Media release: Inspirational athlete and adventurer, Karen Darke, wins top mountain award


ORGANISERS of The Fort William Mountain Festival are delighted to announce that one of the UK’s most inspirational athletes and ambitious adventurers, Karen Darke, whose life journey has called for total commitment, determination and resilience, is the 15th recipient of the Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture, sponsored by JAHAMA Highland Estates.

Inverness-based Karen Darke MBE, FRSGS, is an author, global speaker, transformational coach, adventure mindset coach, athlete and adventuring soul. As a gold and silver medal-winning British Paralympic hand cyclist([Rio 2016, London 2012), a European Paratriathlon Champion (2014), and international adventurer with a huge fighting spirit, she lives life as a modern-day ‘alchemist’, passionate about turning challenge into opportunity and transforming the difficult stuff into ‘gold’.

Karen Darke said: “Receiving the Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture took me by surprise but is a real honour. Thank you.

“My soul is rarely peaceful without a mountain in its presence. On becoming paralysed almost thirty years ago it seemed at first that mountains were a thing of the past. 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. The adventure mindset that mountains have taught me is the inspiration for my next book, which I’m hoping will connect others more deeply to the power in the wild landscapes around us.”

Nominated by the public and her peers as a mountain hero who celebrates achievement, accomplishment and the spirit of adventure, Karen Darke joins 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.

Tom Uppington, managing director, ALVANCE British Aluminium, said: “Karen is the worthiest winner we can imagine of this award and an outstanding addition to the list of previous recipients.

“Karen’s resourcefulness, strength of character and mountain expertise are extraordinary and show qualities we can all aspire to in our daily lives. ALVANCE Aluminium and JAHAMA Highland Estates are proud to play a role in the Fort William community and its place at the centre of British mountain culture. We look forward to further strengthening that association in coming years as we continue to invest in the town’s aluminium operations and surrounding estates.”

Karen Darke will be speaking at the Fort William Mountain Festival as part of the Biking Night at The Highland Cinema, Fort William, on Saturday 19 February 2022.

Karen started her working life as a geologist in the Bolivian Andes, researching gold. However, at just 21, a life-changing accident, whilst sea cliff climbing, left her paralysed from the chest down. She moved away from being a ‘rock-doctor’ to exploring both outside and within, finding ways to align mind, body and spirit to do extraordinary things.

Karen Darke has always been a keen athlete and early sporting achievements included climbing Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn in 1991 before winning the Swiss KIMM Mountain Marathon in 1992.

At 21, Karen awoke from a coma to be told she would never walk, cycle or climb again. With unbroken spirit, will and confidence, the first thing she bought after six months of recovery in a hospital bed was a race chair.

A year later, she completed the Great North Run followed by the London Marathon. In 1996, she hand-biked across the Himalaya from Kazakhstan and across to Pakistan, whilst still adapting to being paralysed; 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 ten weeks. In 2006, she took part in an expedition that crossed Greenland’s ice sheet whilst sitting on skis using her arms and poles to cover the 372-mile crossing. Sixteen years after her accident ended her climbing ambitions, 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, graduate of Scottish charity, The Polar Academy, who work with teenagers often low in belief and aspiration. The pair will begin their exploration at 79 degrees latitude and create a World and Guinness Record for sit-skiing to the South Pole.

Their mission is to explore and share the advantages of adversity. Karen and Iona’s personal stories illustrate that through the toughest events of life surprising things become possible.

Pertinent to current interest in emotional health and mental wellbeing, they will explore how adversity, nature and adventure help us heal from difficult life events and to enable our individual and collective ability to do more than we might believe possible.


Media contacts:

Paddy Cuthbert | Littlehouse Media | E:

M: +44 (0)7913 951717

Images of Karen Darke attached.

For a larger selection of downloadable images of Karen Darke go to

Notes for editors:

Karen Darke





Karen views life as an adventure and embraces all its’ experiences as opportunities to learn and grow. She has experienced some fairly extreme lows on her own roller-coaster, whilst also creating many highs, exploring and extending the limits of possibility physically, mentally and emotionally.

Her purpose is about inspiring and impacting, about turning challenge into opportunity: finding ‘inner gold’.

She once said: “Someone once told me, ‘ability is a state of mind not a state of body’, and I believe that’s true. Through my own journey, I’ve discovered the incredible power we have within us to change our thoughts, our emotions, and our energy. We can all learn to be our own alchemist, to find our inner gold, be creators of our reality and in doing so change our performance, our wellbeing, our world.”

