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My Venture into the Arctic Circle

My Venture into the Arctic Circle

Tromsø, Norge: Feburary 9-12th, 2017

I am getting more and more convinced that I belong in the arctic, especially after my visit to Tromsø, a city located in the far North of Norway. My friends and I wanted the opportunity to see the Northern Lights, and like most students who wish to see them, we planned a trip to this Arctic city. Originally it was going to be me and 10 other guys, but then my German friend Carla asked if she could join the week of our departure, and so it was 12 of us in total venturing North (so many people!).

My friend Trond (also from Colorado, surprisingly) and I booked our flights together so we had seats adjacent to one another. He had the window seat, but as we were flying into Tromsø, I was able look past him to see just how untouched the landscape was for miles. There were pure, snow covered mountains as far as the eye could see. My excitement for the trip kept rising the longer I stared out the window.

The view from the window of the plane as we were descending into Tromsø.

When we arrived in the airport, it took a little while to get the keys to the two cars we had rented for the trip but then we set out for our accommodations. I was included in the original car rental group: Graham (Vermont, USA), Trond (Colorado, USA), Brad (Florida, USA), and Will (North Dakota, USA). We decided weeks before that we wanted to rent a car to be able to ski and hike the dope mountains outside the city. The other guys on the trip decided last minute to rent a car and unfortunately Sam (our quirky, lovable Australian) was accidentally left out and thus had to ride in the boot of one of the cars. Additionally, Carla (the German girl I mentioned previously) was an extra person we didn’t anticipate. So to get everyone to fit, including all the ski equipment, two people had to sit in the trunk everywhere we went. Definitely not the safest, and absolutely not my choice, but it worked out…

Joey, our Airbnb extraordinaire, booked the most incredible house for us to stay in. It was very historical, dated in the 18th century, and it was MASSIVE. Literally, a mansion. Plus, it was located towards the top of a hill in the city, so the view we had was spectacular. I slept on one of the couches in the main living room with Graham the entire time we were there, and I loved waking up to the spectacular views outside the window. I am still blown away that we managed to get our safety deposit back, because, as you can imagine, 12 people can really wreak havoc when set wild in a large house for three days—especially when 10 of them are guys. Let’s just say I have never seen a group of people pull off such a thorough cleaning job in such a short period of time before the owner returned—it was the feat of a lifetime!

The backside of our glorious Airbnb (Thanks again, Joey!)
The view from inside the living room in which I slept each night. I took this picture upon awaking one morning.

We had decided before we left for the trip that we would do one communal dinner together each day. Hence, when we first arrived, we set out the game plan of who would oversee what meals and then we went food shopping just down the road. When we came back, we explored the house and surrounding area before we got our belongings organized for the long night we had before us.

This is just down the road from our house, taken on our way to the grocery store.

Our plan to witness the Northern Lights on our first night was to drive an hour or two outside the city and find a random mountain to hike up. Once there, we would make a fire, cook some hot dogs for dinner, and basically camp out for most of the night to watch the Aura Borealis.

We drove West of Tromsø for about an hour, with Trond, Graham and I analyzing the mountains as we drove to see which ones would be good to trek up for the night. We finally came across one that seemed perfect—seemingly manageable for those in the trip who were not avid hikers. Even the mountain we choose proved surprisingly difficult, but I am getting ahead of myself now…

With all our gear—food, fire wood, drinks, and warm clothes—we began hiking somewhat diagonally up the side of the mountain. It was a full moon which was perfect, as it allowed us to see where we were going. After a while, we found a good spot to make fire and start roasting our hot dogs, or pølser, as we say in Norwegian. It was fun to once again be drinking, eating, and chatting around a fire in the middle of nowhere, just like I do back in the states. This was something I do a lot back in Colorado when I go camping so it felt warm and familiar to me. While our pølser were cooking, Brad was the first one to just barely notice the Northern Lights in the distance. The excitement around the fire grew exponentially, and I couldn’t wait to see them with my own eyes.

The outline of myself huddled at the fire to stay warm while the full moon shined above us. You can see the rest of the mountain we climbed in the background.

After we finished our meal, we put out the fire and set out to hike further up the mountain. This is where the climbing got rather difficult. It was freezing, with thick layers of snow surrounding an increasingly rocky mountainside. The group began to get divided between those who moved faster and those who were struggling to get up the mountain. Additionally, Will took a huge L when he accidentally dropped his phone down some hole in the mountainside, never to be seen again. I felt so awful for him as our frantic searching for the phone proved fruitless. To his credit, he had such a good attitude about it all, especially when later in the trip he also broke his skis (but again, I am getting ahead of myself!). Let’s just say, Tromsø truly was a savage while we were there, despite all its glory and beauty.

