Aurora Hunting in Akaslompolo

After Rovaniemi, it was a pretty leisurely drive to our next stop, Yllas. I’m not sure if it’s just because most of the roads in Lapland were covered in a hard layer of snow, but they were in amazingly good shape. With our studded tires, it made for easy driving, though there wasn’t a lot to look again except flat forest and meadows. The trees were still covered with a thick layer of frost, so they were very beautiful.

There was a reasonable amount of traffic on the road on the main highway, but eventually we branched off the main highway on a shortcut and that road was pretty much deserted. It was still light out and the driving was fine, but it did make me a little nervous to be driving through the freezing cold wilderness without a working cell phone. Nothing happened and it was all fine, but my safety conscious mind tends to wander to these things sometimes.


We arrived in Yllas just as the sun was going down. When we originally booked the trip, I assumed there were mountains in Lapland because of the numerous ski resorts, but overall Lapland is quite flat and Yllas Mountain was one of the only major landmarks in the area. It’s definitely on the small side for someone who regularly skis Whistler, but it is located adjacent to Pallas-Yllastunturi National Park, which has beautiful rolling white hills. Yllas town is pretty much just resort hotels, so we were staying 15 minutes away in the small town of Akaslompolo. This was mostly because it was cheaper than Yllas town, but now that I’ve been to both, I would recommend it because it has more amenities.

We were also staying in a cabin here, but it was part of what I can only describe as a large hotel resort. The hotel had a reception building and a giant restaurant to accommodate the many visitors they receive. There were all kinds of accommodation options and we had a small one-bedroom cabin for our 3 nights there. It was a classic log cabin and was very cozy with both a woodstove and a sauna. The one glaring flaw was that it didn’t have wifi. It was supposed to, but it wasn’t working at the cabins the whole time we stayed there, which was very frustrating for us since we were planning our activities on the go, but we survived.


What made up for the lack of wifi was the restaurant and the location. They treated us to a free buffet supper at the restaurant and we stuffed ourselves on traditional salmon soup, elk stew, and all the fixings you can possibly imagine. But the highlight was the proximity to Akaslompolo Lake, which was recommended as a great place to watch for the aurora and was only a 10-minute walk from our cabin.

Since the previous night, the low KP forecast for the week had done a complete 180 degree transformation and was now forecasting 4-6 for the next three days! Unfortunately, it was looking a little cloudier, so I kept an eye on the app for when the clouds would move out. I think we went down to the lake around 8pm and we had to wait around for a while, but eventually we started catching a glimpse of the aurora through the clouds. It was pretty similar to the previous night and was dancing around, though it was still pretty faint. We watched for a while and then the clouds moved back in and we went back to the cabin to enjoy our sauna.


We were exhausted after the sauna and were getting ready for bed when I got enough of a wifi signal for my app to send me a notification that the aurora was heating up. I popped outside for a minute and could indeed see it dancing around up in the sky, so despite it being 11:30pm and being super tired, I couldn’t resist suiting up again to go outside and look at it. I just walked up the road a little bit at first, but it was much more intense than everything I’d seen thus far, so I immediately got super excited about it! I decided to fully commit and went back to the cabin to tell Seth I was going back to the lake. For safety reasons, I made him set his alarm for 1am and told him if I wasn’t back by then, to come looking for me.


I all but ran to the lake and was panting from the freezing air when I got there, but it was so worth it! The aurora was much more active and visible to the naked eye. Nothing too crazy, but easily the best I’d seen. I set up my tripod and was shooting north for a while when I noticed a pinkish glow coming from the other side of the lake. A few photographs confirmed that I was lucky enough to witness red aurora! Red aurora is supposedly pretty rare, so I was ecstatic about it. I’ve since learned that colour is an indicator of the altitude of the aurora, with red aurora being the furthest outside the atmosphere and blue being the closest, so both of these colours are harder to see. Green and purple hang out somewhere in the middle. We saw purple aurora the following night, but otherwise we mostly saw green.


It was hard to tear myself away from the lake, but I had to get back to the cabin by 1am and my camera battery kept freezing on me (a very annoying problem as I had to keep removing it from the camera to warm it up with my body heat). It took me a while to walk back though because the aurora kept distracting me on the way and I’d have to set the tripod up again. Like I explained in my last post, the aurora goes through cycles and so it will seem incredibly active for a while and then seem to disappear before returning in full force. Eventually I made it back to the cabin with 5 minutes to spare!


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