Here in Sørlandet (southernmost part of Norway) we have some reptiles and amphibians that are not found further north. One of these is the Smooth snake (Coronella austriaca) (Norwegian “slettsnok”). It likes to bask in the sun and prefers rock crevises where it can hide, like man-made stone walls. It is not poisonous and can easily be held in your hands. It is not aggressive, but can bite. The bite rarely penetrates your skin, at least in mid-sized animals. It feels like being touched by the stiff side of Velcro. The snake is athletic. The skin is smooth and nice to handle. It feeds on other reptiles like slowworm, mice and insects. Unfortunately, the snake is often killed by people as they think it is poisonous. All reptiles and amphibians are protected by law in Norway.
Autumn came with lots of rain, but the weather forecast for the weekend September 16.-17. 2017 looked good. I had never been visiting the tourist cabin Bossbu, located in Vestheiene, Setesdal. The cabin is run by DNT (The Norwegian Tourist Association) and is normally open for hikers. It got a major overhaul in 2015. September is reindeer hunting season in the area. Because of this, organized groups of tourists are not welcome to the cabin but others are. My wife and I decided to start from Berg in Setesdal, which implies a 15 km walk on trail. From the parking lot the trail goes trough a valley with moderate increase in altitude up to the cabin Stavskar. Then steeper up through the Stavskar pass, before the path goes down towards the flat plain and lake were Bossbu can be found.
Lemmings are everywhere
Approaching Bossbu, lemmings started to show up around us. They are easy to spot with their brown and black color pattern. They also make sounds and run fast, sometimes in panic. As I put my foot down a lemming ran under the sole of my solid mountain footwear. Probably it thought the gap was a safe shelter on the path. It was not possible to prevent a quick death of the lemming. The day after, on our return, the same thing happened to my wife. Lemmings are apparently not popular among predators since they give a bad taste when eaten. In some years the lemming population grows to incredible numbers.
Reindeer are hunted
The reindeer herds in Setesdal belong to the southernmost population of wild reindeer in Norway. There is a long-standing tradition of reindeer hunting in this area. We observed two animals running towards hunters on our way to the cabin. The next day we observed a large herd only 200 m away from us. At the cabin we met the hunters. They had butchered the animals and now parts of the slaughter were tied up on the wall of the cabin to dry. The weight of the meat gets so heavy that some hunters require helicopter transport to get the meat down from the roadless area. Some people dislike this form of hunting, but since wolves are not present here, hunting is a way of regulating the reindeer population growth. At the same time, resources are harvested that are natural to the area. Reindeer have been found in Norwegian mountains since the last ice-age.
Bossbu was crowded
Because of the reindeer hunters and also the many hiking tourists present, Bossbu was crowded. There was barely enough matresses for us to sleep on the floor. However, we slept well and were ready for the retun trip on Sunday. During the night I had set up the camera for a trough-the-night timelapse. I use a drill battery as a power source for the camera, enough to do the several hundred exposures necessary for the timelapse. I used an exposure time of 25 seconds on the interval timer, and mounted the 14 mm Samyang wide-angle lens. The interval was set to 35 seconds. That was enough to ensure that the image files were stored to the memory card. I set the camera on a tripod weighted with a rock to ensure stability. A raincoat served to protect the camera. Because of my error the ISO was set to 800, while it should have been set to 3200. Luckily, because of the raw expose together with exposure adjustment in post, it was still possible to get a good timelapse from the scene.
One of the most beautiful butterflies in Norway is the Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta). Often it can be seen in late summer visiting flowers for a sip of nectar. My butterfly-bush (Buddleja davidii) which was planted in May gave flowers already in August, and as hoped butterflies were eager to visit it. Among the visitors were the Red Admiral. There were also others, like the Small tortoiseshell Aglais urticae. The Red Admiral is the best looking, in particular when it is in good shape with no wear of the wings. Also the underside is nice. The Red Admiral is not an inhabitant of Norway. It is an immigrant coming from southern latitudes every summer.
