Wolves have often been portrayed as the villains of fairy tales and folk lore, but are they really all bad and what should you do if you encounter one whilst walking in the forests of Norway or Sweden.

Where do wolves live?
The main wolf populations are found in Dalarna and Värmland in Sweden and in the bordering areas in south-east Norway

There are thought to be around 350-410 wolves in Norway and Sweden (based on surveys in Winter 2012/2013) with most of these being found in Sweden. Wolves are, in Sweden and Norway, considered an endangered species (though not in other parts of the world). In the past wolves have been entirely eradicated from Sweden and Norway; the current population are thought to be descended from a small Finnish-Russian population.
With such small numbers it is rare that you will come face to face with a wolf however you may see signs (e.g. tracks) or hear them at night; the sound of their howls can carry for over 10km.

What to do if you encounter a wolf
If you do come across a wolf, you will probably find that the wolf backs away from you as soon as you make any noise or speak. If the wolf starts to come towards you or you feel nervous then there are some simple things you can do:

  • Back away slowly and loudly; shout, sing or talk it is not recommended that you scream in a high pitch.
  • Do not run away; this is more likely to make the wolf chase you.
  • Should the wolf start to follow you, stop and try and make yourself seem as big as possible (hold up your arms or backpack etc.). You should also take a step towards (rather than away from) the wolf.
  • If the wolf does attack you kick and hit it as hard as you can (do not play dead)

If you are out walking with your dog and you encounter a wolf you should still follow the above advice however you may find that the presence of your dog makes the wolf less shy. It may even approach you (up to a few meters) however it seems that normally the wolf is mostly interested in the dog and will pay little (if any) attention to the human. If the wolf attacks your dog you should never get in between the wolf and dog; you should take off your dog’s lead (if possible) and throw something at the wolf.

Should you come across a wolf with food, as long as you remain at a distance and do not try to take its food away, there is no evidence to suggest that the wolf will be aggressive towards you.

Life in a pack
Wolves live in packs these can range in size from 2 individuals to 30 or more, in Europe packs usually consist of 2- 7 individuals. These packs usually are made up of an “alpha” male and female pair and their offspring though can sometimes have non related wolves in. The offspring usually leave the pack when aged around 1-2 years though some will stay with their parents for longer. Normally only the “alpha” pair will breed with the rest of the pack helping in the upbringing of the pups (or whelps). The pups (normally 4 -5) are born in a den where they spend the first few weeks of their life. When the pups are born they are both blind and deaf; their eyes open at around 10 -13 days and their sense of hearing is developed by 21 days.

Wolves and humans
Past
In Norse mythologies wolves are often portrayed as being evil. One of the most famous mythological stories is about Fenrir who was the wolf son of Loki and who it was foretold would kill Odin, however the other gods manage to bind him up before he has chance to kill Odin using a special Dwarf made chain (in some tales in is a ribbon) although this was at the cost of Týr’s right hand which Fenrir bit off in his rage at being unable to get free.

Present
Wolves today tend to live in remote areas so that contact with humans is rare and there have been no reported killings of humans by wolves since 1820 and the last reported death was caused by a half tame wolf. You should not feed wolves as this could cause them to associate humans with food leading to them entering into human populated areas more frequently and increasing the chances of humans and wolves coming into contact with each other.

Wolves usually feed on moose, however when food supplies are low or a wolf is starving they may well attack sheep and have been known to attack cows and horses. This leads to much animosity towards wolves from farmers who have had their sheep taken by hungry wolves.

Whilst wolves are shy and it is unlikely that they will attack you should you encounter them you should remember that they are a wild predator and you should not attempt to approach them or touch them even though they may seem friendly.

Our Howling with Wolves experience is a great way to learn more about these wonderful creatures and to spend an evening round the camp fire listening to their howls.

Best regards

The Nature Travels team

In March 2014, Linda from the Nature Travels Team travelling to the Bodø and Harstad regions in the north of Norway to research new products for our portfolio.

Harstad

Where

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harstad is a fairly small yet charming town, 364km² and has around 23,000 inhabitants, approximately 313km north of Bodø, located on Hinnøya , Norway’s largest island. If travelling by car (and ferry) it takes bout 5.5 hours but due to our schedule, we hopped on a quick flight with Wideroe, a journey made all the more swift with the rather inclement weather at the time. Tried ‘n’ tested – they are not wrong when they say these are some of the best pilots in the world!

When visiting Harstad, you really need to take the time to soak in the atmosphere of the town itself. There is a wonderful array of unique little shops to visit, from boutique clothes and funky kitchenware to chocolatiers that make the most scrumptious organic chocolate (my favourite was the strawberry flavour!).

Although the municipality is not huge, what it lacks in size it makes up in location and the abundance of outdoor activities that you can experience: kayaking, hiking and horse riding in the summer to dog sledding, ice climbing and various fun snow activities in the winter months.

If you are looking for a pocket of Scandi-chic – you’ll be sure to find it in Harstad.

First on the list of things to do is visit the Trondenes Pininsula with the Adolf Gun, and it is an almighty big gun believe me! Built by the Germans during WW2, it is the only fully restored fortification and one of the largest land based guns in the world.

photo courtesy of Pieter Stander

Photo courtesy of Pieter Stander

Take the opportunity to tour round the arms bunker too, it is a fascinating and yet stark reminder of German occupation. We were very fortunate to have had a very knowledgeable guide on the subject (although secretly I do think she reminded me of a Bond villain!). Anyhow.. .moving on…the arsenal of weaponry is quite something and the explanation of how the gunners were able to plot exact targets was quite extraordinary. The very bizarre fact is that the Adolf Gun itself was never actually deployed on active duty, it was of course tested and we understand that there is a 2 minute recoil after each BOMB has been fired. Rumour has it that it was tested sometime after the war, although the most damage ascertained was caused by the reverberation, shattering a neighbours greenhouse, as you can imagine the owner was not amused, but at least it proved that the armoury did still work.

Trondenes was also home to a large Russian Prisoner of War (POW) camp at the latter part of the Second World War. Eerily you’ll be reminded of the terrible history of the camp, 800 or so Russian POWs perished in the horrific conditions within the confines and the majority enslaved by the German military or in areas of the town itself. A memorial remains today erected in 1945 as a reminder of the prisoners and fallen comrades and their plight.

Trondenes Historical Centre invites you to take the opportunity to experience an interactive and informative history of the region, you to gain a little more knowledge and historical facts from the early The Stone Age period although it mainly focuses on the Viking era and the Middle Ages. I particularly enjoyed sampling the local Aquavit and listening to the enchanting music .

Trondenes Church is medieval stone building and the world’s northernmost church, built in the 13th century, it is known for its beautiful surroundings at the water’s edge. Today. Three of the seven original alter cabinets remain in the choir today, these are an important part of the Catholic history and can be viewed today. The surroundings churchyard walls are known to date back to the 11 century, it is also said that the first baptisms took place just across the road from the church in a small lake ‘Laugen’ around the 1000’s.

Photo courtesy of Pieter Stander

Photo courtesy of Pieter Stander

After a few days of the most extraordinary and dramatic weather, we finally found a gap of calmness and jumped on a bus to the port at Harstadbotn to zip out on the rib boat for a couple of hours. We passed by a very special area were the Kittiwakes have chosen as their nesting ground. At first I must admit it just looked like another big rock protruding outof  the ocean, but as we drew closer and the rib curved round the island, we were greeted with the most magnificent chorus (OK, overwhelming squawking racket) which I would say registered into the decibels. A truly awesome sight even for a non-twitcher! A good few thousand birds flitting about their business whilst at the same time defending their young from the predatory white-tailed sea eagles that soared above! Sadly we didn’t spot any whales this time but we know they are there to visit in less stormy weather.

