So there I am, in Iceland, in January, in the freezing cold, darkest winter gloom, wearing 18 layers and still feeling the blast of the wind. It’s -10. Add wind chill factor it’s somewhere near -20. There’s only one reason why you do this… to see the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights. It’s up there on my top 10 to do before I die. And you know what, Iceland mocks us by being cloudy. It delights in cloud…, and rain…. none of which is conducive to watching the Valkyrie ride the sky!
Only crazies do this, but then I do have my moments… And I’ve teamed up with a group of like-minded photo nuts. We are a mixed bunch. A Spanish guide (in Iceland…) plus a Scot, a South African, an Aussie and a Brit. Sod the night sky – we’re up at dawn to take photos of the windswept view. Bracing!
I should qualify what dawn means here. The sun rises at 10am, gains perhaps 10 degrees of height above the horizon, and sinks at 3.45pm. But the dawn and dusk penumbra last for hours – we’re that far north. And it’s beautiful. Blue turning to pink, slowly. Exquisite.
This is the road that runs around Iceland. It’s pretty basic. Once Reykjavik is left behind the traffic vanishes. We count – roughly one other car per hour. This is true wilderness. There’s simply no-one here. Except us crazies, searching, hoping for the Aurora. If the mornings are clear, the evenings are sure to be cloud covered. But we don’t give up hope. In the meantime we go to…. waterfalls!
Iceland has very sophisticated weather forecasting systems, including a scale which predicts Aurora activity. The scale goes from 0 (nothing happening) to 9 (New Year’s + Bonfire night + Independence day all rolled into one). As the cloudy week progresses we get a forecast of 7 for Thursday night! Jose (he’s the Spaniard, obviously) is ecstatic – this is virtually unheard of! what a show!! Complete awesomeness in the sky!!! We camp out – till 2 in the morning – freezing our nuts off – only for cloud cover to obscure the show. Foiled again. The Gods are against us.
We decide that as we’re in Iceland, land of sagas, we should tell each other stories to keep our hopes up whilst we wait for the elusive Aurora. The Viking spirit – tall tales and moving memories. We should be telling them around a campfire, but we huddle around a thermos flask of hot coffee under cloudy drizzling skies. Where are those blasted Lights!?
Here are our sagas. I leave you to guess which one is mine…. : the youngster amongst us turns out to be a fully qualified pilot (ok, that rules me out, I’m not young, and not a pilot…), one has cycled across South America communing with shepherds and dogs, one retells a real Viking saga of true love between Tristram and Isolt including ordeals by fire, one has just finished caring for handicapped kids on the ski slopes of Austria, and one lost a scarf only for it to be returned to feet by the sheepdog from the next farm the following day… The Aurora are not impressed and still hide behind clouds. We are cold and desperate.
Our last night and we are almost defeated. But our indefatigable Spanish guide says we must have one last go. So we drive out into the dark countryside late in the night. The forecast is a 1 (…) but the cloud cover is light. Suddenly the sky glimmers and shimmers… the Valkyrie are riding! A green whiplash slicing the sky. Fumble the tripod, focus in the dark, 30 second exposure and hope for the best. Whiplash slice turns to curtains of green. Valkyrie and Valhalla, the Northern Lights streak the sky! The last night, the last chance, at last, we are blessed by the Norse Goddesses. Now, at last, the cold is forgotten and we stand in awe of the Icelandic sky…
If you liked this post, don’t forget to read: Icelife in Iceland