The Cold’s Reward

The main reason for going to Sweden was to see the magic atmosphere and colours of the ‘Aurora Borealis’ in person and take as many photos as I could with my camera. However, to do so I had no idea I would have had to fight snowstorms, frozen train tracks and the constant threat of clouds which prevented me from witnessing this magic show that nature gives us mortals. Nevertheless, in the end, thanks to patience, I achieved what I started out to get.

I flew from Milan to Copenhagen and from there to Stockholm where I stayed only two days. I started my Arctic adventure when I left Stockholm, with the regret of not having spent more time there, on a small plane (maximum 50 people) on the way to Kiruna, a city mainly known for its giant iron mine that never sleeps.

I headed 250 kilometres in the Arctic Circle because Kiruna (in addition to Abisko and Bjorklinden) is considered worldwide, the best place from which to observe the majestic natural phenomenon that I wanted to photograph. Before we dive into the real adventure, though, I would like to say a few words about this unique town.

Founded as a mining town, today Kiruna continues to guarantee its survival from a huge mine that extends not only inside a whole mountain overlooking the city but also underneath the city itself, to the point that there is an ongoing’ huge operation to move the City’s buildings in order to have more access to the precious mineral. In the city there aren’t many attractions, especially during the day; in the evening, 10 minutes away by taxi, after a good moose meet burger and a pint of beer at the “The Bishop’s Arms”, the entertainment available greatly increase once you reach Camp Ripam. The most popular hotel/camping in the city, from there, thee is a long path that takes you deep into the forest where the city lights cannot be seen and where, in theory, you can have a ‘good views of the Northern Lights. However, on the night I was there, the lord of the winds and of the clouds had different plans so, despite the nice walk at -30 °/86 F. I came home empty-handed. No Northen Lights show.

The next morning I discovered that in Kiruna it had been the coldest night of the past 10 years, which may seem thrilling and very satisfactory from the point of view of an explorer, but it turned the next day into a nightmare. The cold, in fact, had blocked all the trains in the region and I should have taken one of those trains to reach Bjorklinden, one of the best places as I said before, where to catch the ‘Northern Lights. As the saying goes, not all stars have a silver lining: After a morning spent making phone calls we found a car that would take us to our destination and along the way I spotted a group of reindeer that was about to cross the road. I immediately asked the driver to stop and ran down to take some photographs. After a moment of hesitation, during which all of the reindeer turned to look at me simultaneously I felt a primeval instinct to flee, luckily they resumed their journey, and I was able to continue to photograph them without danger.

Once in Bjorklinden I went to the only hotel found in this small town which, despite its small size, had a sensational restaurant accompanied by an incredible view of a frozen lake, because of its position on top of a hill on whose slopes you could also see the town below. That evening my destination was the Aurora Sky Station, a small cabin which is accessible after a half hour trip ‘on a chairlift’ suspended over a cliff at -20°/68F. Once at the top I had the opportunity to meet other fearless photographers who had chosen to challenge the freezing weather with me. And… hoping he is reading this, I would like to send a special greeting to my friend Rommel all the way to the Philippines! Despite the wonderful company, that evening the clouds played against me again so, no aurora even during attempt number 2.
Evening number 3 finally was the most exciting of the entire vacation because, after sunset I joined a “caravan” of snowmobiles organized by the hotel, directed to the forest, back in search of a dark enough spot to catch the much sought-after prey.

To drive a snowmobile was exciting and with a little effort I also managed to attach my Gopro to the handlebars, I am putting together an amazing video that summarizes all the most interesting parts of my trip. It’s coming soon !!
On the fourth day, I asked if there was a shuttle service from the hotel to a ski slope in the neighbourhood. Thee was, so I was able to do some snowboarding, one of my passions, it was fun to do it in such a remote region.

Back at the hotel I began preparing for what was to be the last night at -20°/68F hoping to have some luck. The program was simple: I had decided to join a group of photographers led by two professionals, who would take us to some ideal locations that would have been perfect to shoot the photos.

Armed with camera and a tripod I headed to the meeting point where I got a ride from one of the photographers who, along the way, gave me a few pointers for the best settings of the camera and we also had an interesting talk about the differences between the Swedes from Stockholm, more Europeanized and less used to rigid winters and the Swedes from Kiruna, who seem to be stronger, more austere and less inclined to pleasantries. Must be the fact that they are isolated and away from the challenges of the big city.

Once we arrived at our destination we walked along a path that brought us to a frozen lake, there, our guide started to test the thickness of the ice (jumping on it!!) and making signs to follow him. Upon reaching the appropriate base he told us to relax and wait, and so two hours passed between tests and tripod adjustments but the sky still would not clear. Then coming as a sign from God, just as we were starting to dismantle everything, the wind started to blow and after I had waited anxiously for so long, my strip of green light arrived. After a multitude of photos and after admiring the starriest sky I had ever seen, we returned to the hotel happy with the gift which finally arrived during our last evening there.

But the gift had its price, a sleepless night. I returned to the hotel at 3 am aware of the fact that the plane (the only one within the next three days) that would bring me back home would leave at 6 am, so I had barely enough time to pack before leaving for the airport.
I returned home thanking Sweden, this country nestled in the snow that had given me such special moments, and the God of winds that at least on the last night of my stay, allowed me to reach my objective.

Stay tuned for the video.

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