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Beyond Limits

This journey challenges the current limits of belief as to what is possible for disabled people to achieve. It also pushes back the frontiers of readily available clothing and kit technology within the outdoor industry. Outlined here, are just a few of the many varied challenges that the team have had to overcome along the way.

Clothing

In temperatures that will drop down below - 30 C, Karen's inability to regulate her temperature below her chest is a major issue. To overcome this, we have worked with three of the top clothing companies, testing intelligent fabrics, heating clothing and ground breaking designs. Karen now has the luxury of a choice of two prototype clothing systems for use in cycle and ski training, as well as heating clothing technologies and the most breathable, waterproof technologies available for her outerwear. The only remaining difficulty she will face will be in the decision as to which prototype skiing suit to take with her to the Icecap!

Equipment

Finding / designing the right 'sit-ski' is obviously crucial. Karen needs to be able to propel herself using ski poles to feel part of the expedition. During the two years we worked on this project, we tested umpteen ski ski variations from all over the world and finally combined our findings into the development of two proto-type skis suitable for both training and the terrain we are likely to encounter in Greenland.

Because of the toilet issues outlined below, we also had to develop an adapted tent in consultation with Hilleberg and a very strange combination of shoes, felt inner boots, slippers and T-Tossu prototype gaiters all designed to work together to keep her feet warm.

Toileting

This is a less obvious area that needed a great deal of innovation before the winter wilderness could really be considered truly 'accessible' for paraplegics.

It can take Karen, for instance, up to an hour to go to the toilet manually, and she obviously can't expose her skin to freezing temperatures for that length of time. Hence, we not only had to play with the development of a snow-mounted toilet that she could transfer herself onto from the tent floor, but we then had to deal with toilet holes in the tent floor and ways of keeping her skin from freezing if exposed to potentially bitterly cold temperatures for this length of time.

We also had unusual challenges like testing to make sure that her urine bag wouldn't burst if it froze overnight in temperatures below minus 20C!

Logistics

As Karen's sit-ski is 'high-friction' in comparison to the other skis, team members will need to provide direct help during the ascent to the centre of the icecap as well as splitting her expedition equipment amongst the rest of the team.

Ice conditions dictate the crossing 'window' - a maximum of 35 days - so the group will have to move at the same speed as able bodied teams whilst dealing with far greater physical and mental strain.

This journey is by no means an easy task but, unlike many able bodied teams, this group firmly believes that it has the ability and determination needed to succeed.

Polar bears

For the first time, polar bear footprints were reported far onto the icecap itself by one of the teams attempting the crossing last summer, and this spring one group has been attacked 60km into the inland mountains near Gunnbjornsfjell further north.

Pasi, Andy and Harvey have been liaising with the various bodies in an attempt to make a reasoned decision on whether or not to carry a fire-arm. Although seemingly a simple cautionary decision, actually getting a gun to the Icecap in accordance with international gun transport legislation is actually no mean feat. At present everyone we are communicating with is still advising that guns should be unnecessary. It is the 'should be' part of the equation that is worrying the girls on the team!

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.

Leaving nothing to chance

The team has been working hard testing the various prototypes of kit and clothing produced for Karen over the past two years in an attempt to leave nothing (apart from for Polar Bears!) to chance.

After two years of close liaison with numerous outdoor companies and with individuals willing to share their knowledge and expertise, our final training session in March in Arctic Finland showed us that the kit that has been developed is cutting edge and that we are finally ready to go!

Ongoing challenges

All that remains, is for us to kick off the surrounding media campaign, to successfully complete our crossing of the Icecap and to communicate our findings to as large and diverse an audience as possible, upon our return. In other words, we still have a few small challenges to go!

"When was the last time you encountered the sacred," he asked, "the last time that your soul trembled with the indubitable awareness that it was being flooded with a numinous presence? Whatever the sacred is, it is unquestionably the most fascinating experience of our lives. It draws us almost against our will. We continue to seek it out as the moth does the flame." In the presence of the sacred, as in the presence of the mysterious, unpredictable forces of the mountain, we find humility. And fear. And joy. The power, or the potency, of forces that transcend reason overwhelms our puny capacities for comprehension, and we experience the full range of human emotions. In the face of an avalanche, or a storm, or the quirky dangers of our everyday lives, the strongest of us are keenly aware that we can control only the flow of our life, and not our destiny.

- Willi Unsoeld on Everest.

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