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Explorer profile: Karen Darke MBE, Paralympian

Karen, Paralympic cycling champ (Rio 2016 and London 2012), is also a renowned explorer who has crossed Greenlands ice cap, handcycled, skied and swam the entire length of Japan, and climbed Mont Blanc.

Check out our podcast with Karen

Karen DarkeWho is Karen Darke?


Karen Darke is a paralympic gold and silver medalist and Paratriathlon World Champion, who has paralysis from the chest down. Karen also holds a Guinness World Record for land speed using arm power, has cycled the length of Japan, Kayaked from Canada to Alaska, Crossed Greenland’s Ice Cap, Climb El Capitan, Mont Blanc and Matterhorn, hand cycled 6/7 continents, written 3 books, holds 2 degrees, a Masters Degree and a PHD in Geology.

Karen Darke is without a doubt one of the most accomplished and incredible explorers and Athletes we’ve spoken with on Expedition REAL, and it was super empowering and inspiring to hear her stories and attitude for life.


Show notes


In this episode Karen spoke with us about her approach to overcoming obstacles, and pushing yourself through tough times. As you can imagine, the things that she’s achieved have been incredible both mentally and physically, but her approach is always to see any problem or pain as temporary. She finds that balancing the human element with the promise of future comfort is the best way to overcome even the toughest challenge.

We also spoke at length about her expeditions. Karen climbed El Capitan, a climb which took 2 attempts and approximately 7 days to complete- camping on the rock face on suspended bivvys. Karens (dis)ability meant that she used a pully system and hauled herself to the top using her arms, which is incredible for 2 reasons. Firstly the physical endurance, but secondly and perhaps hardest, the mental aspects. Karen’s paralysis is the result of a climbing accident many years ago, and so her journey back to the rock face required extreme toughness and resilience (although she doesn’t like the word!)

Karen also crossed Greenland’s Icecap, from East to West, skiing 8-10 hours per day using just her arms, and modified equipment to cater to her additional challenges. Crossing Greenland is a tough feat of courage and endurance as standard and is incredible testament to Karen’s abilities, fortitude and ambition. This was possibly the hardest physical challenges she’s completed yet!

Some more about Karen’s projects


Karen Darke’s Quest 79: Quest 79 is Karens mission to cycle every continent on earth, raise awareness for the Spinal Injuries Association and empower other people to take on challenges. It’s a mission inspired by the number 79, as you might have guessed… Karen found that strangely the number 79 has been a North Star throughout her life, Studying gold as a young adult (whose atomic number is 79), winning the 79th Gold medal for Great Britain, to a running joke with her training team that she had to order coffees at 79 degrees because it was the hottest they could make it. 79 degrees, became the inspiration for her next mission, The Pole of Possibilities.

Karen Darke’s mission to create a new Pole, The Pole of Possibilities on Antarctica. 79 Degrees Lat/Long lands us in Antarctica, which conveniently is also the last continent which Karen needs to cross to reach her Quest 79 goal. So Karen and her expedition team are on a mission to ski here, and establish a new pole- The Pole of Possibilities.

There is tonnes of information and updates which Karen posts to her website, and you can always follow her journeys on social media:


Pole of Possibilities:

Instagram: @handbikedarke
Twitter: @Kdarke


For more info on polar exploration, or adventure inspiration check out these articles:


How to get to Antarctica

Notes on Adventure

Expedition planning

Sub-zero expeditions for beginners

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