Chase the Northern Lights
The Northern Lights are volatile and unpredictable. If you want to experience them, you have to stay awake and preferably get a little out of town. That is why we have booked a snowmobile trip to take us out into the night in the Pasvikdalen valley, south of Kirkenes. We know it may be a wasted journey, but we hope for the best.
Dots of light can be seen from houses and farms on the western, Norwegian side of the Pasvik River, while the Russian side is sensed as a dark forest edge arising from the other side of the river ice. Sometimes, we can see lights from the mining town of Nikel, which illuminate the tall nickel factory chimneys. Eventually, the trail turns away from the border river and into the pine forest. Here, we drive slower on uneven, narrow trails around the pine trunks. We have turned into the blackness of the night, and can see ice crystals sparkling in bark and branches in the bone-hard frost.
Right up to the border
We stop at a place where the Russian border is as close as the other side of a town street. "Are you there?" shouts the guide into the woods on the Norwegian side. "Of course," the soldiers from the Sør-Varanger garrison shout back. But we can't see them in the dark. You are allowed to approach the border, but it is strictly prohibited to cross it.
When we are far inland, stars peek through the clouds above us, like a white veil that the stars must look through. Our guide has seen this before and we stop. We see the veil move and thicken, and undulating stripes appear. They grow into a gauze-like wave that spreads across the sky. We can see a tinge of pink at the edge, while the rest is a bright, electric green. Soon there are three green stripes that wind across the sky. We watch in silent admiration, with only the occasional gasp coming from the small group. Suddenly it's over, and all we see are the stars.
You cannot simply drive anywhere you want with a snowmobile in Sør-Varanger. There is a marked snowmobile trail southwards from Kirkenes and into the Pasvikdalen valley. Both locals and tourists must keep to this out of respect for the wildlife and the residents in the area. The trail runs across the river ice, into the forest and over the low land between the lakes. It then loops into the forest, where the terrain is a bit more varied and challenging.
An exclusive trip
The trip leaves every day on request, with pickups from the hotels in Kirkenes. There are usually two people per snowmobile, so you can take turns driving. The small company has just three snowmobiles, so there is space for no more than five guests. We park the snowmobiles and go to a hut on the river bank to cook sausages over the fire and talk about our experiences. Our guide was born and raised in the border country, and has many stories to share.
Pasvik Turist www.pasvikturist.no is a tour operator with a variety of tours in Kirkenes both summer and winter. If you want to see the Northern Lights without driving yourself, they also have their own trips with sled and snowmobile.