A Saturday Night Success; Chasing Aurora Borealis

Late Saturday night my phone notification alert went off at 10:48pm informing there was a 12% chance the Northern Lights being visible in the sky tonight. Opening up the Aurora app, I checked the map to see what the predicted location of the Aurora would be?

According to the prediction map the Aurora was splitting Edmonton in half. It was showing the lower half of the city to be in the grey which represents a 5% or lower chance of seeing the Aurora. And the upper half of the city was in green representing a 10% or greater chance of seeing this phenomenon.

My last two attempts were in the range of 8 to 15% and both were partially successful. This is when I decided to give it another go, tonight. Thus I walked into my office to pick up my newly written “Aurora Kit List” and began moving about the condo collecting the items I would need for tonight’s exploration.

  • Aurora Kit
    • Cometron 7×50 binoculars
    • Smartphone
      • Solarium by Celestron
    • Head lamp with red light
    • Cold weather safety jacket rated to -40C
    • Sweatshirt
    • Windbreaker
    • Gloves: light weight w/ smartphone finger
    • Takeya 48-ounce cold/hot beverage bottle
      • Add 2-sachets of green tea
    • Yeti rambler travel mug
    • Ziplock bag of mixed nuts (almonds, sunflower, pumpkin)
    • 2x Cliff bar: peanut butter
    • Dakine backpack
    • Toque

Tonight, I decided to depart the house shortly after midnight.

Inside the Tacoma, I realized we would require additional fuel for this journey as our past couple of trips were 250kms and 350kms traveled chasing the Aurora throughout the countryside.

After the fuel stop, I drove directly East along Whitemud Drive NW and crossed over the Anthony Henday heading out into the countryside along township road 522. The plan was to head out East to the initial spot I had seen the Aurora a few weeks back. Then travel southeast towards the Cooking Lake area.

If the results were favourable, I would set up a spot along a dark road and wait for further results. However if the results were less than favourable, I would head north towards the dark sky reserve surrounding Elk Island National Park.

The initial results were poorer than expected and I continued following the road which lead us south and this felt incorrect as the best light shows always seemed to be farther north. Hesitating for a few minutes I continued down then turn left onto township road 520 which also happens to be secondary highway 629.

Continuing onward for around fifteen minutes we could hear the fowl on the nearby lakes singing and talking back and forth to each other. Both an eery and awesome sound in the darkness of the world outside.

Somewhere along 629, we spotted a glimpse of the green starting to over above the tree line and slowed to a halt on the side of the road. Except we were unsure where we were in relationship to the town of South Cooking Lake and decided to only take photos with our camera and smartphone. The instant results looked favourable.

Looking all around we noticed the only direction from our current position with the Northern Lights appearing in the night sky was directly above us. We decided this was North. Climbing back into the Tacoma we turned around and looked for the first road leading North.

Five minutes on, we turned right onto range road 210A which took us up a hill passing several large homes once we were free of the small community of homes the Aurora began developing to our right but we couldn’t spot any safe places to pull over thus we continued driving north.

Eventually we reached a new secondary highway and switched on Google Maps then opened up our Backroads Atlas to ensure we were in the same location and what our next best route would be. Quickly we spotted the dark sky reserve and decided to drive towards it along a road that would eventually boarder Elk Island National Park.

Maps down, we sped off into the night up Wye Road for a few minutes than another right onto range road 210 and continued traveling north.

As soon as we did this the Northern Lights appeared out the passenger window and I slowed to take in the surreal experience of the dancing lights overhead.

Whilst they continued to dance I decided I needed to locate a place to set up and just sit.

About eight minutes up the range road I spotted a pullout.

Pulling into the pullout backwards, which gave us the option of viewing from inside or outside the Tacoma. The windshield pointing north by northeast.

I hopped out of the truck taking with me the drone, Olympus TG860 and smartphone. Before I could set up any of the camera devices the Aurora changed from a light green to a magnificent pink edge. My eyes dazzled with the lights overhead.

The dark sky reserve below it made the scene dramatic to the human eyes.

I tried frantically to capture the scene before me with the Olympus’ long shutter of 30-seconds but was getting very faint results.

Next I tried the smartphone and again, the results were not matching what my eyes were witnessing. Disappointed in my imaging devices yet extremely pleased with what was occurring overhead.

I stood eyes wide open observing the most indescribable Northern Lights that I have ever seen. Photographs that other people have taken have always made me hopeful of seeing this display before me. BUT the change in colours from green, to white, to pink with a hint of red was magnificent.

This was what I had been hoping for since beginning my journey’s in the middle of the night. To see this spectacular phenomenon occurring on a cloudless night above a dark sky. Then the wind picked up and I realized I had been shivering and standing still in the +3C (37F) being bedazzled by this morning’s Aurora Borealis!

Twenty-ish minutes onward the lights started to fade back to their initial lime green. They had stopped dancing and changing colours. Checking the time I decided it was time to pack up and depart as I had a 45-minute drive home to endure.

By the time we reached home, parked the Tacoma, stowed the kit it was nearing 2:54am. Teeth brushed I climbed into bed with the Northern Lights dancing in my thoughts as my head hit the pillow without another word.

~ Aaron JacksonCrabb

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