Reindeer Trekking in the Heart of Lapland

by Antje Huesken, translated by Eva Samo and Evelyn Kapfer
photos courtesy Ane and Jan Klaudiussen

 

In Sami, the language of the indigenous people of Scandinavia, “mu rähkkis boazo” means “my dear reindeer.”

 

Ane and Jan Klaudiussen are living their dream: far up in northern Norway, 280 miles north of the Arctic Circle, right on the border with Sweden and on the outskirts of two national parks, is their lovely Husky Lodge. They offer wonderful wilderness tours year-round: dogsled expeditions in winter and pack reindeer treks in summer and autumn. My own dream is about to come true, too: my girlfriend and I will be heading out with Jan, four reindeer, a Husky and two Husky puppies to enjoy the wilderness for five days.

 

Day 1
This morning we learn how to handle our reindeer—Mats, Jesper, Jonathan and Kasper—who are surprisingly calm. [Editor’s note: Jan sent a bit more information about packing with reindeer. He says: Reindeer are in the same family as caribou and are smaller than llamas. They weigh about 80-140 kilograms (175-300 pounds) and can carry between 25 and 40 kilograms (55 and 88 pounds). We normally pack 20 to 35 kilograms (44 to 77 pounds) on our animals. Reindeer were used by the Sami people to drive sledges in winter and to backpack in the summer. They are very good in challenging terrain and can tolerate extreme cold. They are not so good in warm temperatures, however, and 20+ degrees C (68+ degrees) is very warm for them! Both females and males have antlers, and their antlers grow new every year and get bigger as the animals age. Males start growing their antlers in May, scrape off the fur on the antlers at the end of September and lose the antlers between December and February. Castrated males keep their antlers until April and do not scrape the fur off their antlers. The reindeer with the biggest antlers is always the alpha-reindeer (boss)! Females keep their antlers over the winter, so during that time they are the bosses! They have their calves (kids) in May and lose their antlers in the summertime. Reindeer are wild animals, but when tamed they can be very social with people. However, they do not like to be petted or touched too much. They do everything out of friendship, and you cannot pull or push them too much or they will react much in the same way as a donkey. If you treat them like a friend, they will do anything for you.]

 

While my reindeer is curiously poking around with its nose, we learn the best way to pack the panniers evenly and how to put the saddle and panniers on properly. We are astonished to discover how docile these beautiful animals are. Each of us takes care of and leads his own reindeer during the tour.

 

As our little caravan sets off around noon, the sun is shining from a cloudless sky. While we are traveling through Stordalen, both humans and animals have time to get to know each other, so that as we arrive at Stordalsstua late that afternoon it is as if we have always been together. We cool our beer in the riverbed and sit outside with the peacefully grazing reindeer as Jan cooks a delicious dinner in the cozy mountain cabin.

 

Day 2
Today we leave the marked path and cross the Swedish border on a hill. An incredibly beautiful landscape opens up below us. Rivers, lakes and swamps are in the mountains in front of us and the hike becomes more demanding. Cranesbill and sump sweetheart line our path. We cross rivers and ascend through an old birch forest. Later, on a hill, we see a moose far below us. In the late afternoon, we reach the untouched lake called Njuorajavri, enveloped in beauty and tranquility, with snow-capped mountains reflected in it. We decide to spend the night here. First, we take care of our reindeer, taking off the panniers and saddles and finding them an ideal place to graze and drink. The cozy and bright Lavvu (Sami tent) is set up quickly. We swim in the crystal-clear lake and enjoy the evening.

 

Day 3
Today we pass through mires and clear ancient birch forests filled with orchids and cloudberries. The hiking here is strenuous and each of us takes great care so the saddlebags won’t slide off our reindeer (which happens if the panniers are not balanced). If you don’t notice, the animals will quickly let you know that they are uncomfortable. From a plateau, we can see the famous mountain formation of Lapporten on Torneträsk [Editor’s note: The Lapporten, a mountain pass called the Gateway to Lapland, is a steep-sided, U-shaped valley carved by glaciers and is one of the most photographed landscapes in Norway.].

 

We set up our Lavvu down by the river. We are camped at the edge of Sweden’s northernmost national park, Vadvetjåkka, which is so remote and difficult to access that it is likely very few people have ever walked through it. We have it easy, however, because our reindeer carry the gear and each of us only needs to carry a light daypack. Jan tells us many interesting things about the Far North as we sit around the campfire, and when we retire for the night, the Huskies join us in the tent to escape the numerous mosquitoes.

 

Day 4
It is four o’clock in the morning and Jan is quietly cooking coffee. Slowly, humans and animals begin to stir. Today we want to leave early and take a break at lunchtime because the temperature will reach 25 degrees C (77 degrees) in the shade—too hot for reindeer. Jan seeks out a place where we can cross the raging, deep river—a challenge for us humans, but not for the sure-footed reindeer, who are at home here in the wilderness and travel safely on any ground. As we arrive on a high plateau in the national park, we marvel at the high mountains, with their large limestone caves, and at the delta of the Njuoraetnu River. In the distance, Lake Torneträsk glitters. We continue into the valley, walking along the river and through flowering meadows. Jonathan is sometimes a bit afraid of large boulders. He will stop and look at you with big eyes, but a soft song helps him continue until the next “creepy” boulder. You never have to be afraid of the reindeer with their impressive antlers. They never kick or step on your feet!

 

We build our campsite on a small hill at the end of the valley, near the river. The sun is still very warm. Only the water flowing from the mountains penetrates the silence. We refresh ourselves in the river.

 

Being here in the wild, vast and untouched nature is exciting and relaxing at the same time. Countless yellow violets bloom around us. Using binoculars, we look for a lynx or wolverine on the mountain slopes and discover a herd of reindeer tracking over a snowfield. The curious animals are grazing closer and closer and eventually even mingle with our tame reindeer directly by our camp. Again, Jan cooks a wonderfully delicious and healthy meal for us. How beautiful it is to fall asleep while watching the scenery, reindeer and Huskies. It is hard to believe that it is the last evening of our trip. The humans and animals have become a happy team.

 

Day 5
Our little caravan leaves the Vadvetjåkka National Park and crosses the Norwegian border. Now we are in the virtually untouched Rohkunborri National Park, which first opened in 2011. We reach the top of the pass, a continental divide separating the flow of water to the Baltic Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, and an indescribable landscape opens up before us. There is still a lot of snow, but arctic flowers such as campion and glacier buttercups are growing here. We walk through the snowfields for some time before gradually heading downhill. The scenery is slowly changing again. Eventually, we can see far down into the valley where the Husky Lodge is located. It is noon when we arrive. A joyful Ane welcomes us and, while we all sit together in the most beautiful place yet—the sauna on the porch next to the river—we tell the story of our trip. It’s great that this guide-couple shares with their guests what they themselves live and love. Our next tour with Ane and Jan is already being planned!

 

Mu rähkkis Boazo!