Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Another mountain to climb

THE view from the summit of El Capitan rewards those climbers foolhardy enough to defy death and inch up its sheer rock wall. A four-day climb will take them to its peak, 1,000 metres from its base. Each morning from the safety of a harness and a 'bed' on a narrow ledge, they can marvel as the dawn breaks to reveal California's Yosemite National Park is in all its glory.

For Karen Darke, 36, who last week became the first British paraplegic climber to scale this intimidating mountain, achieving the summit was an extraordinary triumph. Fifteen years ago she was left paralysed from the chest down, when she fell 10 metres from a cliff in Aberdeenshire. Aside from some practice this summer in Scotland, El Capitan was her first climb since the dreadful day that changed her life. She calls the ascent of El Capitan "her journey into fear".

But less than a week after her achievement it is clear from Darke's halting conversation that she still has not fully come to terms with its psychological significance. "The mental side was challenging and I'm absolutely certain it was triggering all sorts of things at a subconscious level, though I'm not sure in what ways," she says.

Darke is, however, fully aware of the climb's physical consequences. She has a plaster cast on her leg, and yesterday morning she was struggling to get out of bed at her home in Inverness. During her descent of El Capitan, as she was piggy-backed down by her partner, Andy Kirkpatrick, she broke her tibia bone close to her ankle.

"I think it probably got stretched or pulled into an awkward position, but because I don't have any sensation, I don't really know," she says without the slightest note of concern. She flew into Manchester on Thursday, was checked over and treated in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary on Friday, and that was that, she says. Life goes on.

This is a remarkable woman. Read more at:

Another Mountain to Climb

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