Of hunting reindeer and passports
The sound was coming from underneath my tent. A constant squeaking. I checked my phone. No signal. Now I was even more freaked out. I tried to ignore it but it didn’t stop. It was too freezing cold and I was also too tired to go outside and check what it was. Since the noise did not stop I tried to stick something into my ears. Two teabags should do the trick. The squeaking was at a tolerable level now and eventually I passed out.It had been an exhausting and adventurous first day in Kongsvoll. Climbing about 2.000m with a 25kg backpack, losing that very same backpack due to an angry muskox bull and finally setting up my tent in the middle of a snowstorm.
A morning surprise
I woke up. It was cold. Freezing cold. I knew I had to get up and cook myself a warm meal if I wanted to feel like a human. I opened my tent and couldn’t believe my eyes! Five muskoxen on close distance basically surrounding my tent. Zipper down – back into the tent. Since I was so hungry, I decided to have breakfast inside. Once more I started my camping cooker not caring if my whole tent was going to burn down. All I wanted was to say warm. My tent was not especially tall, and with my big backpack inside, it was a challenge not to knock over the camping cooker. Cooked Beans never tasted so good! While I was enjoying my breakfast I constantly checked for the muskoxen outside. They seemed peaceful though. Just a family having breakfast in the morning. Nothing dangerous about that. As I watched these ice age-creatures from close distance, I felt I was set back in time. They were moving so slowly like if there was no time. Timeless.
Brown little bastards
At noon the muskoxen had left and the sun made its way through the clouds. I went out of my tent to see where I was. At the same time I was really curious where that annoying noise came from last night. The scenery was overwhelming. Glacier lakes covered in gold. The sunlight was just the cherry on top to this place. Small hills and sharp rocks followed the riverbanks down the mountains. The area was only partly covered with snow, whereas the mountains were just shining down on me in the purest white. And there it was again. The same squeaking that kept me awake the night before. I lifted up my tent to get a close look and could not believe my eyes. LEMMINGS! I had put my tent on top of a lemming hole. No wonder these little bastards made such a noise! Brown little furr-balls not bigger than a hamster. Full of positive energy I continued my journey. It was already afternoon by the time and I really needed to cover some ground. Another four hours and I should reach the hut next to Snow Hyta. The hut was locked. I was told in advance that most huts would be shut down during winter. It was cold and there were not many other crazy people hiking here. In fact I was alone. But not for long.
Seemingly out of nowhere a group of men gathered at the hut. It was the last weekend of the reindeer hunting season and everyone wanted to take a final shot. I was told about a reindeer overpopulation which has led to simplified conditions of obtaining a hunters license. Basically anybody who hit the target five times got one. And you could try this as many times as you wish. Quite frankly there was a reindeer invasion! Sure enough the hunters had a key for the hut. And sure enough the next moment we were already sitting next to the fire place drinking some Norwegian liquor. I was surprised by their perfect English and warm welcoming. The next day I was woken up way early. „Do you want to come along?“ – „Nah“, I said rolling over and went back to sleep. You betcha! I was wide awake and super excited as we walked out the door and through the snow armed with big guns. What happened then cannot be described with words. It was a matter of death and life. On the mountains I could spot a grey moving something. Reindeers! The hunters had circled them and it was only a matter of time until they would shoot. I could feel the fear of the reindeers in my bones. The whole mountain trembled when the gun fired. (At least that’s what it felt like to me). It was an extraordinary, almost unreal atmosphere. I felt I had been taken into another time. A time where people still used to hunt for their food. A time before the big industrial revolution. People had to work together to succeed. It was tough. But it had a certain beauty to it. Not so much the act of hunting. But being a part of nature.
