The ice man cometh

WINTER may have set in but it s nothing compared with what one adventurer experienced on the trip of a lifetime. Ian Richardson, 49, head of biology at Freman College in Buntingford, spent 39 days in the -20C temperatures of the Antarctic. On his return

WINTER may have set in but it's nothing compared with what one adventurer experienced on the trip of a lifetime.

Ian Richardson, 49, head of biology at Freman College in Buntingford, spent 39 days in the -20C temperatures of the Antarctic.

On his return he said: "It was an extraordinarily, amazing experience, it is very hard to convey what it's like in the Antarctic. It's like nowhere I've been before in my life.

"It is this huge, empty landscape with no trees, no birds singing, just ice - but it is very beautiful."

The father-of-two from Royston set off on the trip on November 3, along with three other teachers chosen for the Fuchs Foundation expedition which marked the 50th anniversary of the first successful trans-Antarctic crossing.

Equipped with tents, food and warm clothing the teachers landed on the Henderson glacier seven days later, each of them working on a scientific project.

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Mr Richardson began his search for tardigrades, small creatures which can enter a state of suspended animation to endure the punishing temperatures of the Antarctic.

"We landed on the Henderson glacier rather than the Union glacier as planned because lichens had been spotted in the area, that is what we were looking for and we found some."

The views in the Antarctic were "simply stunning", said Mr Richardson, who had to raise £10,000 to fund his part of the trip.

"We pulled our sledges 500 metres up a long uphill path.

"We stopped at the top and ahead of us was a view down a canyon with mountains and the glaciers merging. Our leader told us that possibly only two or three people would have seen this view before.

"It was one of the most stunning views I've ever seen, and the trip was full of things like that."

One change Mr Richardson had to get used to was the lack of darkness on the ice continent.

"It never gets dark, but the light changes which is strange," he said.

"The cold wasn't too bigger deal, we were very well prepared and had good clothing - most of the time I was comfortable."

"It was very difficult hauling the sledges.

"And two or three times we were stuck in our tents because of the weather, it was too bad to spending much time outside."

As reported in The Crow before Christmas, the teachers suffered a set back when the aeroplane taking them home could not land on the area of blue ice marked as the runway.

"The week we were due to come home a lot of snow fell which believe it or not is quite unusual.

"The plane couldn't land so people were physically brushing the snow off. The stretch of ice is 2.8km long.

"We had an extra week there so we were organising silly games in the afternoon, eating lots and had to keep busy.

"The thought of spending Christmas there was sad, the thought that we might not get back. All of us were on the edge.

"I really thought the weather looked as if it had set in and we wouldn't get out."

But the explorers did make it back in time for Christmas, landing at Heathrow on December 21.

Earlier in the year the teachers visited Portsmouth University to assess their fitness and perception of hot and cold so before making the final trip home they returned for some more physiological tests.

Mr Richardson, who received frost nip on his nose while on the expedition, said: "My fitness had certainly improved, but my sensitivity to temperature had not altered all that much."

Back in the rather different climbs of Royston, Mr Richardson struggles to find what the highlight of his trip was.

"It is difficult to pin it down to the best part of the trip - simply being in the landscape and being so remote was so exciting."

The biology teacher now plans to take his collection of lichens found on the Henderson glacier to the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge where it will identify them and see if anything is living in them.

All four teachers who took part in the Antarctic expedition will be giving a talk on their adventures in Cambridge on March 1.

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