SUB-ZERO temperatures and teammates' near-death experiences on an Antarctic adventure failed to dampen the spirits of a North-East soldier.

Just days after returning home from a three-month expedition, Sergeant Steve Ayres is already looking forward to leading treks into the frozen wastes in the future.

The 29-year-old, from Darlington, described his time with the British Army Antarctic Expedition as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Twice on the exploration of the peninsula's Danco coast members of the team, including Captain Harry Scrope, of Wensleydale, North Yorkshire, fell into crevasses, but survived.

"There were a few dangerous moments," said Sgt Ayres.

"We had a few mishaps. People slipped and a woman broke her thumb when she got it caught in a rope."

Sgt Ayres, a communications officer with the Army, said: "It is all par for the course. You expect that sort of thing to happen. You just hope it isn't you."

Capt Scrope, 27, a member of the Coldstream Guards, makes his homecoming, to parents Jane and Simon, near Leyburn, this afternoon.

He said: "It was a fantastic trip. It is such a wonderful part of the world to go to. It lived up to all my expectations."

Speaking about the incident which saw him save the expedition leader, Major James Harris, after a fall down a 200ft crevasse, Capt Scrope said: "Out there you expect that sort of thing to happen when you are involved in those types of conditions.

"We were all roped together when the lead man tripped through the crevasse and we were all pulled in. It took us about two hours to get free."

Civilians in the team included photographer Tim Hall, who took many of these pictures, and a journalist from the Press Association.

Although it was not all excitement - the team spent four days in a tent when bad whether hit - there were a number of highlights.

The team was the first to tackle certain descents of Mount Banck, Mount Hoegh and Mount Johnson - one of the highest peaks on Antarctica's Forbidden Plateau.

But for former Eastbourne School pupil Sgt Ayres, who joined the Army straight from school, the biggest adventure was Mount Pendragon.

He spent more than two years training for the expedition, after seeing it in an Army magazine and passing selection.

"I was a novice," he said. But skiing and mountaineering trips to Chamonix, in the French Alps, and Norway, helped to prepare him for the adventure, which included temperatures as low as minus 20 degrees.

He kept his return to RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, a secret from girlfriend Georgina, landing four days early to give her a Valentine's Day surprise.

Then he returned to Darlington to spend time with his parents, Andy and Margaret.