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The Northern Lights truly are Mother Nature's beautiful creation. Living in Northern British Columbia in Prince George we have the privilege of experiencing her beautiful dancing Aurora Borealis. This gorgeous performance in the night sky can be seen all year round with the proper tracking. This blog will discuss and answer a few frequent questions on how to see and photograph the beautiful Northern Lights.
Before discussing the best way to view and photograph the Northern Lights, many people want to know what the Northern Lights are and how they are created. After some brief research I discovered they are the result of many collisions between gaseous particles in the Earth's atmosphere and charged particles released from the sun's atmosphere. The many, many variations in colour in the Northern Lights are due to the type of gas particles that are reacting with each other. The most common auroral color, a pale yellowish-green. Rare, all-red auroras are produced by high-altitude oxygen, at heights of up to 322km (200 miles). Nitrogen produces blue or purplish-red aurora. The Northern Lights can be seen in many different shapes and forms, ranging from patchy or scattered clouds of lights, to beautiful rippling curtains or shooting rays of light illuminating the sky with and eerie mysterious glow.
Another pair of common questions is: what is the best location for viewing the Northern Lights? and when is the best time? As a photographer I'm always searching for the next best location, but for anyone trying to view or take pictures of the Northern Lights I would strongly suggest a quick drive out of the city. Prince George has light pollution which can make viewing the Northern Lights difficult and less vibrant; it's not impossible but you need a much stronger solar storm for city viewing. A quick drive in any direction out of the city at one of our beautiful lakes would be the best suggestion (Nukko Lake, West Lake, Shane Lake, Tabor Lake, Bednesti Lake, or Purden Lake).
As for the best time, there really isn't one. My suggestions would be to Google an Aurora group and join one that has free email subscriptions for Yellow and Red Alerts. I combine an Email Notification, an iPhone Aurora app with Notification, and many Facebook groups with all sorts of Notifications. To chase the Aurora properly, I have found one must exhaust all options.
To successfully photograph the Northern Lights all you need is a camera and tripod, For a successful night shot you need your camera to be on a sturdy object. Secondly you need a camera; preferably a DSLR camera and some Smart Cameras with the ability to control your Shutter Speed to a minimum of 5-10 seconds. Normally I will zoom my camera out so I can see as much as the night sky as possible, (24-120mm I would use 24mm) For night shots I use between 10-20 seconds for my Shutter Time. Why 10 seconds? You want the camera to let as much light in as possible. This is why you drive away from the light pollution of the city.
It is also important to carefully select your ISO. I normally start off at 800 ISO, if it's too dark then bring your ISO up and vise versa. An easy set up guide for starting is: lowest focal length, 10-20 Seconds, and 800 ISO. Adjusting all the settings for the perfect shot is different every night and every location.
The number one tip I will give everyone is to always have fun and enjoy what you’re doing on your night adventure, regardless of whether you’re taking photos or not. Mother Nature can be tricky sometimes. Don't give up if you’re unsuccessful on your first try. Most photographers will visit the same spot 5-10 times before achieving the photo they want.
Thanks again for your time and reading my blog on the Northern Lights.
If you want to follow any of my recent work, you can find me on Facebook at K.Foot Photography and Instagram @kfootphotography.
Transportation is the reason Prince George exists in the first place, and it is why Prince George has developed and thrived for more than 10,000 years. That’s at least how long the Lheidli T’enneh (pronounced KLATE-lee TEN-ay) First Nation has called this confluence of two mighty rivers –Nechako and Fraser – home.
