We planned a trip to Alaska in March 2015. Alaska in Winter??? Many asked! Well, the most magical and divine phenomenon on earth - the Aurora Borealis - was calling out to me. And so we went ! We knew it was a gamble we were undertaking. There was no way to predict if we would see any. Just by being at the right place at the right time does not guarantee an aurora. Lot of factors affect it , like the clouds, the amount of solar flares emitted from the sun, etc. We knew this and still undertook the gamble hoping to get lucky. We planned 3 nights of aurora viewing tours and ended up seeing it on 2 nights. One from Chena Hot springs and the other one (and the best one) from the Arctic Circle.
We stayed in Fairbanks and started out for Chena Hot Springs on the first day. I was being too hopeful of seeing the lights, but nature had other plans. There was a blizzard predicted and by the time we started, the snow was falling in buckets. Our tour guide, who is also an Eskimo from Barrow, the northern most tip of Alaska, said he is still going to take us to Chena H.S and try his best to show us the lights. We were skeptical because the clouds looked like they would take ages to clear out and we were not sure we could even make it to C.H.S through all the snow. But our guide kept us entertained throughout, explaining to us about the lives of eskimos, how they make animal calls to hunt various animals for food including bowhead whales (these people are the only ones who can legally hunt whales BTW), and even offered us a tiny piece of whale meat to try from his dinner :-)
We finally reached Chena Hot springs, took a dip in the hot springs in the freezing cold. It was amazing, to have the bottom half of the body in hot waters and the top half freezing in the chilly air with snow falling! I sure ended up with a bad headache too. However time passed and we saw no signs of the clouds clearing and so decided to leave and catch our luck on the way back to Fairbanks. We heard that people down there were already seeing some good displays. Eventually, at about 2.30 am, we stopped at a pullover thanks to our guide and it all just came together ! The clouds cleared briefly and the Lady made an appearance !! Oh man ! I cannot explain the feeling of seeing it for the first time ever. It was unbelievable ! Everyone was screaming , hooting with excitement. I just could not believe that I was actually seeing it ! The auroras were going on right over head but there was a thin screen of fast moving clouds. It just lasted for 15 minutes before they faded and the clouds came back on ! But we were happy!
We came back to the hotel with happy hearts. Little did we know the best was yet to come :-) We knew the next day was predicted to be cloudless and sunny with a good Aurora level prediction and this was when we were travelling to the Arctic Circle , so i was in full-on anticipation mode . The journey to the Arctic Circle was long and really nothing much to see. Civilization ends with Fairbanks and after that, there is just miles and miles of pure Alaskan wilderness. No power, no water supplies no houses or gas stations , absolutely nothing! The next ‘city’ was Coldfoot which is about 300 miles from Fairbanks so we were literally driving through in the middle of nowhere. It seemed very adventurous and a little scary to know that we were just a handful of people and no one else around in the wilderness, no help in a 150 mile radius!!We drove via the James Dalton Hwy, also known as the Haul road , made famous in the series Ice Road Truckers (well we did not drive, the tour guide did! ) . However during sunset, it all turned magical. The sunset colors were gorgeous, snow covered trees everywhere, the sight was pure bliss. Till date I feel was it real ? Luckily I have videos and photos to tell me that it indeed was real ! :-) A small video and few pictures of that awesome stretch is below .
Finally we reached the Arctic Circle. Got certificates that we crossed the Arctic Circle geographic marker :-) yaaay ! We did not have to wait at all for the auroras. They were already there. In fact we had begun to see them as soon as the sun went down. It was quite dark by the time we got to our destination , around 10.30 pm and the lights were dancing away in full glory . I cannot even begin to explain how they look, how they change shapes and forms and colors every second - green , purple and a hint of red. They just got more and more crazy and made me even more crazy. I was laughing and crying and screaming and thanking these lights and thanking God all at the same time. I guess it was the most ‘gone-crazy’ moment of my life , when i was having such a multitude of emotions, and i forgot everything and everyone else around me . This is all I had asked for, prayed for , cried for, over the last god knows how many years and it was finally coming true, unfolding in gracious curves and patterns in front of me, like a lady with a beautiful magical skirt just flaunting her skirt’s changing colors and her dancing skills. I did not know where to point my camera and shoot. While it was shooting in one direction , awesome magic was happening in the other direction. I had to keep changing my position as well as camera’s position with every click. It was the most exciting night ever ! I later on came to know that the aurora intensity that night was at storm level (KP 6.33) For most part of the night it was overhead, just bursting into every direction. I am drooling just thinking about that night. Don’t know if I ever will get that lucky to see the lights ever again that too at such an intensity , but that one night has given me more than I had expected ! Needless to say it was freezing beyond imagination. We were wearing 3 layers top 3 layers bottom 2 layers on the head and hand and feet warmers and my fingers and toes were still stinging with the cold and had gone numb with pain. I ofcourse did not realize it as I was so lost in the skies, but the moment I got into the van to head back , I realized how crazy cold it was ! But all the cold and the money spent was totally worth it ! Please enjoy the pictures of the lights below.