Northern Lights | 3 – Dog Sledding, and finally seeing some Auroras

Northern lights at Abisko

This is part 3 of the Northern Lights series. Here is Part 1 – Getting to Stockholm and 2 – Towards Abisko in Sweden and 4 – Day trip to Narvik in Norway

Dog sledding in the arctic

Ready for dog-sledding - receiving life-saving instructions

Ready for dog-sledding – receiving life-saving instructions from A, co-owner of Abisko.net :-)

T, the host who helps runs the affairs of the Abisko.net hostel had given everyone clear instructions to be up and ready in our suits by early morning. Most of the guests had signed up to go dog sledding (well in advance, I may add), and there was definitely a sense of purpose in the air at 7am on this cold winter day :-) We had some of our Parisian cereal for breakfast, put on our multiple layers again and trudged out to our meeting spot. We were given a detailed ‘how-to’ on dog-sledding – starting from how to stand on the sled, how to turn, brake, stop, what to do when we fall off the sled (very useful!), what to do when someone else falls off the sled in front of you, and so on.

We were then asked to brave it and enter the cages where these large, barking, and powerful dogs were hanging – 3 or 4 to a cage. The Alaskan and Siberian huskies are original sled dogs – they love the cold, the snow and a brisk exercise. They knew it was almost time for their morning jog and were raring to go! Maybe it was the protection of the space-suit or the fact that there would always be several layers between the dogs’ teeth and my skin, for the first time I volunteered to go close to a dog and put on his harness. With that done, we brought them out by their leash and hooked them up to the sleds in specific positions. Some were leaders, some were workers and each was happiest in his own place. Once hooked up, 3 or 4 dogs to each sled, off we went. Since we were three more than the number of sleds available, Uday, I and another person got a chance to ride on a snowmobile for a bit, zipping through the track and non-track, cutting across fields of virgin snow, ducking under bare branches, getting to see vistas we wouldn’t have while on a sled. After a bit, we switched with others and took off on our own individual sleds. My sled had 3 dogs and it took all my weight on the brake and the handles to keep them steady when not running. One of the rascals absolutely hated stopping along the way and each time we did (to wait for someone who had fallen ahead of us), he would lurch forward, pulling the entire sled and me up and forwards by a few meters. Uday had a sled with 4 very powerful dogs and during one of our stops, he turned around to tell me something and in that split second, they recognized that he wasn’t in full control and lurched forward and took off, leaving Uday running after them. Around the corner he went running only to see that they had  dislodged themselves from the sled too and had run free! He had to push the empty sled the next 100-200 meters until he found Andreas, our guide holding the insatiable dogs that had found their brief, but sweet freedom. As if that was just the morning adventure they had wanted, the satisfied pack behaved very well for the rest of the ride. It was exhilarating riding down hills at a rapid clip, the sled often off the ground, landing with a thud each time it touched down. I even forgot that I was cold and it didn’t matter that I could barely keep my clasp on the handles after a point of time.

Sleds all lined up and ready

Sleds all lined up and ready, while the sun rises behind the Lapporten valley

Alaskan/Siberian huskies ready for action

Alaskan / Siberian huskies – harnessed for action

All hooked up and ready to move

All hooked up and alert – Can we please get going?!

abisko-dog-sledding-5

Stationary now, but with 4 huskies pulling you on a clear path, you will feel no “need for speed” :-)

After a good lunch, we went to check out the local store (the only one) to get some basics – bread, milk, yoghurt, fruits & the like. I was quite exhausted by our morning’s adventures and decided to nap for a bit in the afternoon while Uday stepped out with his photography gear. Actually, I did step out with him a couple of times but had to return each time either because we had forgotten something or because we needed another layer. The third time around, I took it as a hint and stayed put and went for a power nap. For our second day in Abisko, we had to move to a 6-bed shared room and fortunately for us, we had three very friendly young women from Italy and an older Belgian gentleman for roommates.  After the snooze, the girls and I were prepping to go for the very first time to the sauna, when a triumphant Uday returned with an uncontrolled look of glee announcing his luck!

Uday had seen his first ever Aurora – all by himself! Tomas said it was rather rare to see them so early in the evening (~ 6pm). What can I say?!

A "crunchy walk" on ice & snow while walking down to the frozen lake in Abisko. Was hoping to see the Northern lights, but there was so much cloud cover.. just hoping for a miracle (Uday Arya)

Uday : A “crunchy walk” on ice & snow while walking down to the frozen lake in Abisko. There was dense cloud cover… but never say never!

 (Uday Arya)

Even the moon was in hiding behind the clouds.. abysmal chances of seeing any auroras now !

