Thursday, 28 February 2013

Dancing colours in the sky: The beautiful Northern Lights in Lapland

On the short journey from Ivalo airport to Inari, our base for the following week, my heart began to sink. Snow fluttered around us, settling on the already white ground, and the temperatures were much milder than I'd expected, hovering just below zero degrees. The landscape was stunning, littered with frozen lakes and tall pine forests, and I was incredibly happy to be there. But as I watched the clouds thicken and hang low in the sky as the day progressed, I couldn't help but feel worried.

"Not much Aurora last week", the bus driver had commented. "Weather too mild - clouds and lots of snow. A Lappish heatwave!".

When Andy arrived for our briefing, however, he quickly brushed our worries aside. Yes, he conceded, the temperatures had drastically changed, from -30 to just below zero, and the resulting cloud was a bit of a pain. But the solar activity charts looked good, and he had an idea of where we might find clear skies, even for a short while. Plus, he added, the forecast seemed to be improving for the next couple of nights, so our chances were good.

Wrapped up in thermals and bundled ungracefully into the car, we were off. Andy had given us some tips on how to get the most out of our pictures, and I was still fiddling with my camera when we suddenly pulled over at the side of the road. Although the cloud still surrounded us, it was patchy, and I saw grey wisps fading in and out of sight in star-filled flashes of sky. Over the next quarter of an hour, the wisps grew stronger, with hints of green throbbing at the edges. Although the display wasn't dramatic, it was definitely there, and we eagerly snapped photos before the clouds swept in and blocked the colour out completely.

Excitedly arriving back at the hotel, we were exhausted but happy, and would have been content if that was our only sighting all week. We had no idea that the best was yet to come...

The following evening, still buoyed from the night before, we received a message from Andy. Instead of leaving at nine or ten pm, he wanted to head off at seven, having spied clear skies and strong activity on his maps. We left the hotel shrouded in cloud, but barely an hour's driving later we pulled over once more for some test shots. The screen revealed the tell-tale green, so it was back in the car and off again to a frozen lake nearby.

Surrounded by pine trees and glistening snow, we had barely struggled down to the lake when the first flash appeared overhead, a vivid green streaking higher and higher. Bands of lights stretched across, the colour intensifying as we watched breathlessly. Soon the whole sky exploded into various shades of green, with reds tinging the edges. Spiralling, flowing and winking in and out of life, the Aurora lit up the trees and danced for us. We stood, captivated, for almost four hours. Every time it seemed like the display was coming to an end, it began anew in another direction, teasing us.

It was more beautiful than I could possibly have imagined, and rivalled our display in Iceland last year. My feet were aching with cold and I could barely feel my fingers, but I couldn't tear myself away from the exhibit until I was absolutely sure that it was all over. Arriving back close to 2am, pumped full of adrenalin, I could barely sleep...

But the Aurora wasn't quite done with us yet. On our third and final evening with Andy, we stayed closer to Inari, taking advantage of the clear night. The lights greeted us one more, showing off with a lazy spiral and arching across the sky in one long band. After gently fading from view, we hopped back into the car, moving on to a second site nearby. There they were again, bright reds joining the neon greens and moving much more quickly than we'd seen before, dancing directly above us and framing the trees.

Three nights, and three Northern Lights displays. I couldn't possibly have been happier... 


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