Churchill is the polar bear capital of the world, but that's not what took me to that little village of 813 hardy souls. The polar bears head out onto the ice in October or November, so there were no bears to be found. The purpose of this trip to the frozen north was to have the opportunity to view and photograph the aurora borealis, or northern lights.
I also proved to myself that I can endure extremely cold temperatures, and I learned what 'cold' truly means. I complained only once, when I was outside in a biting wind watching people construct an igloo. My right hand was painfully cold, and our guide had to leave for a few long minutes with the van. The cold we experienced wasn't merely an inconvenience; it can kill very quickly. Frostbite is a real danger as well.
I was fortunate to travel with a wonderful group of people, all of them great companions with whom to share the challenges of sub-arctic travel. Everyone got along well, and there was not a whiner or difficult person in the bunch. This was important because we spent 16 hours/day together on some days. We collectively kept an eye on the weather, especially the wind chill, and questioned our wonderful guide Annie about the highly inaccurate aurora forecast. Because of the blizzard conditions that nearly postponed our arrival in Churchill from Winnipeg on an airline ironically named Calm Air, and that almost delayed our return flight to Winnipeg days later, we christened ourselves Team Blizzard.
We were joined in Churchill by a local photographer who provided invaluable advice and assistance with the challenging task of photographing the aurora in sub-zero conditions. He recommended the best camera settings to use and even helped with my new tripod as I struggled to set it up and secure my camera with frozen fingers the first night on aurora watch. I learned about the all-important steps to protect my camera, from keeping the batteries warm to placing the camera in a plastic bag before taking it into a heated area after exposure to the cold (to prevent condensation on the lens and inside the camera). This trip also stoked my desire to improve my photography skills, especially under difficult conditions.
Now I am happy to be home where temperatures are more than 120 degrees F warmer than in Churchill! But Churchill isn't finished with me just yet. I am going back in the early winter of 2015 on a polar bear observation trip. I hope it won't be quite so cold earlier in the winter, and maybe I will get another opportunity to photograph the elusive aurora.