Pink Flames across the Sky: the aurora in Fairbanks!

Melanie @Tough Love Travel is a certified Alaska expert with 16 years on-the-ground experience in the state. 

It was April, 2012 when she screamed at the sight of pink flames streaking across the Alaskan sky over her head.

Kathy Lenninger, owner of Sled Dog Adventures, was escorting a couple who had come on a pilgrimage, all the way from Australia, just to see the aurora.  Their mecca, however, was composed of solar particles rather than stone, and their “arrival” was not guarantee.   Sure enough, for awhile it seemed their spiritual journey would end in disappointment – they’d been in Alaska for a month so far, with no aurora.
And then they met Kathy.

THEIR QUEST FOR AURORA
On that April morning, the 3 aurora-seekers traveled an hour north of town to the White Mountains, to a trail that would lead them into the snowy wilderness and up to a mountain-top cabin for an overnight.  

Each driving their own team of dogs, they fought their way up the steep grade in waning northern sunlight, and arrived at the cabin in time to bed down their 16 huskies and have some dinner.

Up there in the black, clear night, they scanned the sky, over and over, but with no promise of aurora, the Aussies eventually tucked themselves into their cozy attic loft for some sleep.

Around 10pm, Kathy thought she’d go out to give the dogs an extra pat before turning in.   Thanking them for their hard work earlier that day, she bent down, stroking and scratching one dog after the other.

At dog 8, with her back aching, she stretched up, for just a minute, but then SCREAMED!
Above her, the sky was alive with pink flames!

She yelled for the clients, who came rushing out.  In her 39 years up in Alaska, she had never seen any aurora like it!  And her clients finally “arrived”.

For an unbelievable 20… maybe 25… minutes they stood there mesmerized by the aurora.  The pink flames danced on and on, eventually morphing more to yellow and eventually streaking in green (the most common aurora color).

The next day, they drove their dogs back into Fairbanks, eager to tell their story, but the town already knew.   The glorious pink aurora had made the front page of the Fairbanks Daily News Miner!

WHAT MONTHS ARE BEST TO SEE THE AURORA?
The above story occurred in April, but you can catch the aurora even in August.   Summertime is when I, myself, saw the aurora, but it was over a Walmart in Edmonton Canada —  hardly as romantic as Kathy’s mountaintop cabin.
Aurora viewing is most popular in winter because the nights are longer.

ARE THERE INDICATIONS THAT THE AURORA WILL APPEAR, OR BE PARTICULARLY VIBRANT?
There are no indications to the naked eye or to the typical person.  But scientists can predict the chance of aurora and they keep a website updated at their University of Alaska’s Geophysical Institute lab to share their insights with the public.  Click this link!   Today, for example, the aurora is forecast is high — rated a 5 — with a band reaching from Barrow up on the Arctic Ocean down to King Salmon, which is in Katmai National Park in the Gulf of Alaska.

MOBILE APPS FOR AURORA TRACKING? 
Yes,  there’s an iPhone Aurora app that you can download, or just use this QR code:

WHAT MAKES THE AURORA?
The dumbed-down scientific explanation is that charged articles from the earth’s solar wind hit our atmosphere and light up.

IS THIS YEAR’S AURORA TRULY HEAVIER THAN NORMAL?
Kathy’s been in Alaska for decades and she says she hears from other locals that this year’s aurora is more vibrant, but frankly, she’s usually sleeping at night!
Green and yellow are the most common aurora and she has seen a lot of those this winter.

HOW CAN YOU OPTIMIZE YOUR CHANCE TO SEE THE AURORA?

Aurora Borealis Lodge

  • Stay at one of the many Fairbanks guesthouses that staffs a full-time night owl to constantly scan the sky for auroras and wakes up guests when one is spotted.
  • Meet the owners of Aurora Borealis Lodge, 20 miles outside of Fairbanks on Cleary Summit.    It’s outside of town to minimize light pollution and it’s large glass windows are north-facing for premier aurora viewing!
  • BEST YET!  Go out on an overnight dogsled with Kathy Lenniger!  You can email her here to ask all your questions!  Or read about her great sled dog excursions here!

For nuanced and personalized trips to Alaska, designed by an expert with 16 years of on-the-ground experience

call Melanie @ Tough Love Travel today!
(609) 923-0304
Or schedule a free call here!

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