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The Adventure Journals

Norway: Chasing the Aurora

The aurora borealis, or northern lights, as they are commonly known are a naturally occurring display of green, indigo and deep blue dancing lights that appear on the horizon in the higher latitudes of the northern hemisphere. This polar light show is shroud in legend and veiled in folklore. As elusive as they are mysterious, these shape-shifting ethereal displays evoke wanderlust like no other natural phenomenon.

Last year we supported a team of young photographers called Wilderness Media in their attempt to go and capture the elusive phenomenon. They headed straight to Lofoten in Northern Norway and spent 2 weeks exploring the area and attempting to chase the dancing lights of the Aurora Borealis.

Their journey raised an interesting question. Why are we fascinated and utterly captivated by the aurora? Even the onslaught of science and reason has not been able to dispel the unquenchable urge to see them in person. It is almost as though we don’t believe they exist. We are driven to travel cross-continent, over land and by sea to the remote regions on the most northerly extremes of our planet, on the off chance we might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the dancing palace of lights.

The Legend

Much like a fairytale, the aurora captivates our imagination and catapults us into the realm of  make-believe. Even today, we are drawn to the ancient stories and legends of the tribes and communities that have lived surrounded by the lights.

Imagine standing on a frozen lake, knee deep in snow, enveloped in silence, without knowledge of science or understanding of the night sky. The stars stretch beyond the perceivable, twinkling into the infinite. With pupils dilated by the scale of the landscape and a mind open to the possibilities of something beyond, you suddenly see a shimmering, green light dancing on the horizon. For a fleeting second, you think you’re imagining it. But there it is, this time brighter and most definitely real. It is unnerving, even fear-inducing. It’s no wonder the aurora are shrouded in legend.

The Sami people of Finnish Lapland believe the light is created by the tail of giant firefox as it skips across the snow beyond the horizon. Interestingly, this legend has a basis in science. Fox fur has a form of electromagnetism that sparkles in cold, dry air. The modern Finnish word for the Northern Light is in fact ‘revontulet’, literally translated as ‘FireFox’.

The Northern Light also feature heavily in Norse mythology. In one story the lights are thought to be the glow from the armour and shields of the Valkyrie. The Valkyrie being the female warriors that choose which warriors would live and who die in battle. A sighting would be a good omen. A sign that warrior would live to fight another day. Another Norse is that the aurora is an incarnation of the ‘Bifrost Bridge’, a structure that allowed the passage of fallen warriors from this life to Valhalla, their final resting place.

The Science

From the celestial to the anthropomorphic, the northern lights have inspired a sense of the spiritual in every community in northern most reaches of the globe. But what is really happening, what is the science behind the magic?

The northern lights occur when storms on the sun throw charged particles out into space. When these particles collide with our atmosphere they unleash a reaction high above the earth. This is the shimmering light that we see, and have named the aurora.

The reaction is both simple and incredibly complex (dependant on your knowledge of science). The reaction we see is caused by the disconnection and subsequent reconnection of atoms and their orbiting electrons, present in our atmosphere. When the sun’s particles crash into the atoms it drives the electrons into a widened orbit, known as a high-energy orbit. When the electrons move back toward the nucleus and a lower energy orbit they release the surplus energy as light. These particles of light are known as photons. The photons are subjected to changes in colour due to the various gases that feature in our atmosphere. Oxygen causes greens, yellows and sometimes reds. Nitrogen causes purples and blues. This is why we see an array of colours when the aurora are dancing at their brightest.

Where and When To Go

The Northern Lights can be viewed most places around and close to the Lofoten Islands. There are a number of locations across the islands that offer ideal opportunities to capture the perfect shot.

Both Reine and Hamnøy offer views of the town, mountains and surrounding fjords. These unique perspectives offer the opportunity to frame humanity and nature against a backdrop of the dancing light show. They offer perspective and they are easy to access. However, be warned, light pollution can spoil your shot here. If you’re not careful it is easy to end up with a murky orange glow in camera rather than the epic greens and purples you hoped for.

There are a number of beaches in the area that offer the best chance to catch an undisturbed shot of the light show. If you are lucky enough to get a really good night, when the lights are bright the best idea is to move around as much as possible and catch the show from as many places as possible. A good route would be to start at Vik beach, where the horizon is clearly visible, from here move on to Haukland or Uttakleiv beaches. From here you move toward Hamnoy and Reine to capture the lights under a very different scene.

The best time of year to visit is October - March, the nights are longer and the weather systems can be more stable. Unfortunately all the planning in the world can be thwarted by one simple meteorological occurrence - clouds. However, if you can score just one or two cloud-free nights during your trip it will all be worth it. Good luck and happy hunting!

Kit Used on the Trip

Manaslu ND55:65

Manaslu ND55:65

55 + 10lt | 71 x 36 x 29cm | 2.23kg

A future classic. The Manaslu delivers serious function while looking great. Featuring Axiom 5 technology, front entry and stretch mesh front and side pockets.

AT Kit Bag 60

AT Kit Bag 60

60lt | 64 x 36 x 33cm | 0.92kg

A 60-litre kit bag is a great size for when you're going away for a week or two. Tamperproof zippers mean your kit stays safe even when out of sight and stashable shoulder straps give more comfort when carrying it longer distances.

AT Kit Bag 90

AT Kit Bag 90

90lt | 74 x 41 x 36cm | 1.10kg

Our duffels are simple, tough and constructed using minimal seams and durable, abrasion resistant fabrics. Fill it with expedition gear and trust it won't let you down.

AT Kit Bag 40

AT Kit Bag 40

40lt | 56 x 33 x 26cm | 0.89kg

This 40-litre kit bag is perfect for a long weekend getaway. All our duffels are constructed using minimal seams and durable fabrics to keep your kit safe wherever you're going.


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