A QUEST FOR THE NORTHERN LIGHTS –
Whenever I would hear the words ‘The Northern Lights’ my ears would prick up and my mind would begin to wander about this amazing natural spectacle. It was something I had always longed to view. A big tick on everyones bucket list of things to see before they die
THE NORTHERN LIGHTS
The Northern Lights are the result of collisions between gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere with charged particles released from the Sun’s atmosphere. Variations in colour are due to the type of gas particles that are colliding.
But it is the magic and mystery that surround the lights that had always intrigued me. The ancient myths and legends and the long lost stories told way before science facts came to light. This was something I needed to find out more about and the only way for me to do that was to take my Journey to the North.
THE PLAN –
I decided 2016 would be the year I would set out to put this dream into action and finally find and view The Northern Lights. As usual I wanted to challenge myself in a truly extreme environment. And, as usual, I wanted to try and achieve this life long dream on a very modest budget.
The plan would be to get as far North as possible on as little money as possible and the main goal would be to reach the furthest Northern point of mainland Europe, North Cape in Norway.
Doing this meant I would have to camp, walk and hitchhike and immerse myself into the wild as much as possible. I would be going deep inside the Arctic Circle where temperatures would plummet to as low as minus 30 degrees celsius and roads would be closed due to the winters harsh weather conditions. So, the challenge was set, the plans beginning to take shape and the familiar restlessness in anticipation of a new adventure was setting in. There was just one thing missing… a partner in crime. I decided to advertise my trip online to try and recruit someone to join me. That’s when I was approached by Tim. It was also on Tim’s wish list to find and capture the Northern Lights and we both had similar views on how to go about getting North, so all was good.
It started out with a little help from a friend called Ryan, Ryan Air to be exact. With a flight option of a mear £9.99, that seemed to be the only logical and most sensible option to take. The flight took us to Rygge airport, located about 60km south of the capital Oslo. When we reached the airport we searched around for possible options and the best way of hitching a ride. We found that there was a free shuttle bus to the train station from where we could get a £3 train North to the town of Moss.
After stocking up on supplies in Moss and realising the reality of the very high food costs in Norway, we tried our luck at hitching.
We only had to wait a few minutes for our first lift. A Latvian man who had been living and working for the past few years in Oslo dropped us on the outskirts of Oslo along the E6 highway. Once out of the comfort and shelter of the car, the realisation of the intensely cold temperature hit us and so we tried again to hitch a ride. This time luck was not on our side we so headed for nearby woodland for our first nights wild camp.
Waking up to find we had survived our first nights camp in minus 15 degree temperatures, we decided our best option would be to walk into Oslo, which was only around 10km. We knew that in Oslo there might be better options for hitching a ride or cheap public transport links to the North.
After a pleasant walk and chat with a local Norwegian man called Christian, we had learnt more about the ways of life in Norway and with Christian once running a company called ‘Northern Lights’ we couldn’t have met a better person to inspire our journey and walk with to the centre of Oslo.
Christian left us near the information centre, where we were tipped off on the advanced train fair options. We could get an overnight train from Oslo to Bodo for approximately £30, which would take us three quarters of the way up the country and deep inside the Artic circle and within visible Northern Lights territory.
After a couple of days stay in the Anker hostel in Oslo, we had seen all the city had to offer and it was time to start heading North again.
The train was comfortable and spacious and meant another nights sleep away from the cold Artic temperatures. The views as we travelled further North got better and better and it was now turning into the wild and remote environment that I had so longed to admire.
We decided we would skip Bodo, as it would take us away from the E6 North/South highway and make it trickier to hitch. We got off the train in a small town called Fauske where we stopped off at yet another Shell garage to talk through our options.
We checked the Aurora forecast app that Tim had downloaded. It said we had a good window of opportunity to get our first view of the lights between 12am and 3am We headed away from the town and tried to get well away from any unnatural light. We found a huge field alongside a wooded area, where we pitched up and waited in anticipation.
The decision was made to get inside our sleeping bags, where I positioned myself with the best possible view North. It was about 1am and I was willing the lights to come out. It’s hard to really describe the feeling when first viewing the lights. It was like a faint green haze which left me unsure if it was my eyes or the sky that was producing it. But it suddenly became brighter and more visible, this was it , this was the moment I had been waiting for, this was my first sighting of the Northern Lights.
“Tim Tim!” I shouted, “The Lights, The Lights!” It was a moment of panic as we both wrestled with our sleeping bags to try and get out of our tents. It was an amazing sight and a moment I will always treasure. We had managed to view and capture the lights and up until that point had only spent around £70.