This was the central transition point of busy aboriginal trade economies between the northern, west coast, prairie and southern communities of modern day Western Canada. Part of this network was a series of ancient “grease trails” overland. Three of the main local ones were named Nyan Wheti (between modern day Fraser Lake and Fort St. James), the Cheslatta Trail (Fraser Lake to Ootsa Lake), and Nuxalk-Carrier Trail (Quesnel to Bella Coola). These were the ancient roads, but rivers and lakes were the ancient highways. The Nechako, its watershed running east-west across much of the northern interior, was one of the most prominent. It connects to the Fraser which runs from the northern Rockies (accessible by Cree nations of modern day Alberta) all the way through the north-south breadth of B.C. into the ocean. The indigenous name of this region’s aboriginal people is Dakelh (pr. da-KELTH) and that word translates to “people who travel by boat.” Furthermore, the translation of Lheidli T’enneh is “people from the confluence of two rivers.” Transportation was so intrinsic to daily life that the people here named themselves for it. The typical Lheidli T’enneh canoe was made by hollowing a log from the giant cottonwood trees that line the local shores. These ceased to be seen on local waters during the bulk of the 20th century when colonial forces attempted to erase aboriginal culture. Dakelh nations are now reestablishing their traditional ways of life. In 2014, a partnership between the University of Northern British Columbia and the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation resulted in a hands-on class during which the students built and paddled the first cottonwood canoe in known memory.
Canoe was what brought the first Europeans through this region. In spring of 1793, Scottish explorer Sir Alexander Mackenzie used the Upper Fraser River as his route towards the Pacific Ocean. First Nations contacts in this region warned the explorer that the southern Fraser’s rapids were deadly. They showed him the Nuxalk-Carrier Trail as a prudent detour. It now forms the last leg of the Alexander Mackenzie Heritage Trail. That year, on July 20, he and his band of voyageurs used it to become the first known humans to cross the continent overland. This spot was essential to transportation for another reason. Just north of modern day Prince George is the northern divide where, depending on where you stand, all the waters flow either south into the Pacific Ocean or north into the Arctic Ocean. This was a priceless geographic feature to the exploratory trading interests who used it to major economic advantage. An easy walk from a certain spot on the Fraser over a 14.5 km (nine mile) trail to Summit Lake was all that separated these epic forces of flow. The Lheidli T’enneh people were so aware of the importance of this route they called it “Lhedesti” meaning “the shortcut” and they were happy to show it to a pair of explorers in 1862 – John Giscome and Harry McDame – who transferred the knowledge to the feverish prospectors of the Omineca Gold Rush. The colonial government renovated the trail into a wagon road, steamships built a port on the Fraser, and it was where Albert Huble and Edward Seebach would build a farm and trading post. That homestead and the Giscome Portage are now conjoined historic sites beloved by tourists and local residents alike. Water was the easiest way through the northern wilderness, but the region’s 10 paddlewheelers were no better than canoes at getting through the southern Fraser rapids. Most were built at Soda Creek above the treacherous canyons and only worked north of that spot. Helping this cargo industry were pack-train operators using horses, mules and in Barkerville even imported camels. The most famous of these pack-train adventurers was Jean-Jacques Caux, known far and wide as Cataline. But these canoes, pack horses and steam ships were eventually no match for 20th century progress, and neither were the First Nations of the day. Although the rail lines and gold mines, coal hills and lumber mills were a boon for colonial populations, it triggered more than a century of misery for aboriginal populations.
The coming of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad in 1914 almost immediately ended the usefulness of the paddlewheelers on the rivers. The steamships delivered the construction locomotives (one of which still pulls passengers around Lheidi T’enneh Memorial Park) and railway labourers - and their own demise in the process. The iconic 800-metre rail bridge (it was also the automobile bridge until 1987 when the Yellowhead highway bridge was built alongside) has a unique lift-span to let ships go under, but it was hardly ever used before they simply dropped anchor into the mists of time.
Next, in the 1950s, critical rail lines arrived in Prince George connecting the ports of Vancouver, the coal and natural gas fields of Fort St. John, and interfacing with the older east-west lines. This strategic interconnection prevails to this day. On the same philosophies as rail, the provincial highway system also came to a crossroads here. Over time, a well-resourced international airport was also established on lanes connected to the roads and the rails.
