Northern Lights, Alaska.

Aurora Borealis, Northern Lights, over Wrangell St. Elias national park, Alaska.

Hey folks,

Here’s a quick one from the road. Taken last night. The aurora borealis, or northern lights, as it’s commonly called, is absolutely the most mystical, magical, unbelievable thing I’ve ever witnessed, and dare say ever will. I’ll write more on the lights later, but here’s a quick recount of my experience last night (or 2 nights).

I was headed to the north side of the park, during the evening, after finally get my van out from a mudhole I’d stupidly driven into. So I was late heading north. Around 11:30pm, the lights started going overhead, really a great display. I had nowhere to pull over, and watched fromout the front, right, left and rear windows of my van. It’s amazing how the van stayed on the road whilst I’m looking out the back window at 50mph. By the time I got somewhere I could stop the lights faded. So I head for a little campsite I was planning on spending the night, and get some rest. Come dawn, the haze was so bad I couldn’t even see the mountains across the valley, so I didn’t get up early. I spent the day trying to get close enough to some caribou to get decent photos – I got a few, but not many – the caribou are pretty skittish in these parts.

So I aim for sunset – again, the haze ruins it. I hit the sleeping bag. Around 11:30 I look out to see if the lights are doing their thing again. They’re just starting up, so I jump up, dress, and try to get some images. there’s still a little sunset color on the distant horizon, so that’s cool, but the lights aren’t really popping, and the display last only 20 minutes or so. I go back to my sleeping bag and fall asleep. Bummed.

Around 1:30am I wake up, and poke my head outside to see what the sky’s doing. It’s on fire! I jump up, stumble around in the dark trying to get dressed (put my pants on backwards, that’s a first for me), and fumble my way out with camera and tripod in hand. The display gets better and better, reaching from the distant northern horizon all the way overhead to the far southern horizon.I don’t know where to point my camera. My headlamp batteries die, so I’m totally winging it, using ‘the force’, and asking Gaia for some assistance here. The universe responds with more and more intense displays .. the sky dances with a glow that was simply amazing. Eventually the display calms down, and I try to get some sleep around 2:30 .. fat chance.

I finally fall asleep around 4, glad the haze is so thick and knowing that the mountain to the south of my isn’t visible, so there’s no point in getting up early to shoot.

I wake up around 7, look outside, and there’s Mt Sanford, standing atop the Wrangell Mountains like some kind of sentinel of the range, warm early morning clear and bright. I’d missed the alpenglow, doing what I do best:

Mt Sanford,Wrangell St. Elias National Park, Alaska.



6 thoughts on “Northern Lights, Alaska.

  1. Beth Lunsford

    Hey Carl- What’s up!? Maybe not you, yet. What a totally awesome photo! Kind of looks like a strange green genie coming out of a bottle. Or an absolutely wicked sort of tornado. Reminds me when me & my brother used to lay out on the driveway late at night & imagine all kinds of things from what we’d see in space. Just REALLY OFF THE HOOK!!

  2. Carl Donohue

    Hey Beth,

    I’m up. I haven’t gone to bed yet. I just watched the movie “Shackleton” – what a crazy trip that was. Ironically, it’s snowing a veritable blizzard outside right now.

    Thanks for the comment – yes, it’s an amazing scene. Everyone should try to see the northern lights once in their life, I think. Simply amazing.



  3. Mark

    I am on an Aurora alert mailing list for the very rare instance that we can see them down here in Michigan. I tend to agree, they are an event where you can just lay on the ground and stare into them for hours on end.

  4. Neil Donohue

    Hello Carl,
    Love the photo at the top of the page and really envy you that experience; and yes, we would love to have seen the northern lights on our trip to Alaska last year, but the guide we had was too slack to organise that for us.
    However we did see a lot of similar scenes to the one at the bottom of the page.
    And, going back to an earlier comment of yours, the truth is that you suddenly turning up in 1969 prevented your mother and I from going to Woodstock (but it hasn’t all been bad).

  5. Carl Donohue

    Hey Dad,

    Thanks for stopping in. I think the guide you had for your trip probably was underpaid, and provided what you paid for. This, ole fella, is Alaska, and it ain’t cheap.

    As for your comment about ‘scenes at the bottom of the page’, rest is a critical component of good health.

    Sorry you didn’t get to go to Woodstock.



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