I arrived in Alta on Monday at 1:30 in the morning. The flight from Oslo had been delayed by three hours and I was tired of travelling and ready for bed. Luckily, Bente the owner of the guest-house, had very kindly stayed up to welcome me. After a brief conversation, I dumped my bags on the floor and retired for the night.
The next morning I awoke with the familiar symptoms of a bout of Diverticulitis. This was not good news. I was a long way from home and the thought of spending part of my vacation in hospital was not part of my plan. The weather was also unseasonably warm. I struggled back to the airport to pick up my hire car and then spent the next couple of days lying on my bed and feeling decidedly sorry for myself.
Yesterday was New Year’s eve and I was feeling marginally better. I looked at the local weather forecasts and it didn’t look inspiring. High winds and partial cloud cover until 8:00 pm then fully overcast for the remainder of the night. I knew that the optimum time for an aurora display is usually between the hours of 10:00 pm to 3:00 am. Maybe I should stay in bed or read a book? Ignoring these doubts, I packed my gear and a flask of coffee and headed north along the E6 towards Hammerfest.
The road was quiet as I drove carefully out of Alta and up the winding pass onto the high plateau. It was already 6:30 pm and I could see the clouds pouring over the mountains from the west. I stopped at a lay-by and peered at the sky. I could make out some weak aurora in the moon-lit sky. I retrieved my camera equipment from the car and set up my tripod on the edge of the road and made a few 8 second exposures of the sky above a frozen, snow-covered lake.
Still dissatisfied, I returned to my car and continued along the road. I passed an automatic snow barrier and a short distance further, the road was partially blocked by a small avalanche. I continued on for a short distance and was met with a snow-plough and a completely blocked road. The high winds were sweeping snow across the carriageway and any further progress was impossible. I turned around and headed back towards Alta.
A few hundred yards in the distance I could see red-lights flashing on the automatic barrier as it swung vertically down into its closed position. I don’t know why but at that point, I thought of the famous scene of Indiana Jones in the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Unfortunately, real life is not like Holywood and I didn’t make it.
I got out of my car to see if there was a manual release for the barrier but no such luck. I poured myself a coffee and listened to the radio and cursed myself for venturing out on such an inhospitable night. I scoured the horizon for approaching headlights but it appeared that most sensible folk were all at home on this last evening of the year. About an hour later, I could see an approaching vehicle.
A tow-truck came to a halt on the other side of the closed barrier and the owner approached my vehicle. He was surprised to see me and asked me why I was not celebrating with my friends at home on New Year’s eve. Once he established that I from the U.K. and on holiday he must have concluded that this was just normal eccentric British behaviour. We chatted about football and he made quick call on his mobile and within minutes the flashing lights ceased and the barrier swung open. I thanked him for his troubles and wished him a Happy New Year.
I arrived back in Alta just in time for the New Year celebrations. Fireworks lit the sky and it seemed that everyone was outside welcoming in the New Year. Bente very kindly asked me if I would like to join the party but I politely declined. I’d reached my limit to the excitement for one evening. A couple of cans of beer later and I was fast asleep.