One hundred and seventeen years have past since Nansen's first epic crossing of the mighty Greenland ice cap, a distance of over 600 km, yet even today this journey is still viewed as a mammoth undertaking, requiring strength, fortitude and toughness in order to succeed.
The Hands and Feet expedition is attempting to cross this vast empty artic desert in the same spirit as Nansen, hoping to push back the modern-day frontiers of knowledge, technology and exploration.
The focus of this journey, and the driving force behind the expedition, is 33 year old Karen Darke, one of the UK's top disabled adventures, paralysed from the chest since a climbing fall while at university.
I am very happy to support this expedition. It optimizes the spirit of modern exploration. The expedition aims to push back the boundaries of one of the worlds final frontiers - wilderness access for disabled explores - and by doing so, to inspire others to overcome their own obstacles and to fulfil their dreams. Knowing the people involved, and the organisations supporting them. I believe that the technologies and expertise developed during this venture will be used to enhance the lives of many - not only those with disabilities.
- SIR RANULPH FIENNES, Expedition patron
Not only will this be the first inclusive traverse of Greenland, by a British woman, but a key expedition goal is the collation and dissemination of the technical and theoretical knowledge developed through the process of getting this ambitious project off the ground.
So far, we have helped to design, test, refine and develop proto-types of an adapted tent, sit ski, sleeping bag, protective clothing system (including heat sensing and providing clothes), and even and inclusive expedition leave no trace toilet. Because of the generous support of the partners who have worked with us on these projects, we believe that it is now as safe for Karen to access the wilderness in wilderness as it is for the able bodied team members.
The Expedition as a tool for further disabled wilderness access Post expedition, we will obviously be communicating about the inclusive aspect of the expedition and attempting to encourage other disabled explorers to access this unique environment in a way that has previously not been possible.
We will be running regular inclusive cross country journeys in association with organisations like Interventure, the Scottish Hand-Cycling Club, the Integrate Paddling Club, Equal Adventures, and The John Muir Trust. In addition to this, however, we will be taking the wider inspirational message of the journey to people throughout the UK and Scandinavia through a combination of radio and TV broadcasts, national paper, outdoor and lifestyle magazine coverage and last but not least, through an organised lecture tour by some of the UK's top motivational speakers which will be used to put further funds into the project and, in turn, to facilitate opportunities for exploration by other disabled adventurers.
In January 2004, Karen was one of a group of friends visiting Anna and Pasi in Finnish Lapland. After a day of begging and borrowing 'specialist' kit and clothing and then another day of adapting a cross-country ski to fit her, she was ready to join the group and to venture out into the wilderness. Two hours later, with temperatures dropping to -35 degrees c, even the able bodied participants had had enough. Everyone started to head for home. For Karen, however, the experience had been a revelation. It was the first time, since the accident that had left her paralysed, that she had been able to journey under her own power, by land, into the wilderness. Alone in the Arctic landscape of Finnish Lapland, we stopped to let her enjoy the silence of the creaking snow-covered branches and the whistling of the wind in the trees. She had found a sport that provided access to the silence of the wilderness-something she had craved for many years. When we got home, however, she realised that her feet had already frozen and that severely cold spots had developed in quite a few spots on her body. (Paraplegics produce no heat from the level of their breaks down, and can only, therefore check how warm they are by physically feeling their body parts-something that had been too difficult for Karen to judge that first day). As the seriousness of the situation dawned on the rest of the group we sat down to discuss the challenges that the cold brings to paraplegics. We decided then and there, to not only figure out a way to enable her to continue to enjoy cross country skiing as a sport but to go even further than that. We decided to find a project that would be so inspirational that outdoor companies would gather behind it and use it as a galvanising tool for the development of winter kit and clothing for disabled explorers. In this way, we hoped to be able to facilitate access not only to cross country skiing, but also to true wilderness back-country skiing for the disabled. The Greenland project was born.
- Anna McCormack, Expedition member
From its initiation the expedition drew support across the board. Not only did competing outdoor clothing and equipment companies come together to try to help us to make it happen but we also drew interest and support from across the political parties. Tony Blair, at that time the Prime Minister, was the first to send a support note, shortly followed by David Cameron, at that time the leader of the opposition. Senator Ross of the Irish Senate also sent a letter of support and the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Endorsement also proved valuable.