Chasing Lights

Northern Lights

If you don’t know what the Northern Lights are, you probably never watched the animated movie Balto as a kid.  Or, nowadays, you most likely don’t follow anything remotely travel-related on social media.  Either way, once you see them on a screen, it is difficult to not get the urge to track them down in real-life.

Lights Over Fjord
Lights Over Fjord

There are many myths surrounding the northern lights.  The indigenous Sami people believe the lights are caused by the spume of water ejected from whales.  In Finnish, the Northern Lights are called Fire Fox.  The word ‘light’ is not even in their translation of the phenomenon.  They believe the lights are caused by a fox running through the snow, and as his tail moves around it hits the snow and causes the lights to form.  In Iceland, they believe it is good luck for a mother to give birth under the Northern Lights.  But, the mother can’t actually see the lights, or it becomes bad luck.

Lights 2 Arches
Lights 2 Arches

Regardless whether you believe in traditional beliefs, or modern-day scientific explanations, there is one common feeling.  The Northern Lights are unpredictable, magical and breathtaking.  Contrary to my original belief, you can’t just walk outside on a dark, starry night in the Arctic Circle, and see the lights.  To see the lights, you must literally chase the lights.

Chase, Complete!
Chase, Complete!

Your chances of a successful chase rise, the further towards the geographic pole you travel.  Many popular Aurora tracking websites and apps rely on the KP Index.  On a scale from 0 to 9, this KP Index tells you where in the world you will be able to see the Lights, assuming they happen. Tromsø is the perfect starting point for a Northern Lights chase because it lies somewhere between 0 and 1 on the KP Index.  That means that if the lights choose to show themselves that night, you will be able to see them from Tromsø.  Iceland and Yellowknife, other popular starting points, lie in the same zone.  For reference, New York City lies in the 6.  So, if you are around New York, the KP Index for the evening reads “6,” and you’re able to find clear, unobstructed sky, you would be able to see the Lights (good luck finding true, clear sky though!)

The great thing about Tromsø is you are not limited to one direction to chase the lights.  From the city, you can drive towards the coast, or you can drive inland.  You can drive towards the Finnish border, where the land is much more flat.  Or, you can navigate in and out of the many fjords, testing the various microclimates within each valley.  Whichever direction you choose, the goal is to find a patch of clear sky, and then the wait begins.

In order to aid me in my chase, I called on some local experts.  Chasing Lights provides you with the best chance to see the Aurora, and they manage to entertain you along the way.  On an unsuccessful chase, you’ll still be treated to dinner by the campfire, hot chocolate and marshmallows.

Hot Chocolate - Chasing Lights
Hot Chocolate – Chasing Lights

Due to some avalanche warnings, road closures, and moose sightings, I almost didn’t have a successful chase.  But, the Arctic gods were shining down on us on my last night in Norway.  With Chasing Lights, we left the city of Tromsø behind, and drove through Nordkjosbotn and Skibotn.  Not finding any clear sky, from there we drove further north again towards Kåfjord.  Patiently waiting for clearer skies, we ate dinner by a small river.

Campfire - Chasing Lights
Campfire – Chasing Lights

The skies clouded over again, so our guides moved us again.  As we were leaving Kåfjord, they noticed that a small clear patch was forming in the sky.  Our van stopped quickly, literally on the side of the highway.  A few stars were visible overheard, and thanks to some fancy settings on our cameras, we could see some faint Northern Lights.  A couple minutes passed, and the clouds disappeared.  The lights danced all around us.  I have never seen anything like it.

Without the expertise of the team at Chasing Lights, I would have been lost.  Thanks to their help, this was my view:

Lights Silhouette
Lights Silhouette

If you are looking to chase the lights yourself, I could not recommend any guide more confidently.  All their information can be found here.

My trip to see the Northern Lights was part of my larger trip to Scandinavia.  See the rest of the trip here:

Copenhagen

Kronborg Castle

Malmö

Tromsø