Flying across the Northern Hemisphere

Some frequent flyers complain when they’re obliged to get a long flight, aggrieved at the thought of being stuck on a plane for nine or ten hours. For me, it’s still a miracle that we can get on a plane in London in the morning and arrive on the other side of the world on the same day. Think of how hard it was to make the journey for poor old Magellan, who still gets credit for being the first person to circumnavigate the world, despite dying halfway (in the Philippines).


Flying to Japan from Germany earlier this year was a real treat. As we flew over places that I had only ever seen before on the Risk board, like Kamchatka or Yakutsk, I was the only one on the plane still awake with my window blind open. (Well, I suppose the pilot was still awake too – at least, I hope so).

At first, it was night, which had an interglactic feel because all you could see through the window was stars and the crystalline cold of the upper atmosphere.

As we headed over Northern Russia, dawn broke with a pink light that mingled with the low mist floating over the tundra. So uncanny was it that it was like arriving on an alien planet with new colours and weird landscapes.

It was a beautiful vision and I wanted to take a photo but my camera was in the overhead locker and I would have had to wake everyone else up to get it. I didn’t mind. We can’t save every moment for posterity. There are too many photos as it is. Some people estimate that 10% of all the photos ever taken were taken in the last year.

On the journey back, I had my camera firmly in hand. This was a daytime flight and we travelled over miles and miles of barren steppe. It was not lost on me that if the plane crashed and we did somehow manage to survive, we would still perish in hours in that bare, open landscape.

Now I truly see why we live on a planet of ice.

We saw frozen rivers:


And pack ice drifting in the sea:


This wasn’t something that appeared for some small part of the journey. The great part of the flight was crossing this wild, hostile terrain:



12 responses to “Flying across the Northern Hemisphere

  1. Oh I agree completely about the pressure. I don’t usually feel it myself, but I see it when, for example, everyone is watching the concert through their phone instead of their own eyeballs. I feel it only when my kids are involved. I would love to see a snippet of video from my childhood, but there isn’t any. I feel like I should be setting some aside for my little ones to look back at thirty or so years from now. And I would bet that they’d be more interested in getting a glimpse of me and my wife at our current age than themselves, when the time comes.

    • Actually, I’ve started making a few videos for just that reason. It’s mind-blowing when they surface 3o years later.
      I’ve also now realised that I had written ‘prosperity’ instead of ‘posterity’ in my post. I’ve fixed that now!

  2. Marvellous. I once got the opportunity to see Iceland from above on a flight that happened to pass over it. It was magnificent, but there wouldn’t have been the impact of the sheer scale of ice and tundra you saw here.

    Photos seem to me often an urge to capture the moment that actually squanders the moment, so instead of being lived once it’s never lived. I’d exclude from that though photos like yours here, which just give a taste of a much larger experience.

    • Thanks Max! It was a wonderful experience. When I was 12, I took a flight for the first time because my family was moving to the USA. Towards the end of the flight the pilot invited any kids on board to come up to the cockpit, and I got there just as dawn was rising over New York city. It took me twenty years to realise the captain had chosen the moment specially to see that. I doubt that modern kids will ever get the chance to do something like that.

  3. Beautiful photos, I don’t mind the long flights as long as there are no delays in being where I am supposed to be when I’m supposed to be. I bet most the photos taken last year were of people’s meals as well, there is way too much of that nonsense going on!

    • I’m happy to say that I’ve never had a long delay, although I did have a flight turn back home once when two of the engines failed. That was a bit alarming!
      Food photos are all the same thing,aren’t they? Trying to save every moment of your life on film when some things just have to left to memory…

      • The other day I was told 10% of all photos ever taken were taken last year, then read that fact today as well. I think photos can only take the memory so far but to have something I can wallow in at any time.

        If I knew that even one engine was playing up a bit I’d be nervous but two engines failing, I bet there were a few nervous people on that flight.

      • Well we did get back and have to spend the night in the airport that we’d left from. It freaked my brother out and he’s still scared of flying today. It didn’t bother me though. I mean, the plane still had two engines left out of four.

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