sea kayaked through the Inside Passage from Canada to Alaska (Vancouver to Juneau) in 10 weeks.

Sixteen years after her accident ended her climbing ambitions, Karen climbed the infamous El Capitan in California’s Yosemite National Park, a four-day climb that required 4000 pull-ups.

Karen Darke, winner of 2022 Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture – photo © Natasha Sebire

More recently she has been cycling the 7 continents following rivers and coastlines.

Karen Darke will be speaking at the Fort William Mountain Festival as part of the Biking Night at The Highland Cinema, Fort William, on Saturday 19 February 2022.

MAIN PHOTO: © Andy Kirkpatrick