All dressed up and ready to go!

All dressed up and ready to go!

Photo courtesy of Pieter Stander

Photo courtesy of Pieter Stander

Harstad is also another destination en-route for the famous Hurtigruten cruise line and daily passenger service. Founded in 1893 and originally a postal and freight service, the route runs on the north west coast from Bergen to Kirkenes. Today the Hurtigruten is a very popular way for visitors to explore Norway’s northern fjords and coastline, hopping on and off on a ‘Port to Port’ ticket, to visit the various areas to enjoy the harbour towns and many land-based activities offered by local companies. We were lucky enough to be invited on the MS Midnatsol, one of the oldest vessels in the fleet, to have a sneaky peek at the ship before the mass of passengers boarded! Behind the scenes, the staff and crew are busy keeping everything clean and literally ship-shape before the guests step aboard for the next leg of their voyage.

Hurtigruten,-Harstad-02

Photo courtesy of Pieter Stander

Northern Norway is a truly stunning part of the Scandinavia to visit, with its dramatic breathtaking scenery and beautiful wildlife and wonderfully friendly locals, not to mention the monumental amount of history, art and culture to get absorbed in and learn about. I adore everything about the area and I’m sure you will too when you visit. Enjoy the freedom ‘Powered by Nature’.

Best wishes – signing out – Linda @ Nature Travels

Nature Travels does not currently offer experiences in the Bodø/Harstad region, but further north in Norway we offer a range of possibilities for dog sledding and ski touring in Finnmark, while to the south lie our Nordic Yurt Camp in Hardanger and Sailing the Norwegian Coast experiences.

During mid March I travelled Norway as part of a familiarisation visit, in particular the Nordland region of Bodø and Harstad. Not so much of an action adventure trip but more of a cultural and historical education, visiting places of interest en route and of course being treated to wonderful Nordic hospitality and food…Oh my goodness those scrumptious waffles!

bodo---3

Part: 1 – Bodø

A bit about Bodø:
Bodø municipality is named after the old Bodøgård farm (Old Norse: Boðvin), since the town was built on its ground. The first element might be boði which means “sunken rock” or “skerry” and the last element is vin which means “meadow” or “pasture”. The last element may have been misunderstood as øy which means “island” (and written with the Danish language form ø).

In 1816 it was established as a township, there was a bit of British smuggling in 1818 but we delve too deeply into the “Bodø Affair”. The 1860’s saw the start of the big herring fisheries boom and in 1940 on the 27th May it was reduced to rubble in just over a couple of hours, the fate of the German Bombers in WW2.

Today Bodø has grown to a population of around 47000, with many students wishing to study in the region (over 4500), primarily with Armed Forces, health services and trade, transport, travel and tourism.
Bodø is renowned for being one of Norway’s windiest cities (everyone talks about the weather) Average mid summer daytime temperature is around 13.6˚ C and during January it averages around -2.1˚ C. You can enjoy the Midnight sun from 2 June – 10 July and the Polar nights from 15th – 29th December.

Where is Bodø?
Bodø is situated just north of the Arctic Circle in Northern Norway. A flight from Oslo to Bodø only takes one hour and 20 minutes (distance around 90km), and the airport is located 2 kilometres from the town centre. Yes you can actually walk for the airport into town if you choose.

bodo-map

Places of interest that we visited on our whistle stop visit.

The Saltstraumen
The Saltstraumen (comes from Salten which is the district and Straum meaning “stream”) is the World’s strongest maelstrom. Situated just south of Bodø in Nordeland region of Norway, it is a powerful tidal current that occurs every 6 hours, over 400 cubic meters of water travelling at speeds of up to 20 knots, surges through a 150km wide strait for 3km between Saltenfjord and the Skjerstadfjord.

The Saltstraumen is incredibly important and rich in biodiversity both above and below the water. The tidal current creates whirlpools if up to 10m wide and 4-5 m deep, this in turn creates rich oxygenated water providing a paradise for a variety of marine creatures and cultures. Giant shoals of fish, (Cod and Pollock are common) all kinds of shells, corals and crustaceans are but a few of its riches. Orca whales a have also been sighted in the area too! The Saltstraumen has been nominated as a marine nature reserve.

Saltstraumen1Photo by Pieter Stander

Many seabirds spend the winter feeding in the area, these include the eider and white-tailed eagles and can be present in fairly large numbers.

sea-eagleSea Eagle

The Saltstraumen is known worldwide for amongst the fishing fraternity and is also a keen spot for divers wishing to float along with the current and enjoy its natural beauty.

The newly opened Saltstraumen Experience Centre situated at the foot of the bridge and offers a very informative introduction movie about the phenomenon know as The Northern Lights, I would definitely recommend a visit to enjoy a waffle or two while you watch the whirlpools!

waffles1Hmmmmmm…. Lovely waffles!

 The Aviation Museum:
Norsk Luftfartsmuseum is the Norwegian national museum of aviation. The museum is located in Bodø in a building shaped like a giant propeller, and covers military and civil aviation history. The museum is spread over roughly 10,000 square metres of floor space. The exhibitions at the museum are the result of a co-operation between Norsk Luftfartsmuseum, the Norwegian Air Force Museum and the AVINOR Museum. The museum was opened in 1994.

Personal snippets:
Firstly, you cannot fail to be impressed by the initial architecture that presents you as you approach the museum and the fact that there is a full size spitfire greeting you at the entrance. Once inside we were greeted by our wonderful host and guide who was a wealth of knowledge and information, what she didn’t know just wasn’t worth knowing. This is definitely a mecca for aviation buffs, it is truly remarkable the scale and variety of aircraft on displayed, one of my favourites was the story of the infamous black Lockheed U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft. Maybe the highlight was the red arrow flight simulator, Elky also joined the group for a virtual flying display in 3D – epic!

Spitfire3Spitfire

elky-flyElky gets his wings!

Bodøgaard – Art Gallery
Bodøgaard presents Northern Norway’s biggest private collection of art and cultural artefacts, including works by Oscar Bodøgaard (1923-2011), Ingrid and Harald Bodøgaard, and other artists from or associated with northern Scandinavia. It also has a unique icon and ethnographic collection.

Personal snippets:
Oscar, in his mid teens discovered an interest in art and in particular started collecting Russian religious art pieces and later developed into a great artist himself and is renowned for his masterful canvases depicting the aurora and hues of the midnight sun. You will find much of this amazing collection in a dedicated room within the gallery. During our visit we admired some wonderful modernistic styles and art pieces implementing various mediums, one of my favourites would have to have been the ingenious bottle tops in bubble wrap wall hangs along with the array of folded shopping bags creating remarkable colour collages – a vision of recycling. Outside revealed master thought provoking sculptures, whilst a visit to the cellar room revealed a whole different collection of memorabilia through the ages – a true Aladdin’s cave of history.

bodgard-sculptureSculpture

An evening at a Sami Camp:
Heading out of town we bussed to the Sami camp for evening in a ‘slightly smokey’ Lavvu (Tipi) but first we made a stop to see the Reindeer at their dwellings in the field close by. The weather was beginning to close in with a truly snowy element and an icy feel to the nose, nevertheless we tromped down the slope to the pen with our head torches shining brightly. I do wonder what the Reindeer thought of this human convey plodding towards them with lights on full beam. We were introduced to Angel’ the orphan reindeer whom the Sami sisters (our hosts for the evening) rescued! There was truly weather change at this point – there was a blizzard comin’ in.

reindeer1

Eating Out:
Lunch:
Bryggerrkai (Brewery Pier)
A Danish menu with the most amazing fish buffet – you gotta try the herring in this neck of the woods, it would be rude not to and it is of course what this region thrived on in it’s early years! Very tasty flavours I might add – great alternative menu too.