It all makes Prince George open for global business of almost every sort. Prince George is a human interchange. The signs are everywhere. They are on exhibit at facilities like Exploration Place, the Railways & Forestry Museum, the Historic Huble Homestead, and out in open every-day view like where Mr. PG stands and the steel train bridge used by CN Rail today. It is still possible to launch your own canoe and feel the natural currents that have moved people through this area for more than 10 millennia. It also moved many of us to stay.
I’ve had my share of world travels, but there is no scene so complete, in my mind, as the winding Kitchi Creek, unfurling into the McGregor River from Kakwa Provincial Park, with the towering Mt. Ida presiding over it all.
In October 2015, I took a flightseeing tour with Guardian Aerospace and two other photographers to Kakwa Provincial Park. Our Cesna 172 followed the Torpy River into the mountains east of PG, and on the way we window shopped for what will be years worth of alpine hiking trips. Then, the massive, humbling rock faces of Mount Sir Alexander sprung up around us, and the legendary landscapes of Kakwa seemed just beyond our reach. The park is renowned for its dramatic, mountainous scenery, but also revered for its remoteness. As such, a flight tour in the park is a visual feast for anyone to enjoy, but for a backcountry enthusiast, it’s a must have experience.
It so happens that Kakwa, the Cree word for “porcupine,” has been on my hiking bucket-list for a few years: an endeavour inspired by recent photography from adventurers before me. Like many recreational areas in the region, this one’s modern access was made by mining and forestry activities, then it was established as a park to protect it from those same industries. To give you a sense of the area’s relatively untravelled newness, its highest peak was not winter-summited until 1990, and it did not receive Class A park status until 1999.
If you’re prone to wilderness wanderlust, a flight seeing tour in the mountains is the ultimate tease. In a couple short hours you will see Arctic Lake and Pacific Lake side by side at the continental divide, scarcely trodden hiking routes, rarely touched mountains and hardly travelled waterways. These inspiring elements are all key to the allure of northern BC’s barely explored adventuring frontier.
Whether you’ve visited Prince George once, twice, or a dozen times, chances are you’ve heard of the Otway Nordic Ski Centre- –and for good reason! Conveniently located on Otway road, only minutes from downtown, the ONSC facility has certainly become a hotspot for people looking to get active and enjoy the beautiful outdoors that Prince George has to offer.
Personally, I have grown to know this amazing facility quite well over the past few years. After moving to Prince George three years ago to pursue the sport of biathlon, the ONSC quickly became my primary training grounds and, ultimately, my second home. And how could it not have? There is no other outdoor facility in Prince George as diverse as Otway is; especially one that is open for use all year long! Thanks to the support of the facility’s dedicated volunteer and paid staff, Otway is able to keep over 55 kilometers of trails well maintained throughout the year. And these trails are not only for cross country skiing, aside from the 3-5 meter wide ski trails, the club has also designed a plethora of single track trails that are used for mountain biking, running, and even snowshoeing! And as an added bonus, due to recent upgrades, over 5 of these 55 kilometers are equipped with lights making after-work workouts & evening adventures safe and enjoyable for everyone.
So, were you thinking of trying something new this winter? Perfect! Whether you’re completely new to skiing or snowshoeing, or an experienced athlete looking to improve your skills, I can guarantee that the Otway Nordic Centre has something for you. With a focus on getting its users to stay active for life, the ski centre offers a wide range of drop in classes, private lessons, and long term programs that are tailored for every skill and age level! And if PG is just a stop along your journey and you don’t have your equipment with you while you’re on the road –don’t worry! Otway has an onsite rental shop that would be happy to outfit you with all of the equipment you will need for a snowshoeing or cross country skiing adventure!
