Close encounters of the reindeer kind

Today I hiked to the peak of Lill-Skarven (1224 m). It was promising to be a relatively easy and quick hike, except that if you park your car by the road 84 in Tänndalen, the entire hike is uphill from there to the peak. The only places where it levelled off at all was when the trail crossed some small wetland areas (duckboards over them). There is an alternative route with less climbing if you take your car up to the Fjällparkering which is close to the tree line. But having done a few of these small mountain roads, I didn’t want to put my car through the ordeal again so I decided to punish my feet instead. But my feet were fine, and later on when I walked down that road, I found that it was actually quite fine as well. Maybe next time then.

I was surprised to see heather still in bloom
I was surprised to see heather still in bloom

The view from Lill-Skarven is fabulous. I know I always say that the view is great, and naturally it always is because the peaks give you a high vantage point. But Lill-Skarven is better than average, it feels right in the middle of the mountains and closer to them as well. And one thing I found attractive is the view towards the valley of Anderssjö with mountains all around.

The obligatory panorama view (5-frame stitch)
The obligatory panorama view (5-frame stitch)

On the way down, I decided to check the view from the Skarvvålen height. It doesn’t require any climbing as it’s just kind of an extension of the mountain, but I was looking for an alternative viewpoint towards the valley and the Hamrafjället mountain so it was worth checking out. It turned out that the view wasn’t that special, but then when I was going back to the trail, I saw a herd of reindeer on the slopes of Lill-Skarven. They were moving slowly but the general direction was east, which is where I was heading as well. So I thought it’s worth a try to see if I could get closer to them, and took a diagonal approach so I would be ahead of them if they would continue towards east. And amazing things happen – they did come towards me and when I saw that I might have a possibility to use them as silhouettes against the sky, I took the risk of getting closer. And they allowed me to do it!

What I then got to witness is something I will not soon forget. The herd consisted mostly of females, plus two young bull reindeer and one older (bigger) bull. The reindeer mating seasons starts in September and the two young bulls were sparring with each other, crossing their antlers so I could hear the sound they were making. If only they would’ve come up a few steps closer to me I could’ve gotten their fighting profile against the sky… but I wasn’t that lucky. And by the time I got their silhouette, they were not sparring any more because the big bull appears to have cooled them down. It was not tolerating any challenges so it chased off the young bulls while running around the cows to make sure they would not stray off.

The two young males
The two young males

Although the reindeer allowed me to get so close, they did keep a watchful eye on me. I’ve heard that the only time a reindeer might be a threat to a human is during mating season when the bulls get too excited. So when this running and chasing was going on, a couple of times it looked like they would be running towards me and that really got my heart racing! But this is probably still early season for them, the bull was flemming but none of the females were ready and I didn’t really see any aggressive behaviour from the dominant male, apart from the moment it thought the young males got too close.

The reindeer king with his harem of cows
The reindeer king with his harem of cows

It’s easy tell the males and females apart. All reindeer grow horns, but the males shed the velvet skin on theirs before mating season while the females keep it, and just like with other animals with horns, the older the animal the bigger the bigger the horns. So if you look at the pictures, you can easily tell apart the cows and the bulls, and also the dominant male and the future challengers (they didn’t seem to pose much of a challenge today).

What did I say about putting experience first and pictures second? Well, this one was an experience for sure. And one of my photographic aspirations is to picture a reindeer silhouetted against the sky, and I think I kind of got that one as well. Can’t ask more from a hike!

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