Chasing the Northern Lights by snowmobile

Chasing the Northern Lights by snowmobile

Saturday 4th January 2020

As we walked to breakfast, although sunrise was not for another couple of hours, light was slowly rising over the Apukka Resort.

An ice wall and two slides have been constructed out of the snow and ice here and rubber rings are provided as the means of transport down the slides.

When we checked in we were encouraged to use the slides and have fun. However, it is possible that they were constructed with slightly younger children than ours in mind as our daughters managed to build up a fair amount of momentum.

As well as yesterday’s Aurora Husky Tour, we had also pre-booked the Aurora Snowmobiling Tour making sure we had a snowmobile each. The Apukka Resort brochure clearly states that, in order to take part in the Aurora Snowmobiling Tour, you need to be in possession of a driving licence which is valid/accepted in the EU. In addition, there is a zero tolerance policy for alcohol or other mind-altering substances.

One couple who had booked on the tour were sitting in reception with an open bottle of wine just before we were due to depart. They both failed a breathalyser test and were not allowed to join us. The driver from another couple and Robert, who had both had alcohol with lunch earlier in the day, volunteered to be breathalysed and passed. It was therefore a small, select and friendly group of six who set off, after a snowmobile lesson from our guide.

We were taken to an open area where the aurora was beginning to appear . . .

. . . and as we watched, the display developed and travelled west to east across the sky.

This is apparently the customary direction of travel for the Northern Lights.

We had not expected to be so lucky as the forecast was not promising. Our guide confessed that he and the husky tour guide had been discussing how they could fill the time as they were not anticipating seeing the Northern Lights.

We were truly blessed.

A lavuu – a Finnish teepee – had been set up and this was intended to provide shelter as our guide cooked some sausages and provided us with warming hot chocolate. However, all six of us opted to travel further on to an open area for our snacks.

The Northern Lights are created by plasma particles escaping from the sun: it takes them 40 hours to travel the 93 million miles to earth. The colour is based on both the gas and the height at which the particles react to the gases in the earth’s atmosphere: green is created when the particles encounter oxygen at 150 miles up; red is seen when the particles meet nitrogen at 150 miles up and blue is generated when the particles hit nitrogen at 60 miles up. Green is by far the most common colour.

Once the particles have entered the atmosphere, they are attracted to magnetic north and this accounts for the swirling effects which are often seen.

As we stood and gazed skywards, we realised that photographs of the Northern Lights can appear brighter and more vibrant than the real thing as a result of the extended exposure time needed. They are nevertheless an extraordinary natural phenomenon.

When you see any commentary on how to photograph the spectacle it always says that you will need an SLR camera, on a tripod with no flash and at least a 10 second exposure. All the photos in this blog were taken with an iPhone 11 Pro Max handheld on automatic for 10 seconds. Our guide was blown away by the quality that the phone produces.

Our guide told us that there are 180,000 residents of Lapland but that they are outnumbered by the 200,000 reindeer.

Robert, commendably, likes to try traditional local delicacies, and in the past this has included fermented shark in Iceland. This time the local cuisine features reindeer and Matilda realised that she had probably, unwittingly, been given reindeer sausages the previous night.

She is, however, quite uncomfortable about petting and feeding these lovely creatures one moment only to order the same animal as food a little while later.

Although this undoubtedly reflects man’s traditional relationship with domesticated cattle, Matilda cannot decide whether she thinks it is ruthless, hypocritical or disingenuous to bring young children to meet Comet and Vixen and then offer them reindeer to eat. Perhaps as Matilda is not vegetarian, she is the hypocrite?

She declined the sausages offered at the open air site this time and also discovered the importance of staying to the well-worn tracks. Thinking she would make clean footprints in some virgin snow, Matilda soon found herself up to her groin in a deep drift. Thankfully the snow suits provided by Apukka were very efficient and kept her warm and dry.

Our three and a half hour snowmobile experience ended up being 12.5 km in length. We lost one driving licence, one hat and a pair of gloves, the last two of these were mislaid back in the changing rooms. One member of The Herd complained about the high speed huskies yesterday but was very happy that they managed to get over 30 kph on the snowmobile (without the instructor knowing).

The half moon and the snow produces light at 22:30 that makes it seem
as though it is daylight.

Route Map:

Video of the day:

Selfie of the day:

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