Bizarre hallucinations for Plymouth scientist at the South Pole
A SCIENTIST endured bizarre hallucinations as he braved temperatures down to -36C trekking to the South Pole.
Marine biology graduate Henry Evans spent two weeks covering 140 miles to the southernmost place on Earth on an expedition in memory of Scott of the Antarctic.
Henry, 23, says he has returned to Plymouth with renewed admiration for the city hero.
The most modern kit, 21st century communications and a support network including a plane meant he was never likely die on the ice like Captain Robert Falcon Scott.
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"The strangest thing was the weird hallucinations," he said.
"When the cloud comes down there is nothing but white. You can't see where the snow ends and the sky starts.
"My mind started playing tricks. I could see mice running under my skis.
"The skis make a screeching sound on the snow, which I was convinced was an eagle overhead.
"I kept glimpsing it but never quite see it. It was really frustrating.
"Then I saw a giant sausage baguette, hanging in the sky dripping mustard – I don't even like mustard! – and a London bus."
Fortunately he had been warned by a psychologist about the effects on the mind of extreme featureless environments. "At least I knew I wasn't going mad."
Henry won a place on the two-man International Scott Centenary Expedition through a national competition.
The expert skiier underwent a rigorous training and selection process including a stint at HMS Raleigh, Torpoint.
He and guide Geoff Somers were flown on to the frozen continent at a point 88 degrees south in late 2012.
They skied to the pole taking measurements of weather conditions and the snow, matching the scientific spirit of the Scott expedition.
Scott and his party of five walked 800 miles to the pole in 1912, hoping to be the first to reach the Earth's southernmost point. They found they'd been beaten by days by an expedition led by Norwegian Roald Amundsen.
They died on their return journey from exhaustion, starvation and extreme cold.
Henry said: "I was reading Scott's diary on the way. When I started to experience some of what they went through in that environment it made me admire him even more.
"They walked twice as far a day, ten times farther (in total) and pulled a much heavier sled than I had.
"They did that 100 years ago with no satellite navigation – no maps at all for the last part – no support plane, none of the modern kit."
Despite hi-tech clothing, Henry suffered from the cold, which varied from -25C to minus -36C.
"Because the skiing is such hard work you are sweating, but every two hours we stopped to take measurements and that moisture froze.
"I had to take my gloves off to handle the equipment and my hands were like blocks of ice.
"It took 15 or 20 minutes' skiing before I got the feeling back.
"Sleeping in a tent was really difficult at first because of the 24-hour daylight in the Antarctic summer and the altitude – it's over 9,000 feet up on the plateau – dulled my appetite."
But after five days he was so exhausted he slept ten hours at a time and packed in 7,000 calories, about three times the usual healthy total, because of the cold and exertion.
"Reaching the pole was incredible. After seeing nothing but white for days on end you see a tiny speck that gets bigger. The journey was so emotional. I had tears running down my cheeks that froze."
Henry celebrated by donning the penguin suit he'd worn on stunts to raise the £100,000 for the expedition. He and Geoff then enjoyed the comforts of the Scott-Amundsen South Pole Station, the US-led research base where 170 people live year-round.
They then flew back to the edge of Antarctica.
Henry is now a 'global ambassador' for Plymouth University where he graduated last summer. He tours from his city base giving talks about the polar trip and hopes to make a living as an "interactive scientist" visiting schools.
But after the South Pole experience, which included celebrating his birthday last month, he has a taste for more cold weather adventures.
"I would like to go the North Pole. I have been bitten by the polar bug."