In Search of Northern Lights – The Arrival

Duke Johnson

The journey begins in search of Northern Lights…3-3, 2013.

Desert Skies

Sunday morning, at 3:45 am, we awoke and got to the airport for my flight to Yellowknife by way of Minneapolis, Edmonton and finally Calgary.  I was delayed getting out of Edmonton slightly and then for 2 1/2 hours from Calgary to Yellowknife due to weather delays from earlier. That proved very frustrating due to the fact that Earth was in a heavier stream of solar wind because of some coronal holes that had opened up and there was GREAT potential. The end result was that I arrived in Yellowknife at about 11:15 pm, long after darkness had set in.

Several days earlier, I had canceled my hotel room for the first night as I knew I had a chance of being able to see the aurora as the forecast for clear skies looked grim for the whole trip. To facilitate that, I had planned to change in the airport bathroom, assembling a new camera mount I had just built and get moving. Due to the delay in arriving, I had to pre-purchase several sub sandwhiches at the airport so I’d have something late at night. I  asked the stewardess for a large empty water bottle so I could fill it and have water during the 8 or so hours I’d be out in a car on a frozen lake.

I quickly got ready to go but the airport was nearly totally shut down. I came out to fill the water bottle just as the last and only security guard was leaving (not having checked the bathroom). He was very nice, but said I had to get going as they didn’t pay overtime anymore. When he asked what I was doing, I told him I was going to spend the night on Vee Lake photographing the aurora. He said, “You’re Crazy!” To those that know me, you know that isn’t far from the truth…although I like to think of it as “focused.” We left and I went to get the rental car but we couldn’t leave the parking lot because we were supposed to have paid inside…which was now locked. Lucky another very nice security guard let me out. He said it was only -5 F, headed for a low of -15 F to -20 F.

Desert Skies

Within 1 minute of leaving the airport I could see the aurora north of town. It was an amazing wide double curtain of green striated streamers moving quickly that left the horizon to the west and arced all the way to the eastern horizon. As I arrived at Vee Lake about 15 minutes later on very treacherous icy/snowy roads, a pickup with two local people was leaving. I asked why, they said, “Well, it’s really starting to die down now.” Ratz! Darn delay.

Even though it may not have been as good as it was earlier, (there were also clouds earlier), I set up one camera just as fast as I could and got a few nice images showing some structure in the curtains. I got in a good hour of shooting before clouds rolled back in, although the aurora continued to die down as clouds rolled in.

Next time, the rest of the first night and meeting the rest of the explorers.

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