Journey North to Parallel 68N – Aurora Hunting
“There are few places you can find silence. Air travel could be the last fortress of solitude”
The Photographic Journeys workshop to Arctic Finland is an adventure as much as a chance to explore travel photography in a wildly different environment.
The flight to the tiny aerodrome at Enontekio airport is on a small twin prop plane from the main modern international airport at Helsinki. It takes approx. 2.5 hrs and 1100kms, high and deep into the Arctic Circle and well above the tundra line.
I was up there to research and investigate the local Sami people and the potential for trips where photographers could spend time in the land of the midnight sun and dark of the bitter northern winter.
The weather forecast suggested temperature of -25 degrees and I’d dressed myself for some serious cold…. But nothing quite prepares you for that first intake of breath that freezes your throat and burns your chest.
My guides Gareth (a Kiwi now living in Arctic Finland) and Elena (his Finnish wife), were waiting for me in the ubiquitous snow vehicle, a Volvo with chunky snow stud tyres and we drove to the tiny little village.
My hosts soon dismissed my British winter snow and cold weather gear (North Face Nuptse and Salamon X Ultra Winter CS) and provided me with a Finnish all in one thermal jumpsuit and animal skin boots.
“Leave your North Face in the shed and you can collect it when you leave for the airport and return back to UK” advised Gareth !!
That night, in the dark blue gloom, through the lines of ink black pines, we roared along by motor skidoo, crossing several frozen lakes, and along icy fells to reach a desolate spot where the reindeer herders rally and meet.
We found our small wooden hut and Gareth prepared our dinner of dried reindeer meat and lit a flickering campfire to stave off the coldness. Reindeer is the ubiquitous foodstuff and raw material. We sipped on warm hot lingonberry juice as we waited for the Northern Lights of Aurora Borealis.
We got lucky and the elusive Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights turned up at about 10.30pm that night.
We could have been unlucky and not seen the Aurora because of the weather, or because of lack of solar activity but tonight we were lucky.
Swathes of flickering turquoise, lemon green and pale sage flickered and flashed against the starry backdrop. Gareth and Elena had selected a great location and the best shots used the wooden hut as a foreground.
Next morning a bright low sun threw dark blue shadows across the white crystal tundra.
Brown black stumpy trees and rickety old wooden fences punctuated the ruffled blanket of snow and ice. Occasional thickets of pine trees cast long dark shadows.
The photography has technical challenges. The bright snow in the sunlight challenges exposure settings to retain the detail and pattern that the eye sees.
The contrast is extreme with the darkness of trees, which challenges the photographic skills.
The cold deadens the Lithium batteries and we take care to have spares and keep them warm.
The cold deadens the fingers and the mind as we struggle to compose and set our pictures. Luckily we have a plan of action and we know what we want to do.
Later we take the “Hetta Husky” sled trip and stop for a late afternoon sauna and roll in the nearest drift.
Then we explore the possibility of a night forgoing the comfort of the centrally heated insulated hotel for a night in an ice hotel and sleeping in the warmth of a multitude of reindeer hides. We leave this for a more adventurous trip in the future with a close friend.