Notes From North Pole, Alaska: Northern Lights

It begins as a wispy motion in the sky, almost as if your eyes are playing tricks you. On our first night we sit in the cold and the darkness with our hot chocolates, watching, waiting.

 

There is only darkness for what seems like hours. And then something changes. An almost undetectable lightening in one section of sky and a then a slight movement of this light. I blink once. Twice. The Aurora Borealis. It’s so faint that I’m not convinced. It’s 1am, I’m beyond tired and maybe my eyes are just clouding over. I’m not even totally sure I’m awake.

 

 

beginning of the northern lights

© Quiet Wanderings. All photography by Cherina Hadley

 

 

And then the cloud of light moves and becomes more visible. “I think that’s them starting” I say, pointing.

 

Then almost before I’ve finished speaking the words, the wispiness suddenly morphs into a moving wave of colour and texture and contracts and expands and darkens and lightens. Every second is different.

 

 

northern lights

© Quiet Wanderings

 

 

northern lights

© Quiet Wanderings

 

 

We had prepared our tripods and camera settings in readiness for this moment and so began capturing the phenomenon immediately. Sometimes the northern lights are out for only a few minutes. Sometimes not at all.  We are so far north that we could almost reach out and touch the Arctic Circle.

 

Almost.

 

Of all the places in Alaska, the northern lights are more visible the further north you go, but even here there are no guarantees. And with only three nights in this faraway place, this could well be our only chance to see and photograph the lights.

 

As many have been before me, I am completely mesmerised.

The aurora swirls and dances in vertical towers and shifts between what seems like a million shades of green. Then as suddenly as it comes, it is gone.

 

 

close up image of a campfire

© Quiet Wanderings


The second night we sit around a campfire with high hopes for another great show. We finally give in at 4am having seen nothing. We sleep until noon and awake to a perfectly clear day. A good sign for a possible clear night.

 

Sure enough, about 1am the lights begin to show themselves. We step out onto the front porch of our cosy Riverbend Log Cabin to take a quick look and close the door behind us to keep out the cold. Only to realize we don’t have our cabin key.

 

We are locked out without shoes, or coats, or cameras in the freezing cold northern night: a perfect time to introduce ourselves to our neighbours who are also up waiting for the lights. With their help we find a ladder and crawl through the unlocked door upstairs. Crisis averted.

 

 

northern lights over the Chena River

© Quiet Wanderings

 

 

With our new friends we head out through the forest along a tiny goat’s track to the Chena River to a clearing we had scouted out earlier in the day. Again, we sit and wait and talk and shiver. This time the lights form a kind of glowing green rainbow, are even more vibrant in colour and are reflected brilliantly in the river.

 

We went to North Pole, Alaska for three nights solely to catch a glimpse of the elusive northern lights, a far cry from our Southern Hemisphere home. Seeing the lights in all their glory two nights out of the three felt like we were the luckiest people in the world!

 

*For the best viewing of the northern lights it is best to get away from any city lights so that you have a perfectly dark sky. You can travel through Alaska by rail from Anchorage to Fairbanks and either rent a car or taxi to to take you to North Pole or any other surrounding areas in the interior.

 

 

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Comments (15)
  • Avatar

    Raymond @ Man On The Lam Sep 29 2011 - 6:42 pm Reply

    I saw the northern lights once in Labrador — I didn’t have a camera though at the time. These are great photos!
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      quietwanderings Oct 13 2011 - 5:44 am Reply

      Isn’t is the most amazing thing? I’m really hoping to see them again when I’m in the Arctic in a couple of weeks…

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    Stephanie - The Travel Chica Sep 29 2011 - 10:46 pm Reply

    I hope to experience this for myself one day.
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    Dalene Oct 2 2011 - 6:19 am Reply

    I grew up in far northern Alberta, so seeing northern lights was totally normal for me – to the point where I’d say “Eh. Northern lights again.” Funny what you take for granted when it’s all around you….
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      quietwanderings Oct 13 2011 - 5:48 am Reply

      I know what you mean. I am the same with our beaches and coastline in Western Australia. People come to visit and are just staggered by the beauty but I’ve grown up with it all my life and I think “I can see this any time”. It’s all relative I guess. I still love our beaches though…but I should probably appreciate them more.

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    Pete Heck Oct 2 2011 - 6:27 am Reply

    Both Dalene and I grew up with the Northern Lights in our backyard (Dalene more than me as she lived further north), but we both never get tired of watching them. They are phenomenal to see in person. Beautiful photos
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      quietwanderings Oct 13 2011 - 5:49 am Reply

      Thanks Peter…I am so completely jealous that you and Dalene had that opportunity! I am longing to see them again already!

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    Sherry Oct 2 2011 - 10:28 pm Reply

    Cherina, your photography of these lights as well as the campfire is absolutely gorgeous! I would have been so thrilled, as I imagined you were, to see this beautiful show. How fun it must’ve been for you to sit around a fire under the clear skies waiting to be delighted by a spectacular show. Alaska has remained the one state I have yet to go to; so close, yet so far away.

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      quietwanderings Oct 13 2011 - 5:53 am Reply

      Yes, they really were spectacular and you’re right, the waiting part was half fun. Thank goodness for hot chocolate and campfires though, that’s all I can say! I’m determined to see the Aurora Australis now…one day.

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    Mel Oct 3 2011 - 2:50 pm Reply

    Thank you for sharing this fabulous phenomenon. Very descriptive and great photos. I’d love to see it some day.

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    travelyn Nov 12 2011 - 4:36 am Reply

    I hope to experience this wonderful phenomenon next year during our trip in Alaska. What time of year can you see the northern lights or is it all year round? Guess I need to know that before we go! Thanks for sharing.
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    Kim Jan 14 2012 - 1:52 am Reply

    Amazing photos! Seeing the northern lights is a dream of mine (I will, some day!)
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    Michelle Feb 29 2012 - 4:43 am Reply

    Eeek! How exciting! The Northern Lights is definitely on my list. I hope to be able to experience it soon. Lovely photos you captured!
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      quietwanderings Mar 1 2012 - 7:22 am Reply

      Thank you, Michelle! Not too bad for a first attempt. It is such a wonderful thing to experience and I really hope to see and photograph the lights again someday. Hope you do too. Apparently northern Scandanavia is a great place to see them.

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    Marcello Arrambide Apr 5 2014 - 3:27 pm Reply

    That looks incredible! It must have been so surreal to be under the northern lights!
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