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Access Challenge is for true survivors



The Access Challenge is a three-day hiking adventure for six teams that takes them up to the Black Tusk and ends with a zip-line crossing of the Cheakamus River.

Even more impressive is that one member of each of the teams is physically handicapped and will be "sherpa-d" up the mountain by four other team members in a "trail-rider" wheelchair specifically designed for mountain terrain.

"The first obstacle the teams will experience is how to advance with the vehicle. This may take them half a day to a day to work out the best way to do this, and they’ll come up with all sorts of ideas," said Susann Olovson, program manager for the Access Challenge, which this year will take place Aug. 19-21.

"At this point in time, the person in the chair is crucial to the navigation of the team, as the other team members may not be able to see where they are going if they are climbing over rocks and other obstacles," she said.

Although overcoming the physical obstacles in the wilderness and determining a route to take is the main component of the challenge, there are also other categories that teams will be judged on.

During the three days teams will compete in a number of categories such as map, GPS and compass reading; creative camp food preparation; and knowledge of local flora and fauna.

Participants will also be expected to create their own innovative survival equipment.

Olovson said the people who volunteer as ‘Sherpas’ enjoy the strong team work component and often have experience in adventure racing.

This year there will be teams from New Hampshire, Toronto, Kelowna, Northern B.C. and two teams from Vancouver.

"There will be about 40 people going on the trip in total, including the Search and Rescue and First Aid Officers," said Olovson.

"This is why we limit the Challenge to six teams, out of respect for the B.C. parks. We want to minimize the environmental impact."

The winning team will receive prizes, however Olovson said that the main prize at the end is for the participant to be able to see the view from the top of Black Tusk

In the late afternoon on the third day of the trek, teams will cross the Cheakamus River to the finish line via a double zip line above House Rock, where a party of volunteers and spectators will congratulate them.

"People are welcome to come and celebrate with the team members at the finish line of the Challenge," said Olovson.

The Access Challenge was started in 1999 by Sam Sullivan, a Vancouver City Councillor and founder of the British Columbia Mobile Opportunities Society. Sullivan, who is in a wheelchair himself, had a vision to make it possible for people with disabilities to experience the wilderness in B.C.

Olovson said that the 2010 Paralympics will put Vancouver and Whistler on the map as a place for people with disabilities to access the wilderness without any difficulty, and the BCMOS is hoping to be involved in that process.

"It will raise the awareness that people with disabilities are as active as anyone, and that hiking in the mountains is a possibility for them," she said.

"People with disabilities will see that Whistler is adaptive, accessible and there’s all these activities that can be done there."