Graham took one for the team and dived into the hole where Will believed his phone fell. Andy was holding his legs so he wouldn’t fall in.

With Will double fisting two cigarettes, we eventually kept moving up the mountain in hopes of getting an ever better view of the Northern Lights. As soon as we had started moving, something magical happened. The Aura Borealis appeared in the sky, one-hundred times stronger than previously. We all instinctively started screaming, and I am not kidding you, the louder we screamed the stronger the lights became! They were a glorious shade of green, all dancing across the sky. I couldn’t believe it, and sadly no picture will ever do it justice, but it helps for the memories… It by far was one of the happiest, magical times in my life as stood there screams with people who have become some of my good friends while watching the Lights grow bigger and stronger.

The first glimpses of the Northern Lights. The pictures made it look like day time, even though it was dark.
Taken at the time when we were all screaming and the Lights kept getting better and better – so amazing!

Some of us tried to summit the mountain but conditions got way too dangerous the higher we got. I was content with where we had reached and just how well we could see the lights.

Going down the mountain will forever be one of my most favorite experiences of my life. The mountain, like I mentioned, was quite steep and there were feet of snow everywhere so making our way down by merely walking we would soon realize was less than advisable. Before we knew it (and I still don’t remember who started it, probably Graham) we were flinging our bodies down the hill, sliding either on our feet, on our stomachs, but mostly on our butts. What took hours to climb, took maybe 30 minutes to descend!

As we are making our way down, laughing and pushing each other as we soaked our clothes through to our skin, we overheard Joey scream. Yep, savage Tromsø did it again—Joey announced he had lost his phone. We all stopped and many of us, including myself, had to climb back up the mountain to help look. Joey literally sprinted up the mountain in search for his iPhone, because sadly he had already experienced great loss with apple products when he accidentally left his Macbook on the plane when first traveling to Oslo. Lucky for Joey, he found his phone with all but 2% battery remaining! I still remember him standing with his arms above his head, grasping his phone as he yelled he found it. We celebrated immensely as we returned to flying down the snowy mountainside, butts in the cold snow.

The crew at the bottom of the hill! Despite the freezing temperatures, we were overheated by coming down the mountain and thus some of the guys crazily took off their shirts. I do apologize!

The next morning, Graham and I were awoken very early—me by the early sunlight breaking through the sunroom, and Graham because he is the biggest morning person I have ever met. He peeled the rest of the guys out of their beds upstairs to make sure we got moving at least somewhat early to go skiing and hiking at a near by mountain. I stuffed my face and backpack with food before we set off on our next adventure.

The day was just gorgeous. It was still freezing (artic circle and all…), but it was cloudless and sunny. Five of the guys had skies and I was planning on hiking from the beginning and anyone could join me if they wanted to. At first, the rest of the group said of course, but as we began to hike, Sam (ausie), Zach (Michigan), Joey (Michigan), and Pedro (Argentina) immediately pulled off to the side to start taking pictures of themselves. That was their choice, but I was not about to spend the day taking photos when I could be hiking. I told them I was just going to leave them and as I was walking away, Andy (Minnesotan) and Carla (German) joined me to hike. I was glad to have their company just in case something went wrong like getting lost or injured.

The mountain and trails were unlike anything I had ever seen. Unique ice crystals decorated the landscape due to how cold it was. We found a trail that was about 4 miles long so we made it our mission to try to get to the end and back before the time we agreed to meet up at the cars with the rest of our group.

The amazing ice crystals that lined all the trees and bushes.
Even the way the rivers are frozen are vastly different than back at home.
Part of the trail towards the middle of the valley.

As we were hiking, Andy thought he heard some of the guys up ahead. I tried to listen, but before I could hear anything he just sprinted off in the distance. Turns out he was right, we had somehow managed to meet up with the skiing crew! We talked for a little and then all decided to climb up this steep mountainside to get to the top. This was were our trail was heading but the snow and ice was so bad you couldn’t even see the trail anymore so once we summited, that was as far as we went.

Climbing up that mountain though was extremely difficult. It was pure ice in most places and the wind was far stronger than even the strongest winds in Chicago. Finally, we all reached the top. The views (and the wind) were unreal. We ate our lunch huddled around each other and took just a few celebratory photos because it was quite an accomplishment that we made it. That hike is definitely in my top 5 favorite hikes in my life.