Now, as a Prince George resident for three years I may sound biased as I speak about Otway so highly, but, let me explain to you why I’m doing so. After the announcement that the 2015 Canada Winter Games would be held in Prince George, and that the ONSC would be the venue for both the Cross Country Skiing and Biathlon events, the executive directors at ONSC wasted no time in beginning to prepare for the Games. These directors, as PG residents themselves, were passionate about showing the nation the beauty of the city, thus leading to the design of incredible upgrades for the facility that they believed were sure to leave visitors in awe. Over four years these designs became a reality as Otway underwent a major facelift. This began with the construction of a world class biathlon range, two new timing buildings, and some of the most technical and exciting race courses in all of Canada! When the games finally came around the hard work certainly did not go unnoticed. Athletes, coaches, and spectators from across the country left Otway spreading raving reviews and, quite often, vows to return to PG’s trails again in the future.
So, not convinced to go check it out yet? Ok, give me one more shot. Here’s one of the main reasons why I always enjoy my time spent on the trails out at Otway.
As remarkable as the facility is, one of my favourite things about Otway is the welcoming atmosphere that it’s users create. Whether it’s early Sunday morning, or late on a Friday night, you are never completely alone out at the centre; some days you may only have the silent stares of a herd of deer keeping you company, while other days you’ll be sharing the trails with over a hundred young skiers taking part in the ski school programs (but don’t let that scare you off, there’s plenty of room on the trails for everyone!), but each and every visit you will not have to look far to find joy in your adventure. The strong sense of community and friendship that is shared amongst the users on the trails has always been comforting to me, and it will surely keep you returning to Otway over and over again!
Some of my very best memories of Prince George were made at the Otway Nordic Ski Centre, and I am confident that some of yours could be too!
#TAKEONPG Tourism Prince George hit up Powder King with local snowboarder Brad King for some spring boarding. For 365 activities in and around Prince George, visit www.takeonpg.com!
To live in Prince George, you have to like winter. We actually get a bit (or a lot) excited when the snow starts to fly, as we start to itch for our favourite winter activities. Luckily for us, there is a huge array of fantastic activities to choose from in our city; snow covered grounds or fallen temperatures are not reasons to stay away, but an invite to come and play! Here are three family friendly reasons to visit Prince George during the winter months.
Local skiing/snowboarding options
An article about winter activities in Prince George would be amiss if it didn’t mention the opportunities for skiing and snowboarding in our region. There are four different hills, in a range of sizes and challenges, within daytrip distances (and shorter) to Prince George – and the powder, of course, is amazing! The Hart Highlands Ski Hill is a small hill in a suburb only ten minutes north of the downtown core of PG, but it’s fun for the whole family – a great place to bring kids who want to try downhill for the first time or work on finding their groove. Tabor Mountain Ski Resort, only 15 minutes east of PG but with over 20 runs, is where I learned to snowboard years ago, and is great for a whole day or a half-day, being so close to town. Purden Ski Village is 60 km east of Prince George, and is a great option for both a half-day trip and a full day, especially if you take advantage of their shuttle and sleep on the way! There are 25 runs at Purden and the views of the snow-covered landscape and Purden Lake are phenomenal. And finally, Powder King Mountain Resort, found in the Pine Pass in the Rockies, is just over two hours north of PG. Powder King has an amazing 37 runs, boasts over 40 feet of powder every year and a shuttle is also available (a great option to avoid more travel time on our wintery roads).
Local hockey: Prince George Cougars and Prince George Spruce Kings
Locals and out-of-towners alike will enjoy taking in some Prince George Cougars or Prince George Spruce Kings games (or both) every season. I’m not even a big hockey fan (gasp, sorry!) but I enjoy heading to the arena at least once a year. It’s a great excuse to eat popcorn and hot dogs, and cheer for the locals/yell at the opposing team! But real hockey fans will love to see these WHL or BCHL athletes in action. CN Centre can draw in big crowds for the Cougars’ games, making for a very exciting evening, and the PG Coliseum and the Spruce Kings’ games can be a really fun family night too. (And note, the City of Prince George offers public skating times at the Coliseum in the winter too!) What a great reason to spend an extra night in Prince George, especially if the kids are hockey fans, or even aspire to the bigger leagues one day themselves!
