In the region of Jämtland, near the Swedish-Norwegian border, lies the nature reserve of Vålådalen, encompassing the ancient forests and wide valley of the Vålån River and the surrounding mountains. Since 1988, this 1200 km2 area has been protected as the Vålådalen Naturreservat.
With a height difference of between 500m and 1600m above sea level, a quarter of the reserve is comprised of forest, almost all of which is classified as “natural forest” or “virgin forest”. The geological and climatic variations within the reserve allow for a very wide range of flora and fauna, and the reserve is home to some of Sweden’s rarest and most spectacular animals, including the wolverine, the arctic fox and the gyrfalcon, as well as rare plant species such as orchids.
The arctic fox, Alopex lagopus, is Sweden’s most endangered mammal, and the subject of concerted conservation efforts in Sweden. The work, which includes radio tracking and supplementary feeding programmes, is now beginning to show real benefits, but the arctic fox population in Sweden remain very fragile. Arctic foxes are highly vulnerable to fluctuations in availability of food supply, and they will only breed in years with plentiful food. One of their main sources of food, the lemming, has a population cycle with periodic peaks and crashes, the reasons for which are still largely unknown. Also of major concern is the spread of the red fox into arctic fox territories, and conservation measures have also had to involve the culling of red fox populations in some areas to reduce competition.
In a good lemming year, females may give birth to 5-6 letters of 5-10 young each under the protection of the winter snows, which means that come spring the mountain heaths of Vålådalen will be alive with huge numbers of these beautiful animals. Lemmings provide an essential source of food for arctic foxes, as well as for birds of prey such as the long-tailed skua and rough-legged buzzard, and arctic fox females may give birth to up to 16 pups in a good year. Mortality rates can be high, though, and it may be a long time until the next lemming peak.
Food supply is only one challenge the local wildlife faces in the fight to survive in the Jämtland mountains. As with any mountain environment, the climate in Vålådalen can be unpredictable, with weather conditions changing often and suddenly – in Vålådalen, this is a result of the Atlantic climate zone and the continental climate zone meeting over the mountains.
Safety when you’re out in the mountains should always be a primary consideration, and this is ideal terrain for mountain skills training. Nature Travels offers two tours aimed at improving your survival/outdoor skills in a mountain environment. Mountain Magic for Beginners takes you on a camping expedition into the Jämtland mountains during the summer season, with expert instruction in navigation and mountain safety – as well as a great camping experience in wonderful surroundings, of course! The winter version of this tour, Beginner in the Snow, also gives you the opportunity to camp wild in the mountains – but this time in the depths of winter – teaching you essential skills to ensure that a winter expedition is both enjoyable and safe.
Photo: Annica & Torkel Ideström
Vålådalen in the summer is a beautiful area for a walking holiday in Sweden, and Nature Travels offers a hiking tour with a difference – in the company of your own husky sled dog! The dogs, who spend their winter providing the propulsion for our popular dogsledding holidays, also love to be out in the summertime, and our Hiking with Dog tour gives you the opportunity to explore the Jämtland mountains with your own pack dog to help with the load!
Vålådalen in winter is an excellent area to go doglsedding in Sweden. Nature Travels offers five dogsledding holidays in Sweden, all of which take place in or around the nature reserve. Our popular Dogsled Adventure in Jämtland is a week-long dogsledding tour into the beauty and silence of the winter mountains and is available from December onwards. As spring begins, the days lengthen and temperatures rise, it is also possible to spend your nights under canvas, and our Go Camping by Dogsled and Ice-fishing and Dogsledding experiences combine the excitement of a dogsledding adventure with the true wilderness feeling of spending your nights in a tent or teepee. For the winter season 2007/2008, we have also added a shorter 4-day dogsledding tour, Discover Dogsledding, as well as our Premium Dogsledding Expedition, which combines the challenges of a mountain dogsledding holiday with a few creature comforts along the way!
The Swedish mountains possess an expansive, ethereal beauty at any time of year – a place to rediscover your spirit and follow your dreams – and in Vålådalen Nature Reserve is an ideal place to explore the endless possibilities of the Swedish mountain world!
The Nature Travels Team