Karen Darke, one of the UK’s most inspirational athletes and ambitious adventurers, has been named as the 15th recipient of the Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture. The news was announced by organisers of The Fort William Mountain Festival at the weekend.
Inverness-based Karen Darke MBE is a gold and silver medal winning British Paralympic hand cyclist [Rio 2016, London 2012], a European Paratriathlon Champion  and a widely travelled adventurer.
I wrote about Karen hand-cycling 2000 miles from Canada to Mexico in 2017 for the BBC.
Karen’s surprise at award win
Karen said: “Receiving the Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture took me by surprise but it’s a real honour. My soul is rarely peaceful without a mountain in its presence.”
Karen was paralysed from the chest down in a sea cliff climbing accident aged 21. She continued: “Almost 30 years ago, when I become paralysed, it seemed that mountains were a thing of the past.
“But 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.”
Nominations for the Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture, which is sponsored by JAHAMA Highland Estate, come from the public. The accolade celebrates achievement, accomplishment and the spirit of adventure.
Karen is joined previous esteemed winners, including Dave Morris, Andy Nisbet, Jimmy Marshall, Myrtle Simpson, Ian Sykes and Dr Hamish MacInnes in the Excellence in Mountain Culture Hall of Fame.
Karen’s many adventures and achievements
In 1996, Karen hand-biked across the Himalaya from Kazakhstan and to Pakistan, then through the Indian Himalaya in 2005 and 2018, and across the Tibetan Plateau in 2014.
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.
In 2006, she took part in an expedition that crossed Greenland’s ice sheet while sitting on skis using her arms and poles to cover the 372-mile crossing.
Sixteen years after her accident, Karen climbed the infamous El Capitan in California’s Yosemite National Park, a four-day climb that required 4000 pull-ups.
More recently, Karen has been cycling the seven continents following rivers and coastlines and exploring Inner Gold as a concept behind a book she is working on.
Currently, Karen is training for the ninth and final leg of her Quest 79 project, to create the POLE OF POSSIBILITY, sit-skiing with a team-mate, Iona Somerville. The pair will begin their exploration at 79 degrees latitude and they hope to create a World and Guinness Record for sit-skiing to the South Pole.
Fort William Mountain Festival 2022
The Fort William Mountain Festival returns as a live event the year and Karen will be speaking as part of the Biking Night at The Highland Cinema in Fort William on Saturday February 19. The festival takes place from February 16 to 20 with a great programme. Buy tickets.