Friday, November 23, 2018

Day 23: Northern Lights! They do exist!

September 7: Karolina woke up at 1:00 in the morning, poking her head out to look for the northern lights. She had been doing this quite regularly--especially since the report a couple of nights earlier when other hikers had seen the northern lights.

She didn't see any, however, and headed back to sleep. Now that I was awake, I kind of had to pee and got out of my sleeping bag to do so. Oh, it was cold out! The stars were shining brightly and the Milky Way stretched across the sky. Except... I looked around the sky, getting my bearings. There was the big dipper, and little dipper. Cassiopeia over there. And the light grey streak across the sky.... it couldn't have been the Milky Way. It wasn't in the right location. Could it be? The northern lights?

The band of light across the sky was only a dull gray, but I knew the human eye couldn't perceive colors if it was too dark. It might really be green, but be too dim for me to see the color. I couldn't think of any other possibility for what it might be. As far as a northern lights sighting goes, it was pretty anti-climatic. And how could I even verify it really was the northern lights?

I peed--that was the whole reason I got up in the first place--then curled up in my sleeping bag to get warm again. Before going back to sleep, however, I had an idea to test the northern lights idea. I'd take a photo of it. My eye might not be able to perceive colors in the dim light, but my camera could!

It's totally the northern lights!!!! Woo-who! Karolina and I did a major happy dance after taking this photo! =) The red light in the foreground was my headlamp which I switched on for a fraction of a second to see what I was doing. Should have just left it off! To the naked eye, however, the northern lights had a dull, washed-out grey color.

So I pulled out my fancy camera--from the comfort of my sleeping bag--and fiddled with the settings. I knew I'd need a long exposure, so I opened the aperture as wide as it would go, used a fast film speed and set a 30 second exposure. Then I aimed out from under my tarp and took a single photo.
I didn't worry about the camera shaking. I knew it was shaking and any stars in the photo would be blurry. I didn't care, though. That's not what I was trying to get a photo of. I was trying to get photographic proof that I was actually seeing an aurora! I just needed that gray band of light to turn green in my photo. A greenish hue was all I was hoping for.

For 30 seconds I waited, then my camera clicked and displayed the photo it took. It was blurry, as I knew it would be, but there was a definite stripe of green through the sky. It was totally the northern lights!!!!

"Karolina!" I said loudly. I knew she wasn't asleep since she had just gone back to bed a couple of minutes earlier, but no one was around our campsite either so I didn't feel shy about being somewhat loud. "Your wrong! The northern lights are out!!!!"

The northern lights over one of the dorms. That cluster of stars in the upper-right corner is the Pleiades.

I got back out of my sleeping bag. It was hard to do--it was so warm and cozy in there! But these were the northern lights! I'd never seen an aurora before! Karolina seemed astonished. She had just looked outside and didn't see any, and I told her what I had done. I pointed out the gray band of light across the sky, then showed her the photo I took of it. She was convinced. We had finally seen the northern lights!

We happy danced around the campsite, then I set out to get some real photos of the event. I didn't bring a tripod for my camera--much too heavy! And I was already carrying a mammoth-sized camera and laptop. So I walked over to a picnic table and benches and tried resting my camera on those to hold the camera steady for the long exposures. I took several photos, and each photo that came out Karolina and I would look at and jump for joy at the results. It looked beautiful! At least in the photos it did, even if it looked kind of drab and boring in real life.

After maybe 15 minutes, we were both getting cold and headed back to our respective sleeping bags. As excited as we were to finally see the northern lights, they weren't really all that much to look at, but the cold was still biting!

The rest of the night was uneventful, and dawn finally arrived. Karolina lingered at the hut until 9:30, which kind of annoyed me because it was a beautiful morning and I wanted to enjoy the gorgeous weather while it lasted. The afternoon forecast wasn't so sunny. I understood why Karolina lingered--she was still hoping to see a moose family in the meadows below the hut and would have preferred staying even later, but I had given up on the moose by 8:00. By all accounts, the moose started feeding around 6:00 or 7:00 and if they weren't out by then, it was because they had gone to some other meadow to feed. So by 7:00, I was ready to hit the trail, but Karolina lingered with slowly dimming hopes of seeing a moose.

