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A Love-Hate Relationship with Canada’s Midnight Sun

The North experiences long days in summer. Really long days.

I sit here writing this in Dawson City, Yukon, watching the sunset at 11.30pm. It’s the first time I’ve seen an actual sunset for a while.

Above the Arctic Circle, there are no sunsets at all from June 21st – they are traded in for 24-hour daylight instead. You may think that it sounds pretty awesome – how could anyone complain about more time?!

Gemma pointing to a wooden Arctic Circle sign
Reaching the Arctic Circle on the Dempster Highway

This is what we thought as we drove north on the Dempster Highway last month, to be above the Circle for the summer solstice. On the way up, so far so good.

We were in a bit of a hurry and so could drive in the light until 1am. Bonus! Soon though, we found out some unexpected disadvantages to this whole endless sun thing. Here’s a couple of them, along with some surprising benefits. 

Gemma hiking near the Dempster Highway, with van in distance
Hiking around the Arctic Circle is possible at almost every time of day!

If it’s hot, it stays hot

With 24 hour sun, there is no cooling down. We arrived in Inuvik, NWT, on June 23rd, and it was 29 degrees with no clouds in the sky. Being above the Arctic Circle, the sun stayed high and we were absolutely roasting. It was unbearable.

Don’t get me wrong, I like to be warm. But I don’t want to be warm all day and all night long. I was longing for cool evening breezes but they never came.

The Dempster Highway stretches far into the distance

Invincible bugs

Usually in the summer, you tend to only see bugs in the mornings and evenings, when it’s cooler. In the Western Arctic, things are a little different. The mosquitoes and blackflies here thrive on heat. And of course, with 24 hours of sun, they were there…24 hours a day.

There was no escaping the incessant things; they would swarm as soon as we left the van, follow us around on hikes, hide in our hair and even dive into our food. Nowhere was safe – they found a way into the van via the vents.

GPS screen with no times for sunrise and sunset
Our GPS above the Arctic Circle

Sleeping in the Arctic can be difficult

Trying to rest with extraordinary heat and millions of bloodthirsty bugs around is difficult. It’s even harder when it doesn’t get dark outside. First, we didn’t feel tired. Then, we just couldn’t sleep. Even with the blackouts on the van windows (and the mosquito net!), it was so difficult to get into the mindset of sleeping.

Dozens of mosquitoes on car seat
We had hundreds of mosquitoes in our vehicle after a night sleeping above the Arctic Circle

We tried sleeping in the tent for a few days instead of the van (with a tarp for shade), and while it did work better regarding the bug issue, we missed the van’s blackout blinds.

Sleep deprived, sweaty and mosquito ravished, we only lasted five days above the Arctic Circle. I’m not sure why, but everything seemed a whole lot better just a few hours further south.

The bugs were more manageable (less swarm-y for one thing), it got dark a little bit and it wasn’t nearly as hot. As we drove further south and the nights got a little longer every day, things started looking up.

Gemma wearing mosquito net top on upper half of body, standing by river
The very fetching mosquito net top I sometimes wore on our road trip

The Golden Hour lasts far longer than 60 minutes

You know that time of perfect light before a sunset or after sunrise, when the light is low, warmer and softer than any other time during the day? Photographers call that the ‘Golden Hour,’ but in the North during midsummer, it’s more like the ‘Golden Couple-of-hours.’

We experienced some beautiful late night light, especially on the southern parts of the Dempster Highway. Both of the below photos were taken at around 2am. 

River bed with mountains in background, red tone

The magic of long days in the Arctic

After the Dempster Highway, we paddled the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Dawson City (around 710km). The first day, we started at 9pm, canoed until around midnight, put the tent up, made dinner and then went to sleep at around 1am. It was still light.

We then were able to get up late the next day, and paddle until whenever we wanted. What freedom! There was no rush, no need to get the tent up or have dinner or wash up quickly before it got dark. We had all the time in the world.

Dirty van with mountains in background, lit up red by sunset

A better road trip life

Neither of us really like driving in the dark. With the sun out so late, we never have to stress about leaving early or getting somewhere before night comes in.

When meeting people at campgrounds, on the river or at festivals, we can talk for hours before realising that it is 2am and maybe we should probably go to bed now. There’s no getting up in the dark for an early start, or searching around in the darkness for things left outside. We have even less of a schedule than we ever did.

The Midnight Sun? It’s actually pretty awesome. But all summer long? I’m not sure if I could do it!

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