Norway - Snowy heights of Hardanger glacier
( Originally Published 1907 )
Direction—We are facing north. Surroundings—This is the northern slope of Mt. Berakup on which we stand. All around us are dreary, uninhabited wastes of moor. At our right the moor stretches off sixty or seventy miles toward the interior of Norway.
These are wild reindeer that have never been milked or harnessed or otherwise reduced to domesticity, and are exceedingly shy. The only human creature whom they would knowingly allow to approach them is a certain Lapp who spends his time wandering over this lonesome district. The herd is nominally owned by certain people, but they have no definite knowledge of the number of the animals any more than the owner of an estate in the Scottish highlands knows the number of his nesting grouse. The creatures wander about as they please, summer and winter, always moving against the wind. In summer the scanty grass and other herbage give them a good living. In win-ter, when snow lies deep over all the ground, and the thermometer goes down far below zero on these heights, three-quarters of a mile above sea-level, these hardy creatures still manage to subsist. The beautiful, yellowish and reddish-brown skins are singularly impervious to the cold, and depth of snow merely gives them desirable exercise. With their hoofs and horns they dig away the snow from over banks of the so-called "reindeer moss" and come out the following spring in good condition.
The entire growth of antlers we see now has been made since those of last year were shed in the spring. While still short, soft and tender ("in the velvet," as sportsmen say), through the spring these animals are peaceable with each other. The lengthening and sharpening and hardening of those splendid, spreading branches takes place at a very rapid rate, and before winter they will be tough as flint, ready for duty as swords in some reindeer duel. At this present time of year—midsummer—the creatures roam long distances, so their Lapp friend reports, often feeding one day forty or fifty miles from where they were a day or two before. Their tolerance of the Lapp himself is partly owing to a curious sort of mutual understanding which seems to exist between them, and partly to the explicit fact that he carries salt with him—a dainty for which they share the traditional appetite of domesticated cattle.
Later in our journey we shall see reindeer reduced to the state of servitude.
Sportsmen occasionally come up where we are now with guides, tents and provisions, for the sake of a shot at such big game. Campbell's Wild Norway tells of stalking a huge buck whose horns measured 51 inches long, with 29 inches beam. Major Ferryman's In the Norseman's Land has some exciting accounts of similar sport.
In clear weather like this to-day there is something magnificent about the very bigness of the open spaces of earth and sky, and the magnificence is curiously characteristic of Norway. You notice the strangely monotonous level of that gigantic ice field straight ahead fifteen or eighteen miles away against the north-ern sky. Just such are most of the high contours to be seen from the "Hardanger Vidda," as this huge open heath is called.
Bayard Taylor, whose book on Northern Travel fifty years ago awoke America to a realization of how much there is to see in Norway, said: ___
"Once upon the broad, level summit of a Norwegian fjeld, one would never guess what lovely valleys lie under those misty breaks which separate its immense lobes—what gashes of life and beauty penetrate its stony heart. There are, in fact, two Norways ; one above, a series of detached, irregular masses, bleak, snowy, wind-swept and heather-grown, inhabited by herdsmen and hunters ; one below—a ramification of narrow veins of land and water, with fields and forests, highways and villages."
When storms sweep over this bleak highland, even in midsummer, the desolation is something better to hear about than to experience. It sometimes rains or snows a week at a time, the wind sweeping across in great gusts, making it impossible to keep a tent in place except in some specially sheltered spot. It seems pretty evident that Nature never intended the region for human habitation.
The great glacier which we have just seen at the north is perpetually losing parts of its thick iceblanket ; their own weight drags them over the sides of the plateau and makes them scrape slowly down the side slopes, as the midsummer sun melts their lower edges.
Returning now down to the eastern end of the Eidfjord below Lake Oifjord (see the northeastern part of our map), our proposed route calls for an hour's row northeasterly to the head of a small inlet, and then involves a long hard tramp up through the valley known as the Simodal, towards a part of the great glacier. A professional guide accompanies travelers, for it is a rough, wild country, with hardly any signs of habitation—a bad place in which to lose one's way and be overtaken by an avalanche or a sudden storm. Part way up a ravine we pause at the point which the map marks 46 and look ahead.