Dinner:
We had the pleasure of dining at Restaurant Smak  Wow!!! This is a gastronomic gem for a foodies. Five superb courses created with locally sourced ingredients where the menu changes weekly, has friendly professional service, with style and perfection on a plate. A very special place as a treat, priced to match but totally worth it… My mouth is watering just thinking about it… Scrumptious culinary delights! Thank you Espen and Eva-Linda for being such wonderful hosts – our group enjoyed a fabulous evening!

Part 2 about Harstad to follow….. In the meantime, watch out for the Bodø Troll!!!

troll-face1

 

Linda

Nature Travels Team

 

Icelandics in snow

Icelandic Horses are not large in stature (around 12-14 hands in height), they may resemble a slightly oversized Shetland pony in appearance, however, these wonderful equines are indeed and most definitely to be referred to as a horse rather than a pony (horse on short legs), especially in their native homeland!

Icelandic horses noses
They arrived in Iceland during the 9th century via the Vikings and have played a major part within the history and culture of Iceland ever since. They are a hardy, stocky equine and have adapted very well to their sometimes harsh and unforgiving environment. They make up the very tapestry of the land and can be seen grazing in herds during most of the year. 

vikings

Most significantly the native Icelandic Horse is a very much preserved and ancient breed and a prized part of Iceland’s heritage and was largely helped by the ban placed on importing any foreign horses into the country set in the 13th century. Still in place today, this has continued to keep the breed pure and of course free from equine diseases.

horses in water

We love them because…
These endearing chunky little chaps have larger than life characters and an abundance of free flowing mane and tail, they traditionally have a rather short neck and sloping hindquarters. Stocky, hardy and very sure footed, naturally they are extremely woolly in the winter months to cope with the Icelandic winters, however, when the spring arrives, their coats begins to change and reveal a wonderful shiny summer attire in a variety of colours.

There’s an old Icelandic saying – “A Good Horse Has No Colour”

horses2

The Icelandic Horse has grown in popularity worldwide and many have indeed been exported to different countries not least of course here in the UK. Today in the UK, the IHSGB (Icelandic Horse Society of Great Britain) which was founded in 1986, provides a host of help and information for enthusiasts (http://ihsgb.co.uk).

flags

Renowned for their good nature and versatility and ideal for the novice rider to experienced rider, they are the most comfortable of equine transport, this is largely due to their unique extra gait the “tolt”.

What is this “tolt” thing I hear you say?
Of course the Icelandic Horse can do the norm of walk, trot, canter and gallop, but they are of course they are very much known for their “tolting” gait. This movement is a 4 time beat (same footfalls as a normal walking gait) but can excel to a much greater speed such as that of the average cantering horse. This free flowing movement is actually very comfortable as there is no moment of suspension in the pace and therefore less bouncy

icelandic grey

Personally I have been very lucky to expereince riding Icelandics on my various travels over the years and I would never need asking twice if the opportunity came round again, they are extraordinary little horses. If you (like me) love everything that is horsey, then I can highly recommend that you should tick this off your horse riding bucket list!!!

You can experience spending time with Icelandic Horses (among other breeds) with one of our wonderful equestrian getaways in beautiful Sweden, for details please see our ‘Horse Riding’ category:

I hope you enjoyed this mini equiblog, do let me know your thoughts – we love feedback. We would love to hear about your adventures too!

Best regards

Linda

The Nature Travels Team

 

 

Finnmark in Northern Norway is an area larger than the whole of Denmark but with only about 72,000 inhabitants. We, a group of 8 tour operators, were invited to spend 5 days enjoying the sights and experiences that Alta and Magerøya (a large island in the northern most part of Finnmark connected to the mainland by an undersea tunnel) has to offer.

 

Day One

Dressed for the cold, in winter overalls complete with balaclava and helmet, we stepped out into the night ready for an evenings snowmobiling, hoping that we might catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights but the cloudy skies did not bode well.

All dressed up and ready to go!

All dressed up and ready to go!

 

After a brief instructional talk (push the throttle in slowly to start, take your thumb off the throttle to slow down, use the handlebars to steer etc.) we set off in a long line following our guide into the dark; our way lit only by our headlights and the (very) occasional star. At first we went slowly to allow everyone to get used to driving the snow mobiles (which was a good thing as it was harder than I thought it would be to accelerate up a hill and turn whilst attempting not to hit any hidden bumps!) then as the group grew in confidence and the trees thinned we started to speed up and were soon racing through the night the wind whipping in our faces chilling the parts which were not covered by our balaclava.

We would occasionally stop to make sure that we were all still together and that no one had been left behind; on one of these stops (in the middle of nowhere on a frozen lake) our guide pointed to the sky at a cloud that had a slightly green colouring to it and told us that it looked like there might be some Northern Lights that night if the cloud ever cleared. For some of us this was our first (albeit not that impressive) sighting of the Northern lights!

After snowmobiling and with all the excitement (and the travelling) of the day we were all pretty tired and ready for our beds. Which as we were staying in the Igloo hotel were, like the room and building itself, made of ice. The rooms were almost completely silent, due to the sound cancelling nature of ice, and were a cool -4oC but as we were provided with 2 sleeping bags (one to sleep in and one to use as a blanket) which were suitable for use down to temperature of -30o so it was surprisingly toasty during the night!

 

Day Two

After breakfast (where the choice ranged from toast to fish to waffles and everything in between), we set off for our days dog sledding trip.

We were going to be trying both a small sled (one between two) with 4 dogs and a larger sleds which could take up to 4 passengers with 6 dogs so we could get a taste of what it was like on different sleds. On arrival we were met by Trine our guide and the kennel owner and were provided with snow overalls and winter boots. Outside we were given instructions on how to control the sled and the dos and don’ts of dog sledding (the main “don’t” being taking photos whilst driving the sled). We were given a card with the names (and sizes) of our dog team so that we could find and harness them.

 

Mentos

 

My team were Mentos, Stilla (my lead dogs) Trusti and Tøffen; Trusti could only be harnessed just before we set off as he had a tendency to chew his harness otherwise!

Once the dogs were ready and attached to the sleds we were off (my dogs somewhat unwillingly) and were soon out in the open running on the frozen river. I found remaining balanced on the sled was quite easy, but the turning (by shifting your weight from the centre to side you wanted to turn towards) was a little harder, however I managed to keep the sled upright and neither myself nor my passenger fell off! After a while we swapped so that I became the passenger, which allowed me more time to take in my surroundings and to take photos.

When it was time to swap the larger sled I chose to drive and found that having two extra dogs meant that, even though the sled was larger, you could go a lot faster! All too soon it was time to take our dogs back to the kennels, to un-harness them and take them back to their own individual kennels for a well deserved rest and for us there was time to sit by a camp fire and have a cup of coffee and discuss the dog sled trip.

Following dinner we got into our bus to look for Northern Lights with Trygve who was to be our Northern Lights guide for the evening. After checking the weather (and therefore cloud) report for the surrounding area we decided that the weather looked most promising to the South West. So off we went everyone’s eye glued to the windows ready to shout if we saw any hint of green through the covering of cloud. After a few stops for (what turned out to be) wispy clouds we eventually spotted some stars in a growing clear patch in the sky and then a wisp of green appeared faint at first then growing stronger. We stopped and got out of the bus by this time there were more pale green wisps moving across the sky through the thin covering of cloud. Trygve then set about taking pictures of each of us with the northern lights (using a tripod for stability, an initial to get us in the picture and then a long exposure to get the Northern Lights) for which you had to stand still for about 30secs whilst the picture was taken which is harder to do than it sounds! The picture showed the Northern Lights much better than we could see them with just our eyes, but what we could see of them was still very pretty!

