The trip began with a short flight from Stockholm to Kiruna. We landed in what I consider heavy snow, which had me a bit concerned. I guess they thought nothing of it, because everything went off without a hitch. After the taxi ride into town, I arrived at the hospital … yes, the hospital. After much consternation about where to stay because the hostels were fully booked, I found out that the hospital has a “Lilla Hotelet,” which I’m pretty sure I don’t need to translate for you. Better yet, it was far cheaper, and I soon found out, far better equipped than a hostel. So I walked into the ER at midnight and said (in my best broken Swedish) I needed to pick up my key for my room. I got a room to myself, with a TV and own bathroom.
After a restful evening, I made my way down toward the train station through central Kiruna, walking beside 10 foot snow drifts and through the 8 inches that had fallen overnight. Here’s some context.
There was a whole park full of snow sculptures, most of them odder than this, and those kids are standing on top of a mountain of snow. It was definitely a different world. And it was still snowing.
After warming up at the train station, I was ready to head to Abisko Mountain Station, the self proclaimed best place in the world to see Aurora Borealis. This claim (I think) is made based on their geographical location in a rain shadow beneath a canyon. As such, they get more clear nights than nearly any other populized area in the Arctic Circle. At least this is what they tell me. I certainly wasn’t being convinced by the weather as I got there.
Yup, that’s the sun trying to poke through. And the snow was still coming. And even though it wasn’t looking too promising, I decided to chance it and buy a ticket up to the Abisko Sky Station that night, since it was the last night they were planning on opening. And in retrospect, I don’t know why they even opened it, because when I went up there in the evening here’s what I saw.
Yep, not much. The lights are where I was staying, but even they were a rare appearance from the sky station on this night. So needless to say, there was no chance of looking up and seeing anything. So I spent my time taking some pictures of the cafe/sky station. It’s not very big, but its quaint. Let me also say there is something very unnerving about a complete white out. Riding up on the chair, the clouds were so thick, I couldn’t even see the chair in front of me, and the ground below me was completely white. It was like a sensory deprivation tank, only not black. Very peculiar feeling.
The next morning I hopped on the train to BjÃ¶rkliden, a ski area 5 miles away. I had thought about trying telemark skiing or alpine touring, but in the end couldn’t resist good ole downhill. Like a typical spoiled American skier, I was annoyed at the T-bar pulling lifts (seriously, up here Gondola’s should be a must!), and no goggles + light snow = difficulty seeing, but other than that the skiing was great. I quickly found my favorite runs and spent all day on them (with copious stops into the SnÃ¶bar for hot chocolate and to warm up). On one such stop, I noticed a sign for trying a dogsled. How could I resist! I signed up and walked over and met Andreas and his many dogs. He quickly showed me how to hit the brakes, and then he got to harnessing BjÃ¶rk, Lare, Wilmer and Kim. They are sweet looking dogs, mainly Alaskan husky (to handle the cold) and pointer (to run forever) mixes for those of you who know your dog breeds. For sledding dogs, they had a really hard time grasping the concept at first. But in no time I looked like a pro.
Now, looking like a pro doesn’t mean I drove like a pro, I did skid out and tip over on one turn. Driving those things is not as easy as it seems. And I don’t know what Survivorman was talking about on his show where he was in the Arctic dogsledding, as soon as I was off the sled the dogs stopped. I got back on and all was well (the whole time Andreas was ahead of us in his snowmobile, so it’s not as if I was going to get lost or anything). It was great fun though, I think I may try to run the Iditarod one of these days =).
That evening, my last at Abisko, I headed out with my camera after dark determined to see some northern lights. At least this night was somewhat clear, though clouds and occasional snow still passed through. I strained my eyes looking in all directions, lasting about two hours outside in the cold, through the peak auroral zone time of 10:30 I had heard about the night before. I even arose and headed back out when I saw it was clear at 1:30 AM. Never did I see anything, which was highly disappointing. It would all come down to the last night back in Kiruna. In all my time spent looking though, I did manage some pretty neat pictures of the night sky.
Here’s some more pictures from Abisko that don’t fit into the narrative for you to enjoy.
Part 3 comes tomorrow, the dramatic conclusion to my trip. I visit the Ice Hotel, and get a little crazy in my quest to see the northern lights. Stay tuned!