The search for the Northern Lights – Part I

I’d long been fascinated by the Northern Lights, but had never seen them. I knew this year was supposed to be the height of the sun’s activity, so the best time to see them, and therefore there was only one thing for it: a trip to the top of the globe.

Surprisingly, this wasn’t such a hard sell to my husband as I thought it would be. After the fiasco of the tornado chasing, I expected a flat no, but he actually sounded quite keen!

I booked the long haul flights to Stockholm first, and then looked for somewhere north. Kiruna is the furthest north city in the country, so off we went!

The difference from Doha to Kiruna was somewhat startling:

Doha from the air

Doha from the air


Kiruna from the air

It was only when we arrived in Kiruna that we realised that November was out of season. This meant that there was only about one taxi in operation and as a plane had arrived full of passengers, it was busy.

I had been in touch with the hotel about the possibility of airport transfers, and they’d said they didn’t do them and we should just get a taxi from the airport. At no point did they say that we might want to book it in advance.

We had to wait an hour for a taxi to turn up. Thanks for that Hotel Ripan.

Anyway, there were a couple of signs at the airport that you don’t see every day, like this one:

Sign of the times

Sign of the times

Although being out of season, there weren’t actually any husky dogs to be seen.

We eventually got to our hotel around 3:30pm, by which time it was dark. It was also completely cloudy, which meant that there was no chance of seeing the Aurora Borealis.

We chatted to several locals and scoured the internet, and discovered that there was better chance of seeing the Northern Lights in a little place called Abisko, which was about 60 kilometres away.

Abisko was more promising than Kiruna because there was less ambient light, so any aurora would be easier to see. Plus the geography worked in our favour, because Abisko has a mountain range to its west, so the clouds often break to the lee of them,  just over Abisko.

The were two trains to and from Abisko every day, so we could get there fine, but the return times were really unhelpful: the last one back was at 3:30pm. I guess this was because we were out of season. As we had a hotel booked in Kiruna, and our flight was at 6:10am the following day, we were going to have to take a taxi.

Taxis in Sweden, like most things, are eye-wateringly expensive, but this was our last chance to see the Aurora Borealis, so we had to bite the bullet. Just don’t look at the total as you sign the credit card bill.

Waiting for the train

Waiting for the train

So, we made it to Abisko…but disappointingly it was completely overcast! In fact it was cloudier than Kiruna had been when we left. So much for the helpful mountains!

However, happily we discovered that there was a ski lift which would take you to a mountain station which was usually above the low clouds. Perfect for seeing the Northern Lights!

Then came the bombshell: the ski lift only is in operation from Thursday to Saturday, and it was a Sunday. Disaster.

This is where we had a really bad idea: we decided to hike up to the mountain station.

The fact that we weren’t really dressed for hiking and didn’t have torches didn’t put us off. Plus the path was a summer trail so wasn’t really very well marked.

Despite this, we decided that we would go up the mountain in daylight, wait for the aurora to show up, then head down again in the pitched darkness.

In hindsight, this wasn’t really the best plan we’d ever had…

About Steff Gaulter

Al Jazeera English's Senior Weather Presenter
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