Picture by Glød Explorer

 

Day Three

We departed Alta for Honningsvåg, the northern most town in Norway, principle town if the island of Magerøya and where we would be staying for the next few days. The drive took around 3 hours but the scenery we past thorough was enough to keep us entertained as we drove up and over mountains and then along the coast.

From Honningsvåg we went Gjesvær from where we set sail on a boat trip to see the Bird rock and to sail beyond Nordkapp (North Cape, the most northerly point on mainland Europe). At first despite there being a fairly large swell the sea was pretty calm due to the shelter of the Fjord. We reached Bird rock which was covered in Cormorants that seemed to be black from a far but as we got closer shimmered green and yellow.

Cormorants

Cormorants!

 

As we sailed past bird rock and entered open water the sea became a lot rougher, the bow of the boat seemed to plunge over the tops of high waves coming down on the other side with a crash! I seemed to one of very few who were enjoying the large waves and the rolling of the boat with some members of our group having turned a little green. It was therefore decided that it would probably be best not to go out further to sea where we might see whales but the waves would be a lot larger and instead turned back towards harbour. As we sailed back into harbour with the sun setting and past Bird rock again we were lucky enough to see a pair of Sea-Eagles flying gracefully around the rock.

The sun setting as we returned to Harbour.

The sun setting as we returned to Harbour

 

Day Four

After a morning spent walking around Honningsvåg taking in the sights and visiting the North Cape Museum, we hopped on to our bus to catch the convoy going up to Nordkapp. During the winter the road to Nordkapp is only open at certain times as to get up the road you need to be following a snow plough to make sure the road clear enough to drive on as even with winter tires or chains the road (being so exposed) can quickly become impassable if it starts to snow or the wind is blowing. If the weather is really bad then even the snow plough won’t go up!

Once at the Nordkapp visitor centre, after looking around at the facilities, which includes a chapel, we braved the cold winds and went outside to take in the view from the most northerly point in mainland Europe and have our pictures taken with the famous Nordkapp globe!

The evenings entertainment was a show called Our Northernmost Life performed by a small group of local actors. The musical told the history of the Honningsvåg area from the earliest Sami seasonal inhabitants to what it is like living modern day Honningsvåg and included the infamous Christmas 1974 when local fishermen got a little “exuberant” with foreign fishermen and as dawn broke the next day the town awoke to find the local Police car upside down! The songs were very catchy and as we walked back to our hotel some of us could be heard humming them (I still now on occasion find myself humming them!).

 

Day Five

The Last day of our trip dawned bright and sunny and the morning was spent visiting the fishing villages in the area around Honningsvåg and learning more about the fishing industry and it importance to the area.

 

All too soon it was time to say goodbye to the beautiful sea views and mountains as we checked in for our (first of three) flight back to England.

 

Best regards

Jayne

The Nature Travels team

Nature Travels currently offers a variety of Dog sledding and Ski- Touring experiences in the Finnmark region duration 5-8 days .

 

 

Bob from Nature Travels joined our Dog Sledding and Northern Lights in Vindelfjällen tour 9th-13th February 2014

To misquote Douglas Adams: “Lapland is big. Very big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to Lapland.”

Ask most people what associations they have with “Lapland” and they may answer “the Ice Hotel” (located in the far north of Swedish Lapland, the region in which many of our dog sledding, ski touring and reindeer sledding experiences take place) or perhaps “Father Christmas” (the area of Finnish Lapland around Roveniemi is best-known for Santa-related activities). But few are likely to say “Vindelfjällen”, tucked away in the little-visited western part of this huge county, and fewer still will know that Vindelfjällen is Europe’s largest protected area, covering over half a million hectares.

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So it was to this wild and woolly wilderness that I made my way for our new Dog Sledding and Northern Lights in Vindeljfällen tour, a 5-day or 8-day cabin-cabin tour which takes place in the Kirjesålandet reserve, part of the larger Vindelfjällen area.

Travel to the kennels is by a combination of night train and bus from Stockholm or by domestic flight. As time away from the busy Nature Travels office is very limited in February, against my eco-sensibilities I chose on this occasion to take the flight option, and boarded a very compact and cute-looking turbo prop from a quiet corner of the domestic terminal at Stockholm Arlanda airport bound for Hemavan, best known as a downhill ski area and about an hour or so by car from the kennels.

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The route to Hemavan touches down in Vilhelmina and, to our surprise, when we landed, the cabin crew looked apologetic and announced that, due to wind conditions further up the route, the flight would be terminating here and onward travel to Hemavan would be by bus.

Oh well, remote travel always comes with a few uncertainties, and a very friendly bus driver was waiting just outside the airport terminal with a welcoming box of soft drinks and reindeer-meat wraps to help us on our way. Actually, the kennels lie just over halfway between Vilhelimina and Hemavan and we would be passing right by them on the bus, so in the end the inconvenience was minimal, and after dozing our way through the endless forests for a couple of hours we arrived refreshed only a little later than originally planned.

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Head guide for the tours is one of Sweden’s most accomplished mushers, a four-times Swedish champion dogsled racer and the top-finishing Swede ever in Norway’s Femundløpet race. If you want to talk huskies, from the importance of nutrition to the finer points of body shape, he’s your man!

We were welcomed into the warmth and hospitality of the kitchen, where our guide’s wife, Angela, was busy rustling up a delicious-looking cake for us to take out with us on the tour (Angela’s cooking was to be a memorable feature of the next few days!). But before sitting down to dinner there was work to do, and we headed out eagerly for our first meeting with the dogs and to help with the feeding. There are around 50 dogs at the kennels, 25 of which would be following with us on the tour the next morning.

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That evening we were issued with the equipment we would need – snowmobile suits, boots, hats, gloves, and a sleeping bag that looked like it would keep you warm in space – before retiring for the night, full of anticipation for the tour ahead.

Well-rested and energised by a hearty farmhouse breakfast, we began next morning to pack the sleds and organise our equipment, and finally it was time to harness our teams. Scandinavia, like much of Europe, was experiencing some very unusual winter conditions, with temperatures much milder than normal. Where it would typically have been around -10 to -15 degrees, temperatures were just a fraction below zero, which had resulted in a considerable amount of snowfall in the days before (more snow tends to fall when temperatures are around zero than when it’s very cold). Everywhere the trees hung heavy with fresh snow, giving a real “winter wonderland” feeling wherever we looked. This also influenced trail conditions – with so much new snow, the prepared paths had been obliterated and we steeled ourselves for a real trailblazing expedition as we would need to carve a new route through the winter wilderness.

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With the going likely to be heavy given the thick snow, I would be running six dogs in my team, two more than normally used. We distributed the harnesses (different dogs have different sizes) and began the work of harnessing our teams. My lead dogs were two beautiful females with border collie markings – the young and energetic Ariel and the more experienced Sota. Behind them came two other females, November and Luna, and finally my wheel dogs, the boys Avanti and Bronko at the back. Over the next few days we would be working hard together and getting to know each other very well!

We headed straight out of the kennels and onto the trail and had soon left what little civilization we had started in far behind, entering a magical world of deep forest with branches groaning under the weight of snow. The snow was so heavy that some branches bent low right across the trail, making the first hour or so a fun obstacle course as we ducked and weaved our way between them.

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Soon came the first test of the tour, a steep downhill in very deep snow, and we had terrific fun slithering our way down through the trees but also testing our braking skills! We emerged exhilarated and a little sweaty into a much more open, flat landscape – the first of two lake crossings we would do that day.

