Another adventure in Dovrefjell

The last time I was in Dovrefjell for a trip, it ended up with my trip buddy and I building a snowcave and spending the night in it. Thankfully, this time there was no snowcave (or, no sleeping in one).


I caught the 08:18 train from Trondheim S to Kongsvoll station on Saturday morning. After a short 2km hike in the blistering 14 degree C heat up the steep slope from Kongsvold, I decided to pitch my tent in the forest below the ridge of the plateau that is Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella National park. I had been on this exposed plateau before and thought it smarter to be a bit more sheltered from the elements in the birch forest. Even though it is mid-June, the birch forest was only just starting to sprout new leaves.

After pitching my tent, I hiked out onto the plateau and headed towards Snøhetta on the trail to Reinheim, the same cabin I had attempted to reach on my previous ski trip. It was very strange traversing the same land while it looked so completely different in summer.

I took a break on a ridge overlooking a bend in the river running along the train. It was then that I saw a large male bull musk ox that was grazing. After a while, he went into the river and faced upstream, taking long gulps of water. I was enjoying observing him from a distance, so I started filming. It was then that he started to play in the water, spinning around and splashing about. The joy was so apparent in his actions and after witnessing this, I was moved to tears. How incredible to see such an act of freedom and play.

We humans like to think of ourselves as set apart from the other beings that we share this planet with. But these and other creatures have personalities, they feel joy and pain, they build communities, they love and they fight.

Musk ox (Ovibos moschatus) likely lived in Dovrefjell before the last Ice Age and have been reintroduced to the Norwegian wilderness successfully. The population numbered 135 in 2003.

I headed back to my tent to prepare dinner. Just in time too, because the wind had started changing and rain clouds had moved in. When I got to my tent, I noticed a musk ox in the trees near my tent. She seemed tense, but in a low and calm voice I spoke to her, telling her I meant no harm. She sort of huffed at me, then started to move slowly away, brushing up against the trees. During the rest of that evening and night, I heard some musk oxen move through the forest near my tent a few times. Each time, I became a little tense, but luckily nothing happened. It turns out that although this forest is more sheltered from the elements than the plateau, the musk oxen like to spend time in there too. There were signs of them everywhere!

The next morning after breakfast, I went out on another hike. I listened to my magefølelse (“stomach feeling”) and followed the trail towards Grønnbakken until it reached a bridge over a river, surrounded by small waterfalls and rapids. I headed back along the same trail for a short bit before taking a branch of the trail to the Northwest along the river. I was starting to tire from being in the cold wind when I came upon the same spot I had watched the frolicking musk ox from the day before. I sat down and had another break here. I was watching a musk ox mother with her calf trying to ford the river. The next thing I knew, a family of musk oxen was making its way up the hill and I was in their path. I retreated a bit and decided to hide next to a rock, hoping to catch a glimpse as they walked past.

Instead of walking past me, however, they decided to stop to munch on some vegetation. They observed me, but seemed calm as they stayed and continued eating, eventually even lying down. I was only about 20m from a large male bull. The recommended distance to keep from musk oxen is 200m. I was too terrified to stand up and move, so I stayed put. An hour went by and I was able to get incredible photos of the family consisting of 3 calves, 2 older but immature oxen, 2 mothers and 1 male bull. I started to shake from the cold wind blasting me and the musk oxen were showing no signs of moving on, so I decided to make a move. They instantly started to tense up, but as I continued to belly crawl away, they saw I posed no threat and continued eating, observing me intently.

I happened to be in the right place at the right time and moved slowly and non-threateningly. I would not recommend trying to get this close to the musk oxen though — especially with babies around; their horns are long and looked very sharp. They can also attack without warning and if they snort or start pawing the ground, it’s good to clear off.

Still in awe from this experience, I headed back to my tent to cook lunch and begin to pack my things for the journey back home.

Back at the train station, I had some time to cook popcorn on my primus stove while sitting in the waiting room. It’s a simple waiting room, but well loved by the many travellers it has sheltered — some leave very entertaining notes on the pin-up board.