A courageous couple from Farnborough, known as the Arctic Kites team, have returned from a 22 day expedition crossing the Greenland icecap – one of the world’s most inhospitable places – to raise money for Diabetes UK.
Chris Sunderland, 32, and fiancée Rachel Owen, 28, undertook the 672 kilometre (417 mile) journey on skis, and whenever the wind conditions were favourable they used power kites to pull them across the ice (hence the team's chosen name).
This was one of the first times that the route had been taken. They encountered arctic storms that forced them to dig themselves into the snow for shelter as the temperature plummeted and winds threatened to destroy their tents.
Australian travel journalist Flip Byrnes started the journey with Chris and Rachel, but in a dramatic twist had to be airlifted out after 149km due to deteriorating medical conditions including severe vomiting and serious blisters.
Despite emergency foot surgery on top of the icecap, Ms Byrnes was not able to continue. Her early departure made headlines on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald.
Raising money to make a difference
“We are totally exhausted, but so pleased to have completed the toughest challenge of our lives. It’s an experience we’ll never forget,” says Chris.
“We think we’ve raised about £3,700 for Diabetes UK and are thrilled that all our hard work will make a real difference to people living with diabetes. Both Rachel and I have family members with the condition and we’ve seen how challenging life can be for them.”
The couple reached the west coast of Greenland on Friday 16 May and were flown by helicopter to safety over the weekend. After two days sleep, they flew home via Copenhagen and were met at the airport by Chris’s parents, from Holmes Chapel in Cheshire, yesterday.
“Chris and Rachel’s efforts are greatly appreciated by all at Diabetes UK. The training and effort they have put in has been phenomenal", said Penny January, Regional Fundraising Manager for Diabetes UK South East.
"Thank you to everyone who sponsored their expedition - the money raised will go towards vital diabetes research and helping people live with this serious condition on a daily basis.”