Karen Darke has an MBE, a PhD in Geology, MA’s in Development Training & High Performance Coaching, and diplomas in Clinical & Pastoral Counselling, Hypnotherapy & Motivational Coaching. She has been awarded honorary doctorates from The University of Aberdeen, Leeds, Cumbria, Sheffield Hallam and Abertay universities, in recognition of her accomplishments and contributions in adventure and sport.

The Fort William Mountain Festival 2022 on digital:

Festival programme –

Festival Showreel –

Festival Website –

Scottish Mountain Culture Awards –

Facebook –

Instagram –

Vimeo –

Hashtag – #fwmf2022

Scottish Awards for Excellence in Mountain Culture

The prestigious Scottish Awards for Excellence in Mountain Culture recognise the achievements and accomplishments of inspiring individuals and their outstanding contributions to Scotland’s outdoor culture, encompassing sport, theatre, art, photography, film and literature.

The award was set up in 2008 by the Highland Mountain Culture Association Ltd, organisers of the Fort William Mountain Festival. The 2022 award is sponsored by JAHAMA Highland Estates. The Youth Award, established in 2015, is sponsored by West Highland College UHI (School of Adventure Studies).

Previous recipients of The Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture are:

2021 – Dave Morris

2020 – Colin Prior

2019 – Noel Williams

2018 – Cameron McNeish

2017 – Dr Hamish Brown MBE

2016 – Mick Tighe

2015 – Robin Campbell

2014 – Andy Nisbet

2013 – Myrtle Simpson

2012 – Dr Adam Watson

2011 – Ian Sykes

2010 – Jimmy Marshall

2009 – Richard Else

2008 – Dr Hamish MacInnes

Previous recipients of The Scottish Youth Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture are:

2021 – Mikayla Parton

2020 – Tim Miller

2019 – Rob Cochrane

2018 – Shauna Coxsey

2017 – Robert Mackenzie

2016 – Natalie Berry

2015 – Zeki Basan

The Fort William Mountain Festival 2022 runs from Wednesday 16 to Sunday 20 February 2022 at venues in and around the bustling Highland town of Fort William, at the heart of the ‘Outdoor Capital of the UK’.  The main presentations and film nights take place in the Nevis Centre, The Highland Cinema, the Highland Bookshop and Three Wise Monkeys indoor climbing centre. The festival launch night will take place at the Nevis Centre. Venues for Fringe events can be found on the website.

The Fort William Mountain Festival 2022 is sponsored by the ‘Outdoor Capital of the UK’, Ellis Brigham, Jahama Highland Estates, the John Muir Trust, Highland Council and University Highland & Islands West Highland College, with many and varied local friends and supporters.

Festival tickets can sell out in advance particularly for the popular nights.

The festival attracts approaching 1,500 people over the five days and takes place each February in and around the town of Fort William.

The Highland Mountain Culture Association Limited

Festival organisers, The Highland Mountain Culture Association Limited, is a not-for-profit organisation, whose aim is to promote the understanding and appreciation of the world’s mountain places and people, by creating opportunities for people of all ages to share their mountain experiences, ideas and visions. To showcase these ideals, it stages annually a programme of events within the Lochaber area, called The Fort William Mountain Festival.  The Festival is organised by a dynamic organising committee, all volunteers, made up of a team of hard working local outdoor enthusiasts.

Outdoor Capital of the UK

The ‘Outdoor Capital of the UK’ is Lochaber Chamber of Commerce’s tourism brand, promoting adventure for all! The Chamber publicises, sponsors and promotes Fort William and Lochaber as one of the best places in the UK for everyone to experience the outdoors; with a view to developing local jobs and wealth and encouraging sustainable economic growth. This is done through a range of collaborative marketing initiatives and activities.

The organisation currently has a wide range of member businesses, ranging from accommodation, food and drink and activity providers to non-tourism focused businesses who support the aims of the Lochaber Chamber of Commerce and acknowledge that tourism is crucial to the local economy.

Many of these businesses are SMEs and by pulling resources and working as a team the Lochaber Chamber of Commerce achieves the positive results that individually the members couldn’t otherwise reach. The Chamber also produces the ‘Outdoor Capital of the UK’ website, the goto site for local events, outdoor activities and visitor accommodation in the area. /

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