This summer (2014) was unusually hot, and I enjoyed the breeze on the lake Gråsjøen as I paddled from the dam to the southern end of the lake. Gråsjøen is a hydroelectric reservoir. Since the last winter gave very little snow the reservoir was far from full, and the eroded banks of the lake was not a pretty sight as I paddled along. I tried to enjoy the mountains bordering the lake. Among these, the Snota is widely known for its beauty. The view from the top is supposed to be stunning, although I have never been there myself. It took me 1 hour 45 minutes by relaxed paddling to get to the southern end of the lake, and the distance done was 11 km. Going ashore there you are in the middle of the landscape protected area called Trollheimen (home of the Trolls). The mountain lodge called Trollheimshytta is only four km from where I landed, located in the nature reserve protected area called Svartåmoen. This area is best known for the undisturbed forest of pine and its bogs. Everywhere in the forest there are dead and dried out old pine trees, taking strange shapes that in the night may trigger your fantasy and remind you of trolls and “vetter” which the local people in past times believed existed (and some still do). If you look carefully for these you will see them.
I put up my tent a little higher up in the valley side in order to get a good view of Snota. The temperature was far too high for hiking with a heavy backpack full of photo gear, so after spotting a fairly flat place for my tent and a small creek nearby, I decided to camp there. I wanted to take some photos in the early morning sun, which would give a nice sideways illumination of the mountain massive. After getting rid of my backpack I felt relieved and set the course for Trollheimshytta and hopefully a good dinner and a beer. During the crossing of Svartåmoen I noticed elk tracks around the small lakes. Elks like to migrate to these lakes during night for a bath and some tasty aquatic herbs. Cloudberries along the way gave refreshments, although the horseflies were nasty in the hot afternoon. Arriving at Trollheimshytta, a cold beer tasted fabulously and for dinner “rømmegrøt”. Much to prefer compared to my dry camping food. After relaxing for a while I headed back to the tent. After all I was getting up early to get my photos of the mountain.
Many years ago plans were proposed for building a large hydroelectric reservoir in Innerdalen. The valley was privately owned by Oystein Opdoel, a farmer who was using the valley for animal pasture. The valley is owned by the Opdoel family since 1740. The surrounding mountains, especially Innerdalstårnet and Skarfjell, were used for climbing by the Mountaineer Club. Mr. Opdoel saw the value of preserving the valley as it was for future generations. After all, a water reservoir would fill the complete valley and ruin the area for ever. He, along with the Mountaineer Club members, fought the authorities. In the end they succeeded. In 1967 the valley (omitting the river) was protected by law. Three years later the Norwegian Nature Conservation Act was approved. Innerdalen, now including the river, was given the status as Landscape Protection Area. Oystein Opdoel’s grandson is now running a guest house, Renndoelssetra, in the old pasture buildings and at the same time caring for milking cows, sheep and goat. The hens provide eggs for breakfast, and you can also have waffles and cream. The guest house is located by Innerdalsvatnet (Innerdal Lake) and is associated with the Norwegian Trekking Association. To get there you have to walk about four kilometers along the four-wheel drive dirt road from the car park at Nerdal (Virumdalen). You will definitely be welcome.
The highest peaks in Norway are located in Jotunheimen National Park. The highest of them all is Galdhøpiggen at 2469 m (8230 feet). Although their heights are not extraordinarily impressive, the area is packed with peaks and glaciers. The valleys, however, are flat and easily hiked. The name of the national park means “The home of the Jotuns” (trolls). The alpine flora is abundant in places. Still, the area is accessible from all corners. A footpath system for hikers and proper accomodation makes hiking trips between tourist quarters possible for the physically fit. Steep hillsides and valleys with lush vegetation make the trips memorable. Waterfalls with clear, tasty mountain water makes the need for bringing drinking water unnecessary. Mountaineers find the area of peaks called Hurrungane irresistible. The Englishman William Cecil Slingsby was the first to climb the highest peak of Hurrungane Store Skagastølstind (2405 m or 8017 feet) in 1876. Traditional sheep grazing is allowed in areas of the park. A drive along the Sognefjell road is mindblowing in nice weather. The road runs close to the northern border of the national park.