It is the night of 6-7 March. We have driven 200 km from Tromsø (Point A) to a place called Spåkanes (Spoh-kah-nes) which is Point B on the screen capture of a Google map at left (click to enlarge). Notice that in order to get to a point approximately 90 km west of Tromsø, we must drive a substantial way in every other direction – south, north, and east! The area shaded in green marks the Lyngen Alps. This mountain range is one reason why weather prediction is not so easy.
The weather map we consulted earlier suggested that skies will be clear in this region within a few hours, however at the moment (8:40 pm), the car is being pelted by freezing rain and buffeted by high winds. Our map says that the view is especially beautiful here, but it is dark and we cannot tell what is out there. The long arctic twilight allowed us to see outrageously breathtaking scenery for about half our drive. Wow…we really do need to get out in the daytime much more!
In the daytime we realized that the peak above was the same one that we had photographed a couple of late nights before on the way back from Finland. Here is the photograph Will made then with auroral lights appearing to be entwined with the clouds. Of course the northern lights are vastly higher in the atmosphere (~100 km) than the clouds which are much less than 10 km (~33,000 feet).
As night fell on our journey to Spåkanes, we stopped at a gas station near Skibotn to go wee. This is near where the E8 takes off toward the Finnish border (see Posts 2 and 4 for our adventures up that road). There was a convenience store where the offerings were surprisingly similar to those in the US, including junk food like hot dogs and chips, and junk drinks like soda pop. But then…then I spied a treat one would NOT find in a comparable US venue – premium dark chocolate bars with 70% cacao! I did not hesitate to spend approximately $12 on two bars. These Norwegians have very high salaries, and of course only tourists buy their chocolate at a gas station on the northern lights highway, so it’s pricey.
It turns out that Spåkanes is little more than a few houses and perhaps an inn of some kind. While waiting for the predicted clearing, all three of us are sitting in the car working on computers plugged into a power strip that is plugged into a power inverter that is plugged into the car’s power socket. You could say we are in a kind of (ahem) “Lap(top)land”. Will is processing images. Duke is studying how to use a device that can automate time lapse photography across day to night transitions. Of course, I (Cherilynn) am writing this post. The power inverter is working hard and is letting us know this in several sensible ways, including the heat of its black and red body, the intermittent whir of its little cooling fan, and the pungent (and mildly nauseating) scent of hot plastic. Yes….we are nerds in the Norwegian night.
Now we are on our way back to Tromsø in the rain and snow. It is after midnight – the time when a powerful wave of hunger has been striking us, particularly when we have been active in the field. So out comes our food bag … because yes, we have certainly been active, even though the northern lights have been quiet. Here’s the story…
Shortly after 10 pm, the rain subsided and we caught sight of the waxing crescent moon emerging from behind the clouds with a hint of green aurora to the right of it. In the moonlight we could begin to perceive the stunning nature of our location, looking across a fairly narrow channel of water to a collection of gorgeous cone-like peaks – a stretch of the Lyngen Alps!
We quickly realized that we needed to move a bit further down the road and deploy the cameras down the steep bank nearer to the water. We found a decent way to park the car though once again, we faced challenging terrain, this time with thick, slippery mud on a steep bank, uneven clumps of grass, and large, slimy, seaweed-covered rocks at water’s edge. Our new location put the moon in a great position over the peaks with its light reflected in the water.
The air was still moving fairly fast, but the temperature was a moderate 4-5C and so well above freezing (5C=40F). It is interesting that we are several degrees farther north in latitude than our Yellowknife expedition last year (which was just below the Arctic Circle), yet we are also experiencing vastly warmer temperatures here at a location well above the Arctic Circle. Our full-up arctic clothing has been unnecessary. The reason?
Yellowknife is located in the Northwest Territories of Canada and is vastly more land-locked. The coastal regions of Norway are generally warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer because the Atlantic Ocean and the nearby coastal waters have a moderating effect on the extremes of temperature. Click image to enlarge and find the encircled regions of our 2013 and current (2014) expeditions.
Now back to our relatively warm and windy Norwegian coastline then! Though there was very little auroral activity this night, we enjoyed a rather blissful, hour-long window of partially clear skies in this scenic, moonlit location before the sudden onset of gale-force winds and complete overcast caused us to retreat, scrambling to keep our bodies and camera tripods from toppling over.
Below are a couple of samples of the evening’s other-worldly photographic gifts. The water rolled to the rocky shore in frequent small waves that are washed out in the longer time exposures. The straight line at left is either a satellite or very high-flying aircraft, both of which are commonly seen at high latitudes (69+degrees North). Be sure to click on the smaller images to enlarge them. We REALLY want to see this place in the light of day!
I wish I could somehow post for you the indescribably sweet freshness of the air on this coast. It was not salty, nor fishy, nor floral….yet was it imbued with a profoundly pleasing scent that invited me to inhale deeply and let it saturate my body. Once Duke and Will were established with their cameras, I found a moment alone to do some yogic breathing as the moonlight shimmered off the water. What an invigorating pleasure to be alive and in this place…nerdishness gently giving way to blissfulness…and even exhilaration when the gale-force winds arose. No cameras fell this night.