These crossings required some thought. With the trail invisible beneath the snowfall, our guide paused, gazing into the distance and scanning the far side of the lake, which was several hundred metres away, carefully, trying to identify the small gap in the trees that we would take once across. Though there was a metre of ice or more beneath us (enough to support a truck), when the snow is as thick and heavy as it was, its weight pushes the ice layer down so that water rises up above. While it can be alarming to see the dogs’ paws suddenly sinking into water as you sled across a lake, there’s no cause for concern, but it does make the going tough, and both two and four-footed team members were pleased when we finally made our way across and entered the forest once more.

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After a very scenic pause by the river for a late lunch, we pressed on, this time with a climb taking us up towards our cabin for the night. Again, the deep snow added to the beauty but also to the challenge. When going uphill, it’s necessary to step off the sleds and assist your team to move the sled onwards, but when the snow is a metre deep and freshly fallen, this can be easier said than done! More often than not, we would step off to push, find no purchase, and instead sink to our waists, where we would struggle and thrash until we freed ourselves again – not much help to the dogs! As Vadim cried joyfully from the back, “This is real mushing!”

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But that’s all part of the fun, and when we finally crested the top to see a cosy little cabin peeping out from the trees, we knew we were home for the night.

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The experience of dog sledding is as much about the enjoyment of working with the dogs, taking care of your team and cabin life as it is about the time spent on the sleds, and although we had reached our destination, the day’s work was far from over. Once we had cleared the snow from the door and unpacked our gear into the cabin, we turned our attention to our teams.

Unlike many mushers, who bring separate lines on which to stake out the dogs at night, our guide’s method is to stake out the dogs on their sled lines, with extra long neck lines used to give them extra space to maneuver during the night. His dogs may well be some of the most pampered sled dogs in Sweden, with each getting not just a cosy doggy coat for the night, but fresh straw bedding as well! After feeding, they certainly looked content as they snuggled down for the night as our stomachs told us it was time to think about our own dinner.

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Not to be outdone by Angela’s baking skills, ou guide had arranged a real feast for us for the main course, bringing along some fresh brown trout recently caught by a friend in the pure local waters, which he set to work frying outside with his own secret mushroom sauce recipe as the sky darkened and night drew in. Whatever it was, it tasted delicious! Vadim prepared his trademark potato dish, which complemented the fish perfectly.

With full stomachs, glad hearts, and minds reeling with the impressions of the day, we crawled into our sleeping bags and slept like babies.

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We’d need our energy for the next day, as we were heading upwards above the treeline to the “kalfjäll”, the wide sweeping mountain plains characteristic of this part of Lapland. With the snow so deep, we were going to need some help to be able to sled into this area, so our guide had kindly enlisted the assistance of his uncle, who came by snowmobile to meet us at breakfast and headed off to pack down the trail that we would follow for sledding that day.

Though the going was still quite tough, having a trail made all the difference, and we had a wonderful morning sledding through the wilderness, gradually getting higher. Although the low cloud cover meant that the Northern Lights would be elusive on this trip, it created a magical “whole world to ourselves” atmosphere, shrinking our focus from the enormity of the landscape around us and focusing our attention on the beauty of the world closer to hand – the endless variety of the snow sculptures on the surrounding trees, the perfect silence save for the pat-pat of our teams’ paws on the trail and gentle glide of the sled.

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As with any winter activities in the Swedish wilderness, when dog sledding in Lapland you quickly come to appreciate the subtle differences of the shifting landscape – first impressions might be “it’s all just trees”, but with a little time you see that each area has its own charm and is constantly changing – a particular loveliness in the curve of a hill here, an especially attractive clump of boulders there. There was once section that felt so magical and otherwordly that I found myself having to choke back a lump in my throat at the monochrome beauty of it all. Fortunately I had my goggles on, so was able to give into the sentimentality of my inner world while maintaining a suitably “macho” exterior!

We passed through the treeline into the open plains and began the last push for the summit. Even with the snowmobile trail to help us along, this last section was a challenge, and I found myself sinking time and time again deep into the soft snow. Out in front my dogs pushed on valiantly, tails still wagging and clearly finding the whole thing enormous fun, just turning round occasionally to give me a reproachful look when they felt I wasn’t helping as much as I should (it may have just been a trick of the wind, but I’m sure I heard them saying to each other, “What, has he managed to get us stuck AGAIN?!”).

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Finally we reached the top, with the wind barely a whisper and the wide sweep of Vindelfjällen spread out beneath us. The weather was maybe not quite clear enough for us to appreciate the full majesty of our location and the scale of the wilderness surrounding us, but what we could see still took out breath away and lunch was a quiet and contemplative affair as we took in the view.

The afternoon took us down once more into the trees and to a second cabin for the night, this one a little larger than the previous evening but no less cosy. We were in good spirits following a wonderful and adventurous day, and we rounded it off with a competitive but good-natured few hands of Uno before taking to our sleeping bags once more.

The third day, our last on the sleds, took us homewards towards the kennels, a combination of new discoveries and retracing some of our route from the first day. We arrived tired but very happy in the afternoon, and with more than a little wistfulness that our adventure was over, began the process of unpacking our equipment and giving our dogs some last snacks and hugs. But another of Angela’s wonderful farmhouse dinners went a long way towards keeping our spirits up, before a final night at the kennels and transfer to Hemavan the next day for our departure.

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I have been lucky enough to participate in many dogsled tours as part of my work with Nature Travels. I love dog sledding and have never failed to enjoy the beauty of the mountain and forest landscapes, the joy of running your own team and getting to know the dogs, the many little tasks around the cabins, the camaraderie of sharing an outdoor adventure with guests from all over the world, and the rewarding challenges posed by different terrain and varying conditions. But on Dog Sledding and Northern Lights in Vindelfjällen, I felt a very special sense of uniqueness and privilege, of being welcomed into the daily life of my hosts and their families, of taking part in a sledding adventure that is very much “off the beaten track” and very much an authentic mushing experience.

Roll on next winter!

Bob from The Nature Travels Team.

Trip report OAS 2013 – Linda from the Nature Travels Team

Dates: 12-16 September 2013

Location: Sälen – Dalarna Region of Sweden

Description:

Outdoor Academy of Sweden is a short visit to promote an area of Sweden, this is organised in conjunction with Visit Sweden and a collective of various local providers and suppliers such as outdoor activity companies, specialist equipment brands, accommodation, leisure venues and restaurants.

Who attends?

Journalists, Retailers and Tour Operators from a range of countries and all with an interest in promoting Sweden within their working portfolios.

Why Dalarna Region?

Dalarna means “The Valleys”.

Dalarna was the chosen area of Sweden for the Autumn 2013 OAS expedition. Dalarna is where the Swedish like to holiday (all year round). The surrounding cottages have a typically traditional red and white theme with awesome forests overlooking scenic lakes. We were based in Sälen which is a beautiful area with outstanding natural landscapes and although very popular during the winter months for skiing and snow based family activities, Dalarna is still much undiscovered for outdoor activities during the summer season. We sampled a few mini adventures on our visit: hiking in the Sälen mountains, mountain biking in Rörbäcksnäs and canoeing on the Görälven river. Fantastic activities for all levels.

Where is Dalarna?

Dalarna is located in the central area of Sweden, bordering Norway in the western mountainous area. Dalarna covers an area of about 31,351km² (including water).  The province is approximately the size of Belgium, so plenty of freedom to roam around. Dalarna county has a population of around 300,000 people.

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What is Dalarna famous for?

Vasaloppet – the world famous 90km cross country ski race (15,000 participants). Excellent Skiing

Vasacycle – 90km cross-country mountain bike trails

Dalarna Horse – famous hand painted wood craft

Njupeskär Waterfall – Sweden’s tallest waterfall at 93m

Svenska folkdräkter – traditional Swedish dress and Maypole dancing.

