Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Skiing to the south pole

The Scottish newspapers report that a disabled adventurer who broke broke her back in a climbing accident hopes to become the first person to reach the south pole using arm power alone.

Karen Darke, 38, was paralysed from the neck down after falling from cliffs near Aberdeen, severing her spinal cord and breaking her neck and arms. She now hopes to scoop a world record by reaching the geographic South Pole on a sit-ski. Since her accident, when she was just 21, Karen, who is based in Inverness, has pursued an ambitious programme adventures, one of the most dramatic being an ascent of El Capitan in California's Yosemite valley.

Naturally, Those Who Dared features tales of adventure from the polar regions including several from the Norwegian ski-pioneers, Roald Amundsen and Fridtjof Nansen. During the years 1888-89, Nansen made the first crossing of the Greenland Icecap, an audacious trip he described as a "ski tour". Four years later he turned his attention to the north pole, his ingenious idea being to literally go with the floe - the theory was that the transpolar drift, a stream of ice, flowed across the pole from Siberia to Canada. Thus, Nansen rammed his ship, the Fram, into the ice and waited to be carried right to the pole. When it became obvious that he was going to bypass it, he abandoned his ship and made a dash for the pole, getting closer than anyone before.

Nansen was in many ways the father of modern polar exploration who "demythologized the polar environment, " according to polar historian and former Observer journalist, Roland Huntford (see, Two Planks and a Passion). He proved the value of skis as an economical way of travelling and the value of using dogs, as well as developing specialist equipment such as a lightweight stove.

Roald Amundsen, a protege of Nansen, included Olav Bjaaland, a champion skier, in the five-man team that was the first to reach the south pole in 1911. According to Huntford “They saw themselves not as explorers but as skiers. Nor did they feel particularly heroic. They had simply sped 740 miles and won the longest ski race in the world."

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