Captain Jon Armstrong and Corporal Arjun Limbu have returned home to Britain after their 93-day, 1,000-mile expedition around Ellesmere Island off the northern Canadian coast.

The soldiers, of the 2nd Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles, were attempting a circumnavigation of the Island to raise money for our drinking water and sanitation projects in Nepal, while going the extra mile to commemorate 200 years of Gurkha service.

Extreme Arctic fundraising

The challenge required the duo to trek, kayak and ski across over 1600 kilometres of treacherous terrain in the sub-zero temperatures of Ellesmere Island, all the while staying alert to the dangers of Polar bears, crevasses, ice floes, strong headwinds and fast-moving icebergs which could have crushed their kayaks if they were caught unawares.

While they managed the feat in only 93 days, a section of the Nares Straight along the east coast of the island remained impassable due to packed ice along the coastline – highly unusual for this time of year. This sadly meant that they could not break the World Record for a complete circumnavigation, but nevertheless they completed over 1000-miles of trekking and kayaking.

Gurkha 200 celebrations

As part of the celebrations in 2015 to mark 200 years of Gurkha service to the Crown, Capt Armstrong and Cpl Limbu, who serve together in the 2nd Battalion RGR in Folkestone, decided over a year ago to undertake this epic journey.

They spent the next 12 months finding time to train in Scotland and Norway while carrying out their “day jobs” as serving members of the British Army, who are concurrently preparing for a tour in Afghanistan in 2016. They’ve also managed to raise more than £10,000 for the GWT.

The pair set off prior to the Nepal earthquakes and were informed of the damage done to Arjun’s homeland while out on the expedition. Thankfully Arjun’s family were not badly affected and he has managed to keep in touch with them by satellite phone.

We’ve succeeded in beating one of the most inhospitable places

Corporal Limbu said: “My forebears have fought in countless wars including both World Wars and the Falklands, and I myself have been in Afghanistan and Iraq, so I didn’t think the Arctic would be too much of a problem. We thought that we could prepare for it and face it with determination, but sometimes the conditions are such that no preparation will help.

“Thankfully we’ve succeeded in beating one of the most inhospitable places and we can use that achievement to highlight the 200th anniversary of Gurkhas serving in the British Army, and the work The Gurkha Welfare Trust is doing to help my country and its people, especially after the events of the earthquakes.”

A life-changing mission

Captain Armstrong, who has also been planning his wedding which will take place this autumn, said: “We faced some brutal conditions and there were a few points at which we thought we were going to be in serious trouble and maybe even need rescue.

"Snow blindness, debilitating illness and exhaustion all had an impact but we trained hard for what we faced and pushed through some pretty harsh moments. We are incredibly glad to be back home now, reflecting on the lessons learnt from this life-changing mission and looking forward to catching up with our friends, family and colleagues over the coming weeks.”

The team will now take a few days off to recover before returning to duty with 2 RGR. They’ll be holding a presentation for those who want to hear about their journey later this year – we’ll keep you posted via our Facebook page.

Clean water and sanitation

Arctic Gurkha raised over £10,000 towards our Rural Water & Sanitation Programme, bringing clean water systems to remote villages in Nepal.

Useful links

Plenty of information about the Expedition is available at the Arctic Gurkha website.

Anyone wishing to donate to the cause can do so through Arctic Gurkha’s JustGiving page.

Visit the Brigade’s website to see a gallery of photos from the Expedition.

Watch Forces TV’s interview with the pair on their return to the UK.

Gurkha 200

Read about all the Gurkha 200 events that took place throughout 2015 to celebrate the bicentenary of Gurkha service.

Arctic Gurkha facts
  • Ellesmere has the most northerly inhabited place on earth – CFS Alert; it is also the coldest inhabited place
  • The Island has a population of approx. 150 people
  • Only two people have previously undertaken this voyage – a pair of American explorers – in 2011
  • Fully loaded, the team's kayaks weighed approx. 100 kg
  • Temperatures on Ellesmere range from -20 to +10 °C in summer
  • The pair consumed 6,000 calories a day – their bodies were using more than 300 calories an hour
  • Step off and return point was Grise Fiord (meaning “Pig Inlet” in Norwegian); the Inuktitut name is Aujuittuq, which translates as “place that never thaws”