For centuries, Plymouth Hoe has been an iconic launch pad for adventure and discovery. More recently, it’s become a symbolic one for the University’s students as they pass through the Graduation Marquees on their way to a new phase of life. But for marine biology graduate Henry Evans it’s been both – and a springboard to a truly remarkable 18 months.
From Graduation 2012, Henry’s journey has seen him follow in the footsteps of childhood hero Captain Robert Falcon Scott, skiing to the South Pole to mark the 100th anniversary of the ill-fated Antarctic expedition. Since then, he’s embarked on a whistle-stop speaking tour of schools around the world as ‘global ambassador’ for the University and higher education.
“It’s been an amazing few months,” Henry said. “I’ve pushed myself to the very limit in one of the harshest climates on Earth – and given talks to a quarter of a million people about the variety of marine life and stunning habitats that our world possesses. And I’ve discovered so much about myself in the process.”
That process of discovery for Henry dates back to 2010 when he first entered the competition to be a part of the International Scott Centenary Expedition. His movingly worded tribute to the explorer, whose stories he’d heard as a child from his grandfather, got him through to the final 10, before he overcame a series of gruelling physical and mental tests to earn a ticket on the plane.
Henry had to juggle training sessions on Dartmoor with taking his final exams – an experience he said was “challenging”. But finally, in December 2012, his epic journey began. Flying via Punta Arenas, Chile, and Union Glacier in Antarctica, Henry and guide Geoff Somers set out from 88 degrees south – and 14 days later they reached the Amundsen-Scott base.
Reflecting on the experience, Henry said: “What hits you is just how remote it is, and how it can be so bleak and beautiful at once. It’s also incredible hostile – we had whiteout conditions, and the wind chill is hard to describe. We both suffered frost nip, and I can well imagine how excruciating frostbite must be.
“But having studied marine biology at Plymouth, and having learned from renowned experts, I was also very aware of the importance of Antarctica to science and to understanding our climate, and I wanted to make a contribution to that research effort.”
This Henry did by taking sub-surface snow samples every three miles along the 120-mile traverse, which he later supplied to the British Antarctic Survey for analysis of isotopic levels.