Winter Expeditions and your chance of seeing the Northern Lights?
The Northern Lights are nature’s most spectacular performance; as unpredictable as they are awe-inspiring. One mention of this wonder of nature and the mind is immediately transported to the frozen wildernesses of the north and destinations such as Iceland and Sweden.
So grab a warming cuppa and read why Iceland and Sweden could be the long awaited bright light for a dazzling start to your 2022 as these countries have emerged from the travel restriction slumber…..
But firstly, what are the Northern Lights?
The northern lights, or the aurora borealis, are the beautiful dancing waves of light that have captivated people for millennia. But for all its beauty, this spectacular light show is a rather violent event.
Energized particles from the sun slam into the Earth’s upper atmosphere at speeds of up to 45 million mph, but our planet’s magnetic field protects us from the onslaught. As Earth’s magnetic field redirects the particles toward the North Pole, the dramatic process transforms into a cinematic atmospheric phenomenon that dazzles and fascinates scientists and skywatchers alike.
In the northern hemisphere, it’s called the northern lights or Aurora Borealis, while around the South Pole it’s called the Aurora Australis.
Civilizations around the world have marvelled at this celestial phenomenon, assigning all sorts of origin myths to the dancing lights. The Vikings believed the phenomenon was light reflecting off the armour of the Valkyrie, the supernatural maidens who brought warriors into the afterlife. In the Swedish Sámi narrative, the sky had constellations, and a moose was, of course, important. To the Sámi, the Polaris star was the pole on which the whole Universe was hanging.
A key factor of setting up our exclusive snowshoe expeditions in Sweden & Iceland?
The best place to experience the Northern Lights is any destination in the “auroral zone,” the area within an approx 1,550-mile radius of the North Pole, according to the Tromsø Geophysical Observatory. That’s where the aurora most frequently occurs, though the phenomenon can creep farther south during particularly strong solar storms. So it’s best to base yourself in a destination with solid infrastructure, like Abisko National Park, in Sweden; Rovaniemi, Finland; Fairbanks, Alaska; Yellowknife, Canada; Svalbard, Norway; and pretty much anywhere in Iceland.
Iceland is one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights. On a clear, crisp winters night in Iceland, you can experience the Northern Lights dancing magically across the sky. Seeing this magnificent light show with various colours twirling before your eyes is nothing short of amazing and each display is totally unique.
Iceland lies close to the northern auroral oval – the ring around the Arctic Circle where the Northern Lights are most likely to be seen. Due to the nature of the earth’s magnetic field, the auroras only appear at the poles. They are usually visible above the 60° latitude mark in the north and below the 60° latitude in the south. Iceland, which sits at a latitude of approximately 64° north, is therefore ideally located to see the aurora.
It is also a country of fire and ice with the most stunningly scenery with dramatic waterfalls, glaciers, hot springs, mountains and volcanoes. Iceland’s unique landscape will captivate your imagination and provide the backdrop to an epic winter adventure.
Abisko National Park, in Swedish Lapland where our Arctic Snowshoe Expedition takes place, offers some of the best conditions in the world for Northern Lights watching. The unique climate of the area keep the skies almost clear, and the light pollution is next to nothing. And here, you also find the Aurora Sky Station which marks the start of your snowshoeing journey.
With snowshoeing from hut to hut along the Kungsluden Trail amidst the surrounding Kiruna Mountains, you have a very high likelihood of seeing the Northern Lights dance in green over your head at night. If you’re lucky you will get to witness them take on colours ranging through purple, blue, yellow or even red. Whether the Northern Lights in Abisko show themselves in the form of curtains, spirals, arcs or coronas, you can rest assured that it will be a sight that you will never forget!
Right now Swedish Lapland is getting darker by the day. In little more than a month, the north will have Polar night. So, waiting until the middle of the night, for a beautiful night sky, is sometimes rewarded early. Dark places for watching the starry sky, maybe following the celestial map, have become intriguingly rare in modern society. On a clear night, you can see some 9,000 stars and object in the sky, and with a good telescope, the figure will reach 700 million. Wow!
Will you need to bring any equipment or have any astronomy experience to get the most out of these trips?
We’ll provide a kit list and plenty of top tips for your winter expeditions plus you’ll have the chance to practice snowshoeing prior to setting off you your epic journey across the frozen wilderness.
Binoculars are always handy both for daytime and night-time use and if you want to take good images with your camera a tripod is certainly helpful. No previous experience or knowledge of astronomy is necessary to get the most out of the trip. Local guides will be full of interesting information for you too.
What are the chances of seeing the Northern Lights in this part of the world?
The longer you stay in or very near the Arctic Circle during the winter season – which extends from October until early April – then the better your chances of seeing the Northern Lights. Both our Swedish and Icelandic itineraries will have you in the frozen wilderness for 5 days. Statistics collected in 2015 showed that if you stay for just one night in the Arctic you’ll have around a 14% chance of seeing the Northern Lights, whereas if you stay for five nights your chances increase to about 90%. Though make sure you have your boots and coats ready by your bed as the Northern Lights don’t perform to a schedule. You’ll be jumping into your boots at all hours of the night and dashing into the frozen wilderness, but what better excuse than to see the skies come alive with such an incredible display.
Top tip from Jim:
The Northern Lights are one of nature’s greatest displays. Enjoy seeing them with your eyes and take pleasure in experiencing them at first hand, before snapping away with your camera. The mental images and raw experiences you take away with you are far more meaningful and touching than any pics captured by your camera. Plus the images of illuminated dancing skies will stay with you for a lifetime with having snowshoed into the depths of the pristine white wilderness offered in both Iceland or Sweden. It is the expedition of a lifetime!
There’s a light at the end of the tunnel
To add some twirling colour to the start of your 2022, head over to our Winter Iceland Hiking Expedition or our Kings Trail Arctic Snowshoe Expedition to discover more about these incredible once in a lifetime journeys. Experience the raw beauty, peaceful pristine wilderness and give yourself the best opportunity to witness the skies alive with the Northern Lights.