The midnight sun is a strange thing to encounter, especially for those of us used to timing our bedtime by how dark it is outside. So what is this strange phenomenon and what does it mean for you when you travel?
I landed in Anchorage at 2am tired and ready to head to my hotel for an early morning departure. It was light out but I hadn’t yet put two and two together to realise that I would be camping for two weeks in Alaska under the midnight sun.
What is the Midnight Sun?
The midnight sun is a natural phenomenon that occurs during summer months in areas north of the Arctic Circle or south of the Antarctic Circle. Essentially it is when the sun remains visible even at midnight and fails to darken. Around the Summer solstice (around June 21 in the north and December 22 in the south) the sun is visible for the full 24 hours when the weather is decent.
It’s a strange feeling trying to convince your mind it’s tired, when your mind is telling your body it shouldn’t be. Especially when there are still people out jogging, or sitting around the campfire and there are still birds flying around outside.
I remember once sitting around the campfire with great company, drinking neat whiskey, talking and generally having a wonderful time. Once in a while one of us would take a walk in search of branches and twigs to keep the fire burning or head off for the bathroom. On the horizon was a sprawling glacier slowly sliding down the mountainside and the sound of the river beside us filled the silence between fire crackles. It was one of those moments where everything is right with the world. It suddenly dawned on me we were in Alaska under the midnight sun, we had to be up early in the morning, and it was 2.30am. At this point I quickly scurried off to bed.
Go Big or Go Home!
But perhaps my most defining moment of the winter sun was on July 4th marking, which marks America’s independence. It’s fairly safe to assume there will typically be a big party and a fireworks display to commemorate the occasion. In the small corner of the world that is Valdez the party was lacking however, they didn’t disappoint with the fireworks and is probably one of the funniest things I have seen. The Alaskans (bless them) had paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for what should have been a very impressive display, but there was one simple ingredient missing; darkness. So what we encountered was a small ball of light shooting up from the ground, followed by a wispy trail of black smoke, and then a gigantic bang which reverberated against the surrounding mountains…..and then nothing. No impressive display of dancing light dancing across the sky, no ‘ooohhs or aahhhhhs’. Just the sound of dogs barking and a bunch of people waiting for the punch line.
Essential items for the midnight sun
If you’re camping you’ll want to take these very essential items:
• Eye mask
• Ear plugs – because there will always be someone who cannot adjust to the light and is up walking around at strange times of the night
• Fly sheet for your tent – this should be obvious as it tends to rain in Alaska but also helps filter the light
• Airproof and bear proof metal container – Don’t put food in your tent, keep it sealed in your car or bear proof metal box. Bears will be out roaming for food when you are sleeping soundly under the midnight sun
Ok so it wasn’t taken at midnight but here is a quick little bear video entitled – Does a Bear Shit in the Woods?
Why visit Alaska during the midnight sun?
For anyone who has travelled been to Alaska or lives there you will already be nodding your head in approval. For those who haven’t, Alaska, or the 49th State as it is commonly referred to, is breathtakingly magnificent and a true wilderness state which feels very un-American. You don’t have to drive far out of Anchorage to see bears and moose patrolling the roads, and if hiking trails, glaciers, flowing rivers, adventure activities and paradise on earth are high on your agenda, Alaska will not disappoint. Have a read of my blog for my inspiration.
So the benefit is 24hours of daylight allowing you to stay up later to see more, when the crowds have gone to sleep. The chance to be up at 2.30am in a deck chair watching clouds swirl around the glacial peaks, and see moose antlers peeking out from the top of scrub is a rare treat. I for one am a convert!