I was taken back to reality when the hunters used their walky talkies to communicate. The hunt was over. Silence. As we stamped through the snow to the other hunters I noticed black birds in the sky circling around the dead reindeer. I watched them slaughter it with care and putting the meat into some big bags. They explained me that they could only carry the most important parts. So they left the skull and the skin in the snow. „So you are not going to take it?“ – „No, we got tons of reindeer skins at home.“ „Can I have it?“ – „Sure. If you don’t mind spending a whole afternoon cutting down the flesh and cleaning the blood off the skin!“ Challenge accepted! He gave me his knife which was super sharp. Sure enough I cut myself in the finger. I could not tell apart the reindeers blood from my own. I took the skin to the river that come down right from the glacier. The freezing water made my fingers numb, so I did not feel any pain. It took me several hours to get most of the flesh from the skin. (At least that’s how long it felt). When I got back to the hut the hunters told me to put salt on the skin so it would dry. The only salt we had, was packed in those tiny bags you find at hotels or planes. I basically ended up using 238 packs. No, I did not count. Just a wild guess. Two rusty old nails on the floor would help me hang the skin on the hut’s outside wall.
Time to go
I was tired. But I was happy. The next day it was time for me to leave. I goodbyed the friendly hunters (who’s Norwegian names I somehow forgot). The skin on the wall was still a bit wet so I had to carry it outside of my backpack. In far distance I watched the musk-oxen graze close to the river bank where I washed the reindeer skin the day before. Walking down this beautiful scenery of rocks and swamps covered in snow so white I was afraid my eyes would get blind, I as forced to make stops every once in a while. Just to enjoy being here. Being a part of nature. As I was dreaming, drifting, I bumped into a group of students. Biology students, Shocked female biology students. I can only imagine how I must have looked. I had not showered, shaved or washed myself in ten days! My shoes were wrapped in black duck tape trying to keep them together. From my backpack a reindeer skin was tangling back and forth. And if that was not scary enough I was also running around with a knife in my hand, as I was cutting salami on the way. Fuck first impressions!
We had lunch together and after that I was introduced to MINTTU (some mint alcoholic drink) which we had with hot chocolate. The war beverage made me feel so good I did not even bother about the fact that it started snowing again. My clothes were once again soaking wet when I got to the train station. Let me correct that sentence. There was nothing there but a small empty house next to the rails. No shops, no cars and no people. I checked for the train. The next one would not leave until the next morning. Meaning I would either have to set up my tent again or sleep at the small empty house (train station). It was perfect! A 15 square meters room with a bench, a table and most of all heating! I took off all my wet clothes and put them to dry. I was already used of being alone. But somehow this was different. I seemed to be alone in a public place trapped in nature. I could hear the sound of wild animals nearby. At least they kept me company. I cuddled myself into my sleeping bag and feel asleep.
No sleep and no passport
I was woken up by a very loud announcement from the speakers in the room. This kept going the whole night. Every thirty minutes. Teabags in my ears. Still no sleep. I don’t know how much sleep I got but when I got on the train I was so tired that I instantly fell asleep. At the Oslo Airport I was woken up by a flight attendant. On the escalades. „Sir, you cannot sleep here! Are you alright?“. I somehow managed to get through the security check and was happy that nobody said anything about my reindeer skin (which I had put in 10 plastic bags just in case). I got myself a slice of super expensive pizza and had a nap at the gate. When I woke up I checked for my belongings. I had my ticket, my wallet, my pass.. „Where is my passport?“ I checked all my pockets. Nothing. I went back to the pizza shop. Nothing. At the security check. Nothing. The plane was going to leave in half an hour and I was getting nervous. I went to the police station. They told me there was nothing they could do, but they would call me if they found it. Devastated I went back to my gate and thought about where I could have put my passport. I even had a look in the trash cans I had passed by on the way. Nothing. I could already picture myself sleeping at the terminal.
„Mister Samuel Bredl! Please proceed to the duty free shop. We have found your passport!“ Son of a bitch! Lucky me. The boarding had already started when I got back to my gate. I hold on to the passport really tight as I got on the plane. I think I kept it in my hands until I got home later that day. It had been a wild adventure in Norway. And even though I was happy to be home, have hot water and real food, in my mind I was still in the mountains of Dovrefjell.