It was barely past 6 that evening, and it was forecast to be utterly clouded, with no chance of an aurora sighting. I had decided to step out to the frozen lake anyway - and here I was seeing this beautiful streak, with no way to call my better-half or anyone else at the hostel who would've so loved to be here this evening. One strong bold streak of green across the sky - such a joy ! (Uday Arya)

And Lo Behold! Just a little while later – barely past 6 that evening, here I was seeing this beautiful streak, with no way to call Priya or anyone else at the hostel who would’ve so loved to be here this evening. One strong bold streak of green across the sky- such a joy !

It was barely past 6 that evening, and it was forecast to be utterly clouded, with no chance of an aurora sighting. I had decided to step out to the frozen lake anyway - and here I was seeing this beautiful streak, with no way to call my better-half or anyone else at the hostel who would've so loved to be here this evening. One strong bold streak of green across the sky - such a joy ! (Uday Arya)

Another brush of green shines through !

 (Uday Arya)

Starting to walk back, but putting down my tripod every 30 steps, to frame “1 last shot”

The last dazzle of emerald green - northern lights, Abisko

The last dazzle of emerald green

It was barely past 6 that evening, and it was forecast to be utterly clouded, with no chance of an aurora sighting. I had decided to step out to the frozen lake anyway - and here I was seeing this beautiful streak, with no way to call my better-half or anyone else at the hostel who would've so loved to be here this evening. One strong bold streak of green across the sky - such a joy ! (Uday Arya)

See the little cloud window at the top? that marked the beginning of the clouds covering up the skies again. Bliss in the dark. #auroratherapy

All this talk of the auroras that Uday had seen just an hour ago got us quite enthusiastic, and the sauna experience was soon forgotten. Now newly encouraged, despite the increasing clouds, that night after dinner, Uday and I set out for a walk on Kungsleden, or the King’s Trail. Our new Italian friends tagged along, all of us hoping (and almost determined!) to see some magic.

This 440km trail starts in Abisko and goes all the way along the Norway-Sweden border to the south, ending near the literal Arctic Circle. This is supposed to be a great summer hike and is normally done in 4 weeks. While we were putting our endless layers on, we met a French man planning to embark on the trail that night, and ski the entire way. He had sled filled with supplies strapped and tied to his back. Serious adventure! – and he was planning to do this entire trail in just 2 weeks!

Yes, people actually do long-distance winter treks like this, for weeks! photo courtesy : Tim Kelley

So with our eyes glued to the skies, watching the sensual moon make her way across the horizon, we watched with dismay the dense clouds moving in rapidly. We had walked just a km or so into the trail when we stopped to take pictures of the moon, throwing gnarly and yet elegant silhouettes of bare trees on the pristine white snow.

Walking on a snow-covered path of the Kungsleden trail ( ' The King's trail') near Abisko, in Swedish lapland. Taken during a cold winter's night in February. There's even a trace of an aurora. (Uday Arya)

In B/W. Walking on a snow-covered path of the Kungsleden trail ( ‘The King’s trail’) near Abisko, in Swedish lapland. Taken during a cold winter’s night in February.

A few more meters on came a clearing. We stopped as if that had been our destination all along. The photographers fixed their tripods and cameras, while others (read me) continued to gaze, willing the skies to open up just a little bit. And open, it did. Just enough to grace us with the most intense green orb of bright light we had been waiting for. It lasted just a few minutes before the clouds won again, but that had been enough.

Walking on a snow-covered path of the Kungsleden trail ( ' The King's trail') near Abisko, in Swedish lapland. Taken during a cold winter's night in February. Dramatic night sky with a strong aurora veiled by thick, fast moving clouds (Uday Arya)

The one and only bright green streak the rest of us saw that evening. Taken on the King’s trail, near Abisko, in Swedish lapland. A dramatic night sky with a strong aurora veiled by thick, fast moving clouds

We had had our show. The Arctic Gods had just thrown a splash of bright, green cheer on us. We walked back home, yet again on a high. On the way, after the clouds closed in even more, Uday pulled out two little candles from his pocket and came up with these last few pictures from that night.

Dramatic lighting on bare winter trees and fresh snow adds a magical touch to the night landscape in Abisko, Swedish Lapland (Uday Arya)

Candle-lit winter trees and fresh snow – a magical night in Abisko, Swedish Lapland

Dramatic lighting on bare winter trees and shifting clouds add a magic touch to the night landscape in Abisko, Swedish lapland (Uday Arya)

Dramatic lighting on bare winter trees and shifting clouds add a magic touch to the night landscape in Abisko, Swedish lapland

 

End of Part 3 of the Northern Lights series

Follow the journey – here’s 4 – Day trip to Narvik in Norway

If you missed the earlier parts, they’re here – 1 – Getting to Stockholm  | 2 – Towards Abisko in Sweden

Priya
..learns Kathak, works at Twitter and has cycled enough in Paris to be a tour-guide :-)
Priya