Norway is famous for its stunning fjords and the sheer cliffs that ring the country’s iconic waterways, but lesser-known areas in the inland are as beautiful and charming as well and on top of that they remain wild and empty.
One of those areas is Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella National Park, which spans for approximately 4.367 km2, making it one of the largest continuous protected areas in mainland Norway.
Moss and bushes cover most of its valley, to the deepest shade, and lichens embrace the stony tree-less mountains and marks covering its extensive trails and hut system.
This summer, the warmest and driest in the region since 1947, they were so dry that it felt like walking on barbed wire.
Hikers sleeping in a tent in Dovrefjell National Park in Norway hoping to spot a Musk OxWhat used to be wetlands had turned into a dry and arid valley last summer.
Having loaded the bags with our photo gear, food, tent and sleeping bags, Jon and I decided to disappear into the wild for a few days, turning off our phones and starting a hike that would prove quite challenging.
Only five minutes after starting point, we took the wrong turn, but we didn’t realise until at least 45 minutes later when the trail slowly disappeared and dry lichens and mosses ate it up.
It took three hours off trail, crossing creeks, walking through prickly bushes in sandals and carrying our heavy bags under the sun before we made it back on the right trail.
We were tired and hadn’t seen any animals.
Dovrefjell is one of the last wild reindeer strains in Europe, but wolverines, arctic foxes and golden eagles can also be spotted while hiking along the dusty trails.
The big highlight though, is the musk ox, a shaggy-haired mammal that died out during the last Ice Age but was later reintroduced from Greenland between 1932 and 1953.
And that was the reason why we were there in the first place.
At some point, as I was losing hope and getting grumpy, Jon yelled: There!
But I saw nothing. He pointed again and then I saw a little dot in the distance that was moving. I grabbed his camera and pointed at the dot…there it was! It was a whole family climbing down the hill right in front of us, chasing a tiny spring of water down to the river.
We set up our tent, sat back and enjoyed the view of the animals at sunset, jumping over the bushes at shore and enjoying the cooler temperatures.
There are now about 300 musk ox in Dovrefjell and you would think the climate suits their robust coat, but in the past years temperatures have reached up to 30°C, sometimes even more, and that has forced them to look for shelter in higher altitudes, resting over chunks of ice or snow-clad peaks, and that can make it even harder to spot them.
These pictures were taken two days later a bit after dawn and they clearly show how the desperate animals look for a place to cool down and hide from the sun.
But, as said before, musk ox are not the only fascinating creatures in this area. What Jon had really hoped for was to find an arctic fox.
When we arrived at the first hut, its guardian Viggo showed us some pictures he had taken only a few days earlier. They showed three fluffy arctic fox cubs playing around and naively barking at the camera.
I knew our plans to relax at the hut were ruined the moment he said they were only two hours away.
It was already 6pm, but two hours to get there, one to take some pictures and two to get back at midnight… it was still doable, it was actually the perfect tine to get some pictures at sunset.
We covered our feet in adhesive tape, put on our hiking sandals, put some food and water in a smaller bag and started walking.
We crossed the river, jumping from stone to stone, and after an hour uphill we arrived at a 100 meters high slope covered in rocks. Half an hour later we were on top of it and thought we were getting close to the foxes as we had almost been walking for two hours.
We kept walking. Two hours later, Jon started running and disappeared. I was grumpy, tired, my feet and my back hurt and I couldn’t stop thinking about the way back.
We found the place our friend Viggo had told us about, but the place didn’t match the map at all.
In desperation, Jon started running around to find the burrow while I sat down, exhausted, in a very bad mood. There were no arctic foxes to be seen.
At midnight we decided to walk to the next hut and crash there for a few hours before walking back. We didn’t get any sleep.
At dawn we went in search of the foxes again, but in vane. We were so disappointed and so tired and hungry!
It took another four hours to walk back to the first hut and seven more to walk back to the car. By the end of our adventure we were completely exhausted, we were not even able to drink a bottle of wine. But it was all worth it. I haven’t mentioned Snoehetta, which was long believed to be the tallest mountain in Norway and attracts hundreds of visitors every year.
Too bad, we will have to go back, take the steep climb up to the top of Snoehetta and disappear again in the wild, this time to find our arctic fox.