In our last installment, we were safely aboard the train to Abisko, and getting ready to bunk down in our sleeper carriage. So far so good…
Things started to get a bit weird when we were woken by a previously unnoticed alarm mechanism at about ten to six. Since our change at Kiruna wasn’t due until 10:11, according to our ticket, we thought this a bit excessive, and went back to sleep. About an hour later we stopped at Boden, and lots of people got off, and there were some announcements on the platform, in Swedish (none on the train.) We were stopped at Boden for a goodly while, so I got up and poked my head out of the door to see if I could make any sense of the platform announcements. There was one in English, and that was something about the train to Luleå being fifteen minutes late. Nothing to with us, it seemed.
A little later the train started up again, so we went back to bed. An hour or so later (eight-ish) we were woken by a knock at the door, which was the train conductor telling us that we were at Luleå the end of the line, and we would have to get off. So we hurredly got up, dressed, jammed everything back into bags and stumbled off the train, which promptly departed. Taking two of Cath’s hats and her gloves with it, it now seems… The last thing the conductor told us, as we walked away, was that the timetable had changed, we should have changed trains at Boden at seven, and that the next train from Luleå to Narvik, at 10:36 would take us to Abisko. So that’s what eventually happened. We waited in the lonley Luleå train station until about ten-ish, by which time the next train to Narvik had arrived and been cleaned, and we got on. No station staff to explain our situation to, we were very pleased when the conductor on the second train seemed untroubled by our story and let us stay in the seats we had chosen (the same numbers as on our original ticket, even though the train and the carriage number were different…) So we eventually arrived in Abisko at about ten past four in the afternoon, about four hours later than planned. Pitch dark. A nice lady getting off the train at the same time pointed us in the right direction for the lodge, and it turned out to be easy to find: five minutes walk up the hill from the station.
Just out of the station, dragging our big wheely-suitcases through the crisp crunchy snow (very glad that I had changed out of my normal shoes and into my snow boots on the train) the sky to the North lit up with ribbons of green light. I didn’t have my wide angle lens on, or any night-photo settings, but I pulled the camera out anyway and clicked a couple of shots off. Blurry from being hand-held, but amazing clour. Straight off the train! Totally unexpected, since it had been overcast and occasionally snowing all the way north on the train. But here was clear sky and celestial activity: a good start indeed.
By the time we had reached the hotel the displays had died down quite a bit: we stood around failing to take more photos for a while and then went inside to settle into the room and get ready for dinner (which was great: the food at the Abisko Mountain Lodge is really good). After dinner we rugged back up and walked down to the edge of the lake, where there’s a bit of a jetty or groin out into the water: a perfect spot for aurora watching, one would think. And so it turned out: we stayed out until we’d had enough, which turned out to be around 11PM. Really cold, but the displays were great, and I think we managed to get some decent shots. Having a pair of real tripods would be optimal, but we couldn’t fit the tripods into the luggage when we were packing, so we only have my Joby gripping tripod and John’s monopod. There wasn’t much structure around, down at the end of the peir, for attaching the Joby to, so I used the monopod and Cath went free-hand. Since the auroras were a active but a bit dimmer than earlier, and we were using our wide-angle lenses, which were a couple of stops slower, we found that we needed to take about ten-second exposures at ISO1600 for decent results. Definitely room for improvement, but a good start. Hopefully we’ll manage better tonight.
Today we’ve been dog-sledding. We were only out from a bit before two in the afternoon (still arctic “light”, but clearly darkening), until about half past four (full night.) Quite a fantastic experience for dog-people, because the dogs themselves were lovely. Apart from giving them all pats and scritches, those of us who wanted to were asked to help with the harnessing process, (and later with the un-harnessing). Yes these were all professional dogs, but they weren’t aloof: they were keen and having fun, and just as glad to meet people as most dogs. Not as big as I’d expected. I had thought that sled-pulling huskies would be big, like alsations or wolves, but these guys were about the same size as our dogs (pointers), only husky-shaped. Indeed, one of the twenty (ten each for two sleds, for our group) was a German long-haired pointer — about the same size as the others, but a barker, like our R. Apparently he was happy enough to run and pull, but was always disappointed when there wasn’t some hunting to be done once we got out into the wilderness. So we rode outwards for perhaps an hour (the guide/handler said six miles/kilometers (can’t remember)), at which point we parked the sleds, let the huskies roll around in the snow to cool down, and we went into a tepee that was there for the purpose, where they lit a fire and boiled a kettle for coffee. Very glad to sit down and warm up a bit at that point: even through my big snow shoes, my feet were quite frozen, and my fingers were getting there. I asked the guide how cold it was outside, and he went to check and came back saying that it was -18C. Very glad that I hadn’t bothered to trim my beard this morning!
Thus warmed and rested we got back on the sleds to head home, only this time it was pitch dark and (amazingly, for so early in the night/afternoon), the aurora was already active. We were speeding along across a frozen lake with a great green glowing rainbow stretched from horizon to horizon, directly ahead of us. Magical. We got back to the dog truck soon enough, and I helped get the harnesses off. The dogs were so paitent and well-behaved. They were lovely.
Just winding down with a beer and a glass of wine before dinner, giving me a chance to write this. Dinner in a few minutes, and then back to the lake to look for more lights. Supposed to be even better tonight, but nothing going on right now (good excuse to be indoors, in the warm.)