The next day we woke in high spirits, we had completed a life long dream of viewing the Northern Lights and managed to endure a nights wild camp in the Arctic circle. We didn’t know it at this point but the day ahead was to be luckiest day so far.
We positioned ourselves next to a truck stop but by now the temperature had fallen to around minus 20, and so we decided to hitch for 20 minute intervals with warm up breaks inbetween. No more than an hour had gone by when I decided to be cheeky and ask people in parked vehicles if they were headed North and if we could possibly catch a lift. We met a great guy who was more than happy to help, he took us all the way to Narvik and told us many interesting facts and stories along the way. He kindly even paid for our ferry across to Narvik. He dropped us next to a camping site, which was closed for the cold winter season. We hung around trying to find the owners but no luck. We decided we would walk into town to grab some food and head back later to try again.
As we headed back towards the site we caught our second sighting of the Northern Lights. It put on an amazing display for us and gave us a huge morale boost ahead of trying our luck to get some accommodation for the night.
We reached the campsite and went into an empty reception area, where we shouted for a while until a couple of guys appeared from a back room. We asked them about the possibility of pitching our tents on their land for the night. They informed us that they were closed and that it wouldn’t be possible. We started to then ask if they knew of any place we could get our heads down for the night and explained that our trip was on a very meager budget. After a short conversation they eventually felt sorry for us and decided to let us stay in an unused log cabin for the night. It was a blessing and was possibly the best outcome we could have wished for.
After a great nights sleep and with batteries fully charged we set off for another morning of hitching.
It was a cold morning with temperatures having now dropped to around -22. We waited and waited but still no lift. It was too cold and we were running out of time. After a conversation with a very confident assistant at the visitor information centre, she had told us that we could get to Tromso by bus for 180Krone (around £15). This was good news and we headed to the bus station.
After a very long cold morning the bus finally arrived. The doors slid open and we were greeted by the bus driver who announced “390 Krone please”. I said “I thought it was 180?” to which he repeated “390 Krone please”. At this point we were feeling pretty frustrated with little option but to part with the money. I knew that my budget had now been broken and that this was the first stumbling block of the trip.
It was a 5 hour bus trip that would take us all the way to the centre of Tromso. We had decided our best option to get to North Cape would now be to enquire at the Hutigruten ferry terminal. The Hutigruten is one of the most popular ways of traveling in Norway, it stops at all the major towns and takes people through the Fjords and through a majestic landscape carved by the succession of an ice age, which hasn’t changed much to this day.
We arrived in Tromso at 5pm to find The Hutigruten already docked. We stepped onboard and with the Ferry travelling overnight all the way to Honninsvag at the cost of only £50 as a foot passenger, we jumped at the chance and boarded the ship.
The feeling of being on a ship which would now take us all the way to Honninsvag, was a wonderful one. The ship was very luxurious and had many floors with different restaurants, bars, a gym, swimming pool and many comfortable sitting areas.
We decided to treat ourselves to the outside hot tub and felt as though this “roughing it” buisness wasn’t so bad after all. As we relaxed the Northern Lights appeared once again and put on the most amazing display. Definitely a moment I will never forget; watching the Northern lights from a hot tub deep inside the Arctic Circle.
That night felt truly special and my trip North was panning out better than I could have ever expected. After having a good sleep on the upper level sitting area and a decent buffet breakfast from the ships restaurant, we arrived in Honninsvag at around 11am.
We had reached our final town and we knew now that we would have only a few options to reach the Cape. The Hutigruten ran tours, one of which was a coach trip to North Cape. But this trip cost about £100 and certainly didn’t feel like a grand finale to end our adventure.
So the plan was to walk the final 35km, but after stopping at the visitor information centre, we were told it wouldn’t be possible to as the roads were closed and it would be too dangerous to attempt. But with my stubbornness and will for a challenge I told them that we were walking and that we would see them tomorrow. They seemed shocked and had never heard of anyone walking to North Cape in the middle of winter before and wished us luck with seemingly worried faces.
The walk felt good and wild, the cold Arctic air and the dark sky made it feel spooky and surreal. But it was something I longed to experience and I embraced every moment of the walk. I always feel in life that you need to experience things to truly understand your potential.
As we reached the final few kilometres the Northern Lights came out to greet us as though they knew we were coming and they wanted to welcome and congratulate us as we trudged on toward our adventures finale. The feeling as we reached the Cape was euphoric. We had made it! Our Journey to the North was complete. Two dreams realised and to think we had reached the Northern most point of mainland Europe with less than £200 spent was absolutely incredible.
Journey to the North – Chaz Powell