Snowshoeing at Ancient Forest
Snowshoeing is one of my favourite ways to spend some of our snowy days, and I love that in Prince George, I can drive short distances in any direction to find some good trails (or places to make my own). Heck, I can even snowshoe from my driveway if I want to. But when I really want to experience the quiet, magical, snowy wonderland of our region, I head somewhere a bit more special: the Ancient Forest. Just over an hour east of Prince George, you’ll find this rare temperate rainforest area with several kilometres of trails, interpretive signs, a beautiful waterfall and some of the biggest ancient cedars you’ll lay eyes on in our region. While I particularly love the Ancient Forest in the winter (it’s just so calm and quiet!), the area is great hiking all year round, especially now that local volunteers, led by the Caledonia Ramblers hiking club, have completed a 1600-foot boardwalk, making the trails accessible to all.
When it comes to locations for winter activity around Prince George, especially snowshoeing, the possibilities are endless. With a maze of trails that can be accessed both within the city limits, as well as in the surrounding areas, it can be difficult to choose the best place to hit the trail.
There are both private and public options for snowshoeing venues nearby. The most popular option for a private venue is the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club. This is a non-profit organization, but there is fees to use their trails.
As far as the public options go, although there are many, there is three main trails (or trail systems) that come to mind when I think of great locations to get out in nature.
Eskers Provincial Park
Eskers is a great beginner / intermediate location for snowshoeing near Prince George. With 15 kilometers of marked trails, you can do anything from a quick 20 minute walk with the kids, to an all day excursion, exploring all of the trails that Eskers offers.
The trails weave through the numerous lakes and marshes that make up the park. Often in this pristine habitat, you will even be lucky enough to come across some of the local wildlife such as grouse or moose. While snowshoeing is one of the highlights of winter in this particular park, there is no track setting.
Crooked River Provincial Park
This park can be found north of Prince George, just south of Bear Lake. While in the summertime this park consists of a popular campground, during the winter the gates are closed at the highway. Luckily, this is part of what makes it great for snowshoeing! Not only is there marked trails throughout the park, but you can also embark down any of the road systems that navigate throughout.
For shorter ventures, the bear lake trail around the main lake is quite popular, but if you are ambitious and feeling up for a bit longer jaunt, the square lake trail takes on a large loop which then joins up with the crooked river trail to take you back to the main (bear) lake.
Similar to Eskers there is no track setting in this park as well, although this is also a popular destination so it is usually not an issue.
Viking ridge is, by far, the most technical of the three locations. This should only be considered my advanced people since it is a very steep trail and takes you above treeline on to a mountain ridge.
The views that you obtain on this trail are second to none. You can see a full 360 degree view of all the surrounding, low lying, areas. The trail starts with a steep ascent through the forest which takes you to an open meadow. From there, you climb higher to a small lake, and then finally on to the ridge.
The Viking ridge trail is not track set, and although there is flagging on the way up to help you navigate, it is not recommended for unexperienced outdoors people.
For both Eskers and Crooked River, detailed trail maps can be found online at the BC Parks website (www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks). For Viking ridge, information can be obtained through the Caledonia Ramblers website (www.caledoniaramblers.ca).
Whether you choose to embark on a venture to one of these locations, or just find one on your own, you are sure to experience nature at its finest around Prince George. After all, is there such a thing as a bad day when you are in the great outdoors with snowshoes strapped to your feet?
Copyright N. Trehearne 2015
The ten-day event will run from February 5-14 and include a number of events such as The Integris Iceman competition; Cougars, Spruce Kings, and Timberwolves games; cultural performances; and the annual Chinese New Year Celebration at the Exploration Place. It will also include free admission to a variety of City facilities on Family Day. The highlight of the festival will be the Plaza event on February 13 including concerts, food trucks, activities, displays, and fireworks.
Photo by Shawn Haines, 2015 Canada Winter Games
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