What do we love about Dalarna?

A fabulously friendly welcome

The many activities available for all abilities:

Summer – hiking, biking & paddling – or just relaxing

Winter – skiing, snowshoeing & sledding (fun either with or without huskies)

The richness of nature, forest and fauna – bears, elk, moose & berries a plenty

The cleanest fresh air and the crystal fresh water

So what happened on the trip?

After very excitedly counting down the days to this adventure, departure date had finally arrived:

12th September

A bit of an early start to catch the 05:15 bus to Heathrow, but it was a smooth journey and after a strong coffee and slightly unhealthy muffin we (that is Elky and I) made it through SAS check-in and boarded with ease for 10:30 flight to Oslo.

Arrival at Oslo:

Flying the flag for the UK tour operators (just me), I met with a group of international outdoor enthusiasts participating in the tour, 40 or so in all, tour operators, journo’s and retailers. I must admit I felt a pinch overwhelmed at all the outdoor kit on show! However…. I had a travel bag with a stuffed Elk in it!

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After the introductions and warm welcome from our hosts from Visit Sweden and cosy 3hr bus ride to Sälen, we made it to our hotel Sälens Högfjällshotell.

First stop – kit check… (for the following days hike up the mountains) Häglofs, Primus and Hillberg all sponsoring fantastic clothing and equipment for a testing on the trek!

After a quick bag drop & refresh, it was a short bus trip via the Häglofs store for a debrief outlining the visit and of course discounted shopping. Oh and nibbles on bear, cheese & reindeer bits and well of course a glass of wine.

This was followed by an evening meal at the 11th century restaurant, ‘Gammelgården’, the cuisine was lovely, the service friendly and the company of course was great! Many stuffed creatures on display but an olde worlde ambience with a slight resemblance to a Tolkein’esque a hobbit house. Very cosy indeed and very popular with guests in winter and summer seasons.

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13th September

An early awakening from a comfy bed and a scrummy breakfast to start the day. It was time to ponder the art of packing that great gert 70litre backpack that was basically the same size as me. Thankfully experts were on hand and knew exactly how to repack my shoddy effort, cramming equipment, food and a toothbrush into the abyss that I will shortly be stomping up a mountain with strapped so seamlessly to my torso. Well, thankfully I can say it worked out ok with the remodelled weight distribution. My goal was to make it till lunch with the hefty load and then swap packs with my Dutch buddy. 13.00 – Goal achieved and outdoor lunch with the best view in Sälen not to mention gathering a glut of wild blueberries for the most organic dessert ever, washed down with fresh water from the free flowing brooks – a true gift from the mountains.


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Hmmm.. fresh mountain blueberries!

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Walking the plank!

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Moss is sooo… !

Late afternoon….Setting up camp was an interesting affair, firstly finding a
flat area of ground and secondly attempting to erect our humble abode for the
night. Easier said than done…Whilst we (Renate and I) were still trying to
figure out the yurt angles, simple calculations told us, that just maybe, we
needed more tent pegs for this monster. Some time later…All other teams seemed to have
successfully completed the task, we were now surrounded by perfectly fine
outlines of dome shaped Hillberg tents. Fortunately, after much amusement the
other teams came to the rescue and our challenge was complete. The
architectural marvel of the newly named  ‘circus tent’ was the pride of the camp. No ground
sheet – no worries! We were cosy enough with Haglofs 2S sleeping bag and spongy
floor mat. Although maybe the ground we slept upon could have been a little
more ergonomic. Rooky campers!!!


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Our Hilleberg home for the night.

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The open air kitchen – cookin’ on gas!
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Primus stove in action. Photo: Henrik Trygg/VisitSweden

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Photo: Henrik Trygg/VisitSweden

A beautiful end to the day!

14th September

Dalarna is the most amazing place to have a mountain bike adventure, this can be a relaxed or as challenging as you so desire. Wonderful scenery and great terrain be it winding trails through the awesome pine forests or if you fancy a challenge, you can take on some gnarly downhill routes at the specialist centre in Sälen.

Our group took bus to Rörbäcksnäs, where we sampled some of the best single-track cross–country cycling in Sweden. We were well equipped with safety hats and a great set of wheels and the all important guide for instructions. Great fun was had by all on our 15km trip with a few thrills ‘n’ spills en route.

A little fatigued at this point (and nursing a few small bruises) we ended the day with a visit top the Moose Park and a very welcoming cultural and traditional Sami dinner in a Tipi.

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Hej….Has anyone seen my antlers???

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Ahhhhaaaa…..

15th September

Our agenda for the morning was to get some expert advice and tips for canoeing on the Görälven River. Bouyancy jackets and waterproofs on, we negotiated our orange canoes down the slope and smoothly onto the water. Our guide carefuly instructed us on the do’s and don’ts of paddling, fully prepared and confident, we floated off down the Görälven. This was truly a relaxing way to spend a morning, taking in the beautiful surroundings, paddling with the flow, of course with a small cuddly stowaway Elk onboard! Also, I have never seen a riverside lodge so cleverly put together as that of a Beaver abode – it’s a first!

This is a great area for photography with the trees reflecting their images in the calm and very clear water. There were also some areas of faster running water to negotiate but not at all taxing, however, I am told there is plenty of white water if you would like a more challenging option. Overall the whole group were enjoying the peace and quite and drifting with nature.

Canoeing really was a wonderful way to finish a brimming itinerary of various outdoor experiences. You could never be stuck for things to do in Dalarna.

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Canoeing on the Görälven River

After a BBQ lunch it was back to the hotel for the workshop, well you have to do some work on these trips!!

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This isn’t Elky’s normal diet.

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Who ate all the snags?

Sälens Högfjällshotell put on a superb culinary feast for all participants, along with live music and a bit of dancing of course!

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Party on Elky!!

We even have a certificate of completion and lest we forget… thank you to Jonas and Henrik who blogged and photographed every step….

16th September

Another hearty breakfast and fond farewell, our transfer had arrived to take us back to Oslo for departure flights home.

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Check-in again soon for the next Nature Travels adventure!

Best wishes – Linda and Elky :)

Nature Travels does not (yet) offer activities specifically in Dalarna, but there are excellent options for canoeing in Rogen in Härjedalen a little to the north and canoeing and timber rafting in Värmland just to the south.

 

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Whilst you won’t see a Polar bear (Isbjørn in Norwegian) walking down the streets of Oslo or Stockholm (unless they have escaped from a zoo!) you can see Polar bears on Svalbard (Norway).

 

Where is Svalbard?

The Svalbard archipelago is the northern most part of Norway, though it is around 500 miles off the northern shore of Norway. Svalbard can be found between Norway and the North Pole deep within the Arctic Circle. There is little vegetation on and Svalbard and much of it is covered by glacier and bare rock.   During the summer it has constant daylight and during the winter the sun never rises above the horizon.

 

Polar Bears

Polar Bear, Svalbard, Norway

The Polar bear is the largest species of bear it is also the most carnivorous, their diet consists mainly of seals though they are opportunists and will eat whale carcasses and other carrion and have been known to rifle through a dust bin (in human populated areas) when really hungry.

There are thought to 20,000 – 25,000 polar bears around the world; it is thought that at least 500 polar bear on Svalbard and 1,900-3,600 polar bears in the Svalbard area and the Barents Sea. They are usually found on the coast around areas of pack ice and ice floes.

 

I have heard Polar bears aren’t really white!?

Whilst Polar bears appear to be white or off white to yellow their skin is actually black and their fur is actually almost completely transparent. They appear white because their hollow guard hairs reflect all coloured spectrums of light.

 

Are polar bears friendly?