The morning views were gorgeous, but alas, no moose to be seen.... This is the same dorm as seen in the previous photo with the northern lights, taken from the same location--except I pointed the camera lower and to the right where the sun was rising. This wasn't a night sky photo!

But eventually we did hit the trail--much later than I wanted to and much earlier than Karolina wanted to--and the family of moose never showed themselves, much to both of our disappointment. That was the main reason we had chosen to stay by the hut, after all.

The day's hiking was mostly flat and easy. After a few hours, we veered off the Kungsleden to follow a path that would lead to Kebnekaise--the highest mountain in Sweden. The weather forecast for tomorrow looked splendid and Karolina had been itching the whole trip to reach the high point of Sweden. For me, I could take it or leave it. At less than 7,000 feet above sea level, it didn't seem particularly dramatic. But we had plenty of time for this off-trail side trip before we needed to catch our flight out of Sweden so why not?

So we detoured off the Kungsleden and followed a side trail towards the Kebnekaise mountain station. Throughout the day, we saw at least half a dozen helicopters fly by us. Why was this airspace so full of helicopters? Were they sightseeing? Were they doing some sort of work?

Late in the day, dark clouds rolled in and it sprinkled a bit. *sigh* Rain again, but that was to be expected, I suppose. We did see some reindeer an hour or two before the rain started!

Near sunset, the rain had stopped and we arrived near the junction where our side trail joined the trail to the top of Kebnekaise. We set up camp then we walked on to the mountain station to get an updated weather forecast and check out mountain conditions. While we were there, we also stopped at the small store and bought a few snacks before heading back to camp.

We were glad we set up camp where we did. The mountain station was packed with what seemed like hundreds of people. The host at the hut this morning warned us that this mountain station was sold out and had no available beds--they found that out when they tried to reserve a spot for some other hikers this weekend. So we knew the place was crowded, and it was. And there were also a heck of a lot of people tent camping, but the vast majority of them set up in the section as close to the hut as possible.

Karolina and I set up camp a good quarter-mile away at a beautiful location with an amazing view over the valley and nobody else camped nearby. It was a quiet, peaceful location compared to the crazy mess of people camped near the mountain station. We didn't realize how quiet and peaceful of a location it really was until after we had set up camp and headed to the hut, though, and were glad of our choice! Besides the fact that most of the campers probably wanted to camp closer to the facilities the mountain station provided, most of them also hiked in from the other direction and those were the first campsites they found after passing the hut. They might not have even realized that there were additional campsite further down the trail where Karolina and I set up camp.

But all-in-all, we were pretty happy with the day and our quiet little space for the night. Of course, we'd be checking the night-time sky for the northern lights whenever we woke up! But we went to sleep early because we intended to summit Kebnekaise the next day--and we were going to get a very early morning start this time.

At this point, we were now heading away from the Kungsleden which followed alongside the river at the bottom of this valley. We're detouring off trail to perhaps climb the highest mountain in Sweden: Kebnekaise!

No, this isn't Kebnekaise--just in case you were thinking that.

Rain, rain, go away! Bring us rainbows instead! (See the rainbow on the left?)

There's a rainbow here too, even if it is a bit hard to see!

One of the many helicopters to fly by--but this one flew under a rainbow!

Ugh! Mud....

Lots of rainbows this afternoon!

The Kebnekaise mountain station was full of people! Seemed like there were hundreds of them! (Most were indoors or in camp, though, not in this photo where people are walking between the two.)
You have to take off  your shoes at the entrance. They don't want you tracking mud and dirt all over the place! I couldn't get a photo that shows all of the shoes--this was maybe a quarter of all the shoes here.

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