Back in November two things transpired to send us back to California for Thanksgiving on a somewhat last minute basis: Alan had to be in Las Vegas the Monday following the holiday and I received an alert for a deal on WOW Air for a stopover in Reyjkavik, Iceland, en route to San Francisco. I hadn’t intended to join him for the trip back but with everything seeming to line up perfectly with the holiday, we jumped at the chance to take a chance on an airline we’d never flown for a cold, wintry adventure.
Seeing the Northern Lights is something that Alan had wanted to do since he was a kid, and with this winter marking a height in solar storm activity, we knew there was a very good likelihood we’d get to see them provided the weather (ie, cloud coverage) cooperated. When going to Iceland there are many different ways you can see the Northern Lights. Many people I know have rented their own vehicles and just driven out to the country, but with only 48 hours in Reyjkavik, we decided to leave everything up to the professionals by booking a tour. After scouring the internet for a couple of hours and seeing more tour combos than I could possible keep straight, I booked the basic Northern Lights Jeep Tour with superjeep.is for our first night. That afternoon I checked the aurora forecast and on a scale of 1-10, we were at a 3 which is the low end of moderate storm activity.
We (and another couple) were picked up at our hotel after dark and driven out to the middle of nowhere to meet up with the rest of the company’s fleet off off-road vehicles. On the way out, our driver gave us the standard spiel about the lights showing up when the lights wanted to show up in order to set our expectations. While doing so, he looked toward the horizon and remarked that it looked like we were in luck. I glanced up and saw a very faint green zag in the sky, but those in the back of the jeep couldn’t really see what the driver and I could. Eventually, we got to our destination and lo and behold, the light show had started!
It’s hard to describe what seeing the Northern Lights is really like. The closest thing I can come to is it’s very much like a laser light show. The lights shimmer and dance as the glow arcs across the sky and from one minute to the next the shape changes and moves. What began far off in the horizon eventually took up the whole sky, soaring high overhead, before ultimately fading off into the distance. All told, we were probably out there in the cold, frozen tundra for about three hours and I have *never* been as cold as I was for that last hour. Even though I was wearing multiple layers of clothing – including fleece-lined tights and wool base layers – it felt like I was completely exposed to the elements. At one point I thought my fingers were going to break off from having them exposed so I could work my camera.
But it was definitely worth it.
For this trip, I brought my Sony A6000 without a tripod. The thing I love about the Sony is I can wear it around my neck without it being very obtrusive and it fits inside my purse when I carry one. While in hindsight I would have loved to have had the power of my Nikon and a tripod for these once-in-a-lifetime photos, I’m by no means a professional photographer and by *not* lugging around that beast, I was better able to enjoy the other times I had my camera on me. Would I have wanted crisper shots? Of course. But this was a trade-off I was more than happy to make (as was Alan, I’m sure, since he typically ends up being the one to lug around the Nikon when I bring it).
Interestingly enough, the next night’s storm activity level was rated a 6 but because it was super cloudy and rainy, the trips out to see the lights were a bust. Given what we saw with a “3” I can’t imagine what a “6” would have looked like. I don’t know that it gets any better.