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Polar bears may look cute and cuddly but like any other bear or wild animal can be aggressive towards humans; especially when they have cubs and/or are hungry. There have been cases of Polar bears attacking humans but it usually only happens when the bear’s food supply is low and they have been attracted to areas where humans are by the smell of food; which they can smell from as far away as 20miles, they can even smell a seal pup through 3 feet of snow from around half a mile away!

Do Polar bears hibernate?

Male polar bears and none pregnant females are active all year round and do not hibernate though if the weather is really bad they may den for a short period of time. In the winter pregnant females make a maternity den usually in snow drifts. They stay in these dens for 3 months until they emerge in the spring having given birth to, usually, 2 cubs. During the time they are in the den they are not really hibernating, there heart rate does slow but there body temperature remains constant.

 

How thick is a Polar bear’s coat?

A polar bear’s coat is very thick! They have a thick woolly under layer of fur and a layer of guard hairs, which are stiff and hollow. Their coat can be 2.5 – 5cm thick. Polar bears moult in the spring time.

 

Are Polar bears vain?

Polar bear can spend up to 20 minutes grooming themselves after they have eaten to make sure they are free of dirt, however, this is not because they are worried about what other Polar bear might think of them! Polar bears clean themselves so thoroughly to make sure their fur remains water repellent and insulating.

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Are Polar bears marine mammals?

Polar bears spend a lot of their time on the ice floes out at sea; they have been found almost 100miles away from land! They are brilliant swimmers; they can swim at speeds of up to 6miles per hour and have been known to swim for 60 miles at a time. When swimming a Polar bear will close it’s nostrils to prevent them from getting water up their nose! These abilities mean that Polar bears are often considered to be marine mammals however they do spend time on land during the summer when the pack ice and sea ice are reduced.

 

Do Polar bears cover their nose when hunting?

It is said that you can see a Polar bear’s nose from almost 6 miles away on a clear day if using binoculars. As Polar bears are so well camouflaged it had been suggested that their black nose would give away their presence when hunting and that coving their nose would allow them to sneak up on their unsuspecting prey. However over years of study no one has ever seen a Polar bear cover its nose whilst hunting!

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Do polar bears use tools when hunting, like blocks of ice?

No, Polar bears do not use tools when hunting; they usually hunt by waiting silently by a seal hole and then when a seal surfaces they pounce and bite at the seals head. However if a hunt does not end successfully Polar bears can become grumpy and have been seen kicking at snow, slapping the ground and throwing ice!

 

The Arctic fox ((Aloplex lagopus) Fjellrev (in Norwegian) Fjällräven (in Swedish)) is one of Scandinavia’s most endangered predators here we discuss how they are adapted to their environment and what is being done to help protect them.

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Adaptations for living in the cold:

The Arctic fox lives in the Arctic region of the northern hemisphere and is extremely well adapted to the severe weather conditions (it can survive conditions as cold as -50oC!).  These adaptations include very thick insulating fur, a special circulatory system in their legs to maintain their body temperature and to stop their feet freezing! They have rounded ears to reduce surface area for heat loss, as well as a short muzzle and short legs which also help reduce heat loss by reducing the fox’s surface area. During the autumn the arctic fox adds to it fat deposits in order to keep it warm throughout the winter and to use as an energy reserve.

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The Arctic fox’s coat colour changes from winter to summer to help it remain camouflaged and in the winter the fox grows fur on the bottom of it’s paws which helps it walk on ice and snow as well as helping to keep it’s feet warm! It has excellent hearing in order to hear its prey underneath the snow.

Arctic foxes are able to lower their metabolic rate and their body temperature during winter this helps them to conserve their energy. During times when there is little food availability to increase the Arctic fox’s chances of finding food they can reduce their metabolic rate still further, allowing them to use their energy reserves more slowly.

 

Behaviours:

Arctic foxes usually make their dens in low mounds or eskers in the arctic tundra. The dens are often used by many generations and some can be hundreds of years old! They often have numerous entrances and tunnels covering large areas underground.

The Arctic fox eats mainly lemmings but will also eat hares, voles, sometimes seal pups and will even eat other animals’ leftovers if food is scarce. The Arctic fox uses its excellent hearing to find its food under a covering of snow. When the Arctic fox hears its prey it will jump on the spot to break through the snow to its prey below.

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Arctic foxes have a high pitched bark and will hiss and scream but they do not howl. Studies have shown that they can differentiate between members of their families and non members by their barks.

 

Population sizes:

The number of the Arctic fox world wide is very high (several hundred thousand). The population size of the arctic fox is directly linked to the population size of its main food source, the lemming. In abundant lemming years a female can have as many as 10 – 16kits per litter though the average is 6! Where as in years where lemming numbers are low a female may only have a few kits or not reproduce at all.

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However populations in Sweden and Norway are critically low and the Arctic fox is threatening to become extinct in both countries. The estimated total number of adults in Norway, Sweden and Finland (Fennoscandia) is thought to only be around 200 individuals.

In the past the main threat to Arctic foxes was hunting for their fur. Whilst the demand for fox fur has decreased and with it to the amount of foxes being hunted Arctic foxes are still hunted today by indigenous people as a game species.

The encroachment of the red fox on the territories of the Arctic fox is another factor affecting the numbers of Arctic fox as the red fox is larger and more aggressive.

There are several projects operating in Sweden and Norway which are working to help increase the numbers of Arctic foxes through the supplementation of food and control of red fox populations.

Nature Travels offers a number of experiences which take place within the arctic foxes range including Skeble Mountain Tour and Aurora Husky Adventure in Finnmark.

 

 

In March 2013, Bob from Nature Travels joined our Discover Mountain Ski Touring in Lapland experience…

(you can also see more pictures from the tour on the Nature Travels Facebook page)

As I reclined on my bunk, the night train from Stockholm to Gällivare rattled its way soothingly through the endless miles of forest, making its way steadily north. I’d recommend anyone travelling to the north of Sweden to choose the train above flying – not only for the environmental benefit and often a considerable cost saving, but also because it gives a much better impression of just how far you are travelling and the vast areas of wilderness that make up northern Sweden. From embarking at the station at Stockholm Arlanda airport to being disgorged blinking into the early afternoon sunshine 15 hours later at the regional town of Gällivare, the vista of forest and frozen lakes was virtually unbroken.

I was here to join our Discover Mountain Ski Touring in Lapland experience for a week’s introduction to ski touring in the Swedish fjäll chain. Intended for participants with some previous cross country or downhill experience, this tour bridges the gap between the comfort of the pistes and prepared cross country trails and the wild expanses accessible by point-to-point touring.

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After the bus to Kebnats and transfer by snowmobile across the frozen lake to Saltoluokta Mountain Station, we were met by our guide, Conny, who exuded calm and gentle authority from the outset and an instant sense that we were in good hands. There were to be five participants in total in this group: Philip from the UK, not hugely experienced in cross country skiing but with plenty of additional fitness as a runner to make up for it, Maurice from Holland, an experienced cross country skier on prepared tracks, two Swedes – Petter, who would shortly be revealing his passion for retro outdoor clothing, and Gunilla, a seasoned hiker on trips worldwide and veteran of the “Tjej Vasaloppet”, a 30km cross country skiing race held annually in Sweden – and myself. Aware that my skiing would win no prizes for style or technique, I’d been preparing for the trip by upping my cycling days to the Nature Travels office in the weeks beforehand in an attempt to reduce the spare tyre that had been stubbornly sticking around since Christmas.

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Following our long journey, we were starting gently. We collected our equipment and had a run-through of the days ahead. We would be using the next day to test out our gear on a trip around the local area before heading off into the wilds the following day. After briefing, we retired to the station sauna with its stunning view out over the lakes and surrounding mountains followed by an enormous three-course dinner at the station restaurant. Salto may be remote, but in the small station kitchen culinary wonders are conjured, mostly using organic and local ingredients. At this rate, I was going to have to do some serious exercise to work this lot off.

