On our second night in Kiruna, we all went dog sledding after nightfall to see the Northern lights! Because I think this is one of those things that everyone knows about but few actually understand – myself included until recently – I’ll give a quick summary: The Northern lights – or aurora borealis – is the result of collisions between particles in the atmosphere. Protons and electrons traveling toward Earth from the sun enter the Earth’s atmosphere near the poles, where the magnetic field is weaker, and interact with gaseous particles like oxygen and nitrogen. The color of light depends on the type and altitude of the gaseous particles. The Northern lights are most frequently seen as a lime green, which is the result of oxygen particles at an altitude of about 60 miles above Earth. Oxygen at higher altitudes produce red light, and nitrogen produces blue or purple light. They flow across the sky in a characteristic way, which you’ve definitely seen on some National Geographic cover or Windows screensaver at some point, and are best seen near the equinoxes.
But we didn’t see them. It snowed on and off the entire duration of our stay, which resulted in too many clouds to see the lights. Not only did we look for them during the dog sledding, but we pulled near-all-nighters outside to catch a glimpse. I actually enjoyed keeping watch, oddly enough, because of its absurdity and the bonding in which it resulted. But alas, no beautiful aurora borealis for us. But here are some pictures, courtesy of Google Images, of what we should have seen/were going to show people when they asked about them (just kidding…)
Regardless, the dog sledding was such an adventure! There were about 70 dogs at the kennel we went to, all trained or being trained as sled dogs. We went on two different sleds, which were led by two professional mushers who knew all of the dogs by both name and bark – amazing!
We traveled through a bunch of fields and woods – or at least I think, it was pitch black except for our musher’s headlight – to a little teepee in the woods, where we had soup and sandwiches. It was incredible to be able to talk to our mushers, both young Scandinavians who grew up in the super-small towns of the Arctic, about their lives and experiences. The soup was yummy, too!
Then, we continued on through the woods to a wide open area where a view of the Northern lights would have been INCREDIBLE. But, alas…
We were about to reach the kennel again when our sled went over an exposed tree root, and we all flipped over and tumbled down a small hill. Luckily, none of our limbs were crushed by the sled or broken by the force of the dogs, who continued running until our musher was able to get them under control. I wouldn’t call it a near-death experience, but I would definitely call it a almost-broke-a-bone-6-hours-from-a-hospital experience.
After we got back, we got some snuggle time with the pups and the obligatory group photo:
Despite the rollover and lack of lights, dog sledding was an incredible experience! Totally considering the Iditarod now…