The crew when we first reached the top.
One of the dopest photos of my life – you can see the crazy landscape we were hiking around. (Living on the edge!)
Pictured is me and Vince (Netherlands) doing the famous butt sliding technique to get down the hill.
I was lucky that Brad gave me his pole to help me get down the mountain. (Thank you Vince for the cool, candid picture!)

As it was starting to get dark, we decided to head back once we got down from the summit. Cross country skiing downhill is really tough so although some of us were hiking, we mostly stayed with the skiers because (Graham and Trond excluded) the guys kept falling—especially Brad. This is when Will lost it and ran into a snow bank, breaking both his skis. Tromsø really hated that kid, and I felt so sorry for him, for they weren’t even his skiis. A Norwegian family he calls his ‘host family’ here had let him borrow them. But just as he did with his phone, he had a great attitude and eventually we made it back to the cars. The other guys rolled in shortly after and then we set off to return home.

That night we took the gondola up a mountain to overlook the city. The tickets were cheap and it was definitely worth it to see the city lit up at night.

Glorious Tromsø at the top of a mountain. You can see the edges of the gondola in the picture.

Later, we stayed in the house and had a great time together, all awhile listening to Graham 2000’s music playlist. Everyone was dead the next morning but of course Graham woke up at the crack of dawn, thus waking me up. A few more followed suit and we decided to do our part in cleaning the house before just getting in a car and going on a road trip. We knew the rest of the group would not be able to get themselves ready in time so we opted for just ditching them—sounds mean but it was such a good decision. I still feel bad for them that they missed such a wonderful day.

It was Graham, Andy, Sam, and me in the car. Last minute Brad was able to through on a jacket and join us as well. We drove for hours, through a rain and snow mixture of weather, while surrounded by mountains and the Arctic ocean. This was also probably one of my favorite parts of the trip. For one, I just really love road trips in general. Something about the meditative aspect of it to me puts me in a peaceful state of mind, especially if I am driving through gorgeous landscapes, like I was in Tromsø. Another reason is I adore listening to music in the car. It is simply sublime to lose yourself in either thought or conversation while your ears are surrounded by the gentle melodies of some of your favorite songs.

We would make a few stops here and there to stretch our legs or get a better view of some outstanding outlooks. At one point, the wind was so strong that Graham’s door almost broke and flew off—talk about strong winds!

The view while driving. You can see the rain and clouds covering the mountain in the distance.
Pictured is Sam, Andy, and me stretching our legs on the side of the road.

The best part was when we decided to pull off on the side of the road, cross it, and walk onto this piece of land that jutted out into the ocean. The waters were a blue-green that I had never seen before and the icy, rainy winds were out of this world. We were screaming and running around like children on the playground. I was unbelievably happy and freezing at the same time. Graham even ended up walking into the water quite far while the rest of us just tried to not get blown away on the land. A crazy boy, that one is. The rest of us continued to play around and as soon as Graham came back out of the water, he sprinted back to the car because he was so cold. The rest of us followed suit, reaching the car cold, soaked, and beyond satisfied. I will never forget that tiny road trip to nowhere that we took.

You can see the amazingly unique colors of the Arctic waters.
Look how far Graham traveled into the freezing cold water. He’s that small outline in the distance! Crazy dude, I’m telling ya!!
Pictured is me about to get blown away by the impeccably strong, icy winds!

When we returned home, we came across the rest of the crew sitting in the living room. I felt kinda bad for them that they missed out on such a wonderful day, but hey it wasn’t our fault that we didn’t want to sit around and do nothing on our last day while everyone slept.

Like I mentioned earlier, cleaning up that house was a disaster. Additionally, we had one more communal meal to cook which made the kitchen a mess again. In the middle of our rapid cleaning and cooking, the owner walks in—astonished at how well we destroyed her home in just a few days. She kept saying, “I just don’t understand how this happened.” Joey (our savior) calmed her down and promised everything would be spotless in an hour. She said it better be just before taking off again. In that hour, we performed a miracle—no joke. In the end, we not only got our deposit back, but the woman left Joey and wonderful review on Airbnb.

Tromsø may have been the most beautiful and savage city I have ever been to–quite the dichotomy. I am forever grateful that I had the opportunity to go there and that I was lucky enough to see the Northern Lights, especially on our first night (many other international students who traveled there were not so lucky).

Thanks for everything my lovely Arctic city, and thank you for reading about my adventures.

Until next time bloggy blog 🙂

P.s. Our one and only Bradley Lazar makes incredible videos, and this is the one he made for our trip that is only about a minute but shows the beauty of the city! It also features him falling while skiing if you’re into that!

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