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The next day, with the sun shining and a light wind blowing, we headed out across the lake to practise our “on-the-flat” skills and up the hill to try our climbing skins, for our first long-distance mountain view and for instruction in how to use the safety equipment that we would be carrying for the tour.

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Windsacks and snow shovels are carried both as an emergency precaution and also to make lunch-stops more comfortable in windy or cold conditions.

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After another sauna, another enormous dinner and fortified by a good night’s sleep and the extensive Salto breakfast buffet, we were packed and ready next morning to begin our adventure proper. It is around 20km from Salto across the bare mountain plains to the cabin at Sitojaure, where we would be spending the next three nights. Being an introductory tour, this leg is normally done by snowmobile transfer, with the option for hardy types to choose to ski the last half or so of the route. The sun shining and a cold wind was biting at our cheeks as we sped out above the treeline and into the stunning expanse of the “kallfjäll”. Eager to be moving under our own steam, after about 9km we hopped enthusiastically out of the trailer, shouldered our packs and equipment and watched as the snowmobile disappeared over the peak and out of view.

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As the wind whipped across the open mountains and the warmth drained out of me, I quickly realised I’d underestimated how cold it was today and hadn’t put enough layers on for this part of the trip. Time to get moving! With my skis and equipment still feeling rather new and unfamiliar, I set off clumsily along the trail behind Conny, who was effortlessly gliding along at the front.

A lunch stop with our windsacks and a few hours later, we started the descent down through the treeline and were soon at the Sitojaure cabin. Although simple (no electricity, outside toilets, water from a hole in the lake ice), our cabin was very cosy and warm once heated and would provide a perfect base for the coming days.

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After dinner, Conny got the map out to discuss the plan for the following day. One of the great advantages of having a fixed base for a few days is the freedom to plan each day as you wish, varying the distance covered and level of challenge depending on the weather and the level of the group. With clear skies and light winds forecast for the following day, we opted to go high and picked a likely-looking hilltop a few hours to the north.

Sure enough, next day we were greeted with bright blue skies and we headed for the hills. Although the going was hard work at times and I still felt more like a drunken penguin on my skis than a seasoned tourer, as soon as we left the trail and struck out into virgin snow, I found myself energised and uplifted both by the stark beauty of the landscape and the thrill of the adventure. When the soft powder gave way to hard packed icy snow, we dug our edges in furiously to keep from sliding back. When the terrain became too steep to use skis, we left our equipment and hiked the last few minutes to the top.

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As we came over the rise, the world opened into a truly breathtaking panorama, with the mighty mountains of Sarek National Park to our west and the limitless forested lowlands stretching away to the east. With not a breath of wind and a cloudless sky, I felt literally on top of the world. We may have only been three hours from the comforting warmth of the cabin, but there was a real expedition feeling to this day. Philip celebrated by demonstrating his yoga skills with a flawless headstand!

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On the way down we were very excited to cross the tracks of a wolverine, with the clearest prints I’d ever seen. We didn’t know then what was waiting for us the next day!

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We took a different route down with a chance to try new techniques, picking our way down through the birch forest through icing-sugar snow. This was hugely enjoyable but also very tricky from a skiing point of view – we all fell regularly and with the deep snow refusing to support even the slightest pressure it often took several minutes to get ourselves back on our feet again. With the constant effort of hauling ourselves out of deep holes of snow following yet another wipe-out and laughing hysterically watching others trying to do the same, most of us were feeling it by the time we arrived back at the cabins. But we were happy. And double helpings of everything for dinner helped to soothe the aches and pains…

Like most visitors to the far north, we’d hoped that our time in the Arctic might also give us a display of the Northern Lights. The problem with seeing the Aurora on tours such as this is that after a long day in the fresh air, bedtime tends to come early – sometimes as early as 9 o’clock! – and later in the evening the heavens may blaze away spectacularly above on sleeping bodies blissfully unaware below! But tonight we were lucky that clear skies and some early activity coincided. We forced ourselves to stay up to the daring late hour of 10 o’clock and were greeted with luminescent fingers of green stabbing down through the dark and shifting curtains of light moving mysteriously above. A perfect end to what had been a memorable day.

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For contrast, the next day Conny planned to take us along a ravine to set our skis into Sarek National Park itself. A couple of hours across the lake and though a lovely stretch of birch forest with delicious soft snow beneath our skis brought us into the ravine, with its twisting sculptures of snow and ice decorating the frozen river and valley sides. A little cloudier today, but still with some tantalizing glimpses of sunshine.

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Quite by chance I looked up and saw, a couple of hundred metres away, a large brown animal clearly silhouetted against the shining white of the snow. Unmistakable – a wolverine! These elusive predators are one of Sweden’s rarest large mammals and I’d contented myself that tracks were all I would ever see of a wolverine outside Sweden’s animal parks. We were all stunned to see one in the wild – our shouts of excitement and surprise caused the wolverine to pause. He stopped, looked at us and sniffed the air before turning and loping effortlessly away over the hill and out of view. Amazing, and a true brush with the wild. Conny, who has been guiding tours in the area since the mid-70s, confirmed the privilege of the occasion by saying that this was only the fifth wolverine he had seen in 40 years in the mountains.

We reached Sarek for a tantalising view into its untamed heart before turning for home for the gentle ski back down the ravine, through the forest and home once more. An evening of cards and double helpings of everything rounded off another great day which had given us a different perspective on the Lapland wilderness and a great opportunity to improve the fluidity of our skiing over quite easy but varied terrain.

We’d had a climbing day and a ravine day. Today was distance day, as we prepared to ski the 21km back across the mountain plains to Salto. Conny estimated it would take us around 7 hours, so we started early to allow a buffer for bad weather or extra time if we went a little slower than expected. Once again the sun was shining today, but there was a cold headwind up on the hills which would make the going difficult at times.

The improvement in everyone’s skiing technique compared to the beginning of the week was marked. I myself, while still feeling that I had a lot to learn, noticed a marked increase in the ease with which I now moved along, covering more distance with each step and using less energy. We were clearly all show our guide, who had looked after us so well during the week, each other, and ourselves what we had learned, and we fairly flew along the first few kilometres. Maurice had kindly offered to treat the whole group to waffles when we got back, and the imagined smell of the waffle iron and the taste of succulent cloudberry jam spurred us on when we started to flag.

In the end, Conny had to slow us down with an extra long lunch break and some stops to just take a moment and enjoy some last looks at the beautiful mountain landscape before starting our descent. Coming down through the trees after the long trek across the mountains was joyous and gave us a chance to try out our new downhill skills (something I’ve never found easy on cross country skis). We eventually made it back to the station well in time for afternoon waffles, having completed the distance in about 6.5 hours.

Back in the sauna, looking out once more across the mountains, it seemed in some ways just yesterday and in others a lifetime ago since we had sat there last. Tours like this are wonderful bonding experiences, and we’d come to know each other well over the last few days. I’d also learned something about myself and certainly a fair bit about skiing.

A final meal of epic proportions in the station restaurant, some sharing of photos and memories and a bit of packing, and the next morning we started our long return journey south. Across the lake by snowmobile, onto the bus from Kebnats to Gällivare and then the night train to Stockholm. As I lay once more on my bunk on the train, my mind full of impressions from the week, I knew I’d caught the ski touring bug and would be back for more as soon as possible. I have my eye on the King’s Trail tour for next year!

Best regards

Bob from the Nature Travels Team

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Nature Travels is the UK specialist for outdoor experiences in Sweden. Please follow links below for details of our range of holidays in Sweden for independents, families and groups.

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