• Sylvie Novotny

Chasing the Northern Lights in Norway

Updated: Oct 4, 2018

Armor against the winter in the arctic circle is made of down, fleece and wool. It may involve two layers of pants and spikes on your shoes to prevent slipping on the icy buildup that Norwegians seem to neither mind nor care to remove from sidewalks. Out for our first night in Tromso, my boyfriend, Lorenzo, and I stopped on the porch of our bed and breakfast to make necessary wardrobe adjustments when Lorenzo, looked up at the sky and mused “what a strange cloud.” I let my eyes focus on a bent hazy line above the tree line that extended above the house and past us. In cities like Tromso, you need only look up and let your eyes adjust. What appeared to be a cloud was in fact the Aurora Borealis.

We excitedly ran back into the house to tell our host, Jorgen, who suggested we make our way to a lake just a mile or so from the house and further outside of the city lights. Jorgen packed a bag of bowls, a pot of onion soup and a few beers into the back of his truck and we made our way to the snow-covered lake. Under the dark sky, the green of the Auroras glowed, shifted, multiplied and seemed to evaporate from view. The Aurora reminds me of a rubber band of energy which stretches and pulls over the earth’s surface in an arch, at times breaking and creating more ribbons to hug the night sky. It both lifts you out of your boots and reminds you that you are grounded and far beneath the stars. Occasionally we could hear the sharp crack of ice breaking on the lake. Locals scattered themselves under the open sky to look up. I sipped hot soup to try to stay warm, but despite my best efforts the Arctic cold punished my toes.

Drought and good weather made Aurora viewing easy. We left a bar and looked up and there was a band of light above our heads. We walked home from night skiing and there it was carving the atmosphere. But to experience the lights in their full beauty, you must get out of the city, away from the houses, deeper and deeper into the icy terrain and the darkness. There are many companies that will take you out for a Northern Lights chase and many of them can be hard to discern from one another. All of them seemed to have five-star reviews, they mostly all provided warm clothing and soup, and photographs after the trip.

Photograph Northern Lights in Norway on a frozen lake
Most companies will provide a tripod but check their website first before you go

We select Northern Soul Adventures as our tour guides and met them outside of the Tromso tourist office with a few others. The company, started by Hannah and Jeff, works from one van which only seats 7, so the tour is intimate. After about an hour drive, we arrive at our destination; a road with no traffic or lights and surrounded by mountains on all sides. The lake in the middle is frozen over, with sheaths of ice broken upwards into dramatic angles where we step down. The tour provides thermal suits and foot warmers to protect from the cold, but it’s so frigid some in our party still prefer the van until a cozy fire is lit. We pose for our first photos, Hannah taking the opportunity to put our individual personalities into the photos as much as she can with a 15 second exposure time on the camera. The lights are about the same strength as when we arrive in Tromso. Soup and bread is served fireside with dessert, coffee and cocoa. We stay in that location a few hours taking photos, chatting with the rest of the group and we are about to pack up. Hannah has been trying to convince us all night that the amount of activity we have been seeing might end as an amazing crescendo, but many in our tour are wondering if their fingers can withstand the arctic chill any longer.

Northern Lights  over Norway in winter

Hannah is right. As we are about to pack up, there is a swirl of light and movement above us. A borealis band that has been reaching out above us to the mountains on the horizon gets fatter, and brighter. It’s pulsing with energy and filling its bands in with radiant light. It has become a whirlpool of bright green and strands at the end curl like a fern. Hannah immediately grabs the camera as Lorenzo and I whisk up the hill to get the display behind us. The Aurora is now so strong that the camera needs no more than 2 seconds exposure time. Just past this spectacle, what was just a faint arched band are now the ribbons of a rhythmic gymnast. The ribbons are alive with green lines moving through them, dancing up and downwards and sometimes across each other. More bands of light across the lake multiply and for a few minutes the group is at a loss of where to look. If you look in one direction you may miss the movement in another. And then it becomes less active, the lights become fainter, and the night sky is quiet again. The lights are soft, reaching out over the mountains has they had all evening. It is a visual hush among the stars.

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