In the course of planning our recent hiking trip in the moors of the Jämtland Mountains, we were warned repeatedly by many different people about the mosquitos, but no one said anything about the reindeer.
It turned out that the near constant wind, combined with chilly night-time temperatures, kept the mosquitoes pretty much at bay. The reindeer were a completely different story. They were not just curious about us when we passed near them, they actually seemed to seek us out.
When a small herd crossed the trail fairly close to us the first day, we thought we’d had a one-of-a-kind close encounter with these animals. Turns out it was just the first of many.
The next morning, I was in the tent packing up our sleeping bags when Dr. Darling, who was outside making breakfast, suddenly called out, “Honey, I don’t know what to do about the reindeer that’s headed right for me.”
I stuck my head out the door of the tent to see a large adult with a full set of antlers trotting up the hill toward the Swede, which would have been more surprising than alarming if it hadn’t been for the baby deer following close behind her. We both knew that even the most docile of animals can be quite aggressive if they feel their offspring is threatened.
I scrambled out of the tent hoping that the sudden presence of two of us would cause it to change course, but it just kept coming with the young one not far behind. I quickly looked around for something to ward it off with, but we had nothing except for the pan of oatmeal simmering away on the Trangia stove that we could even throw in its direction. And that’s about the time it slowed to a walk and circled up around the back side of the tent.
Dr. Darling, now confident that she was not going to be gored by reindeer antlers, grabbed her camera and began shooting away. In the meantime, several other deer that we hadn’t even noticed came up the hill to join mother and baby. They came so close that at times we could have reached out and touched them. We speculated that we must have set up camp in a particularly good grazing area for them, and they hung around with us until we started to pack up the tent.
But then the VERY SAME THING happened the next morning, though this time the little herd seemed especially interested in the spot we had selected the previous night as our bathroom. (We always designate a specific place so we don’t risk tracking through each other’s wiz and bringing it into the tent.) Evidently the scent of our pee was very inviting and they spent a lot of time pawing the ground around it, which proceeded to expose our carefully buried bio-degradable toilet paper, thank you very much.
At this point we began to suspect that the reindeer in this particular area of the Jåmtland Triangle were either occasionally fed by hikers (which is totally against the rules) or just liked to root around campsites for interesting smells and snacks unintentionally left behind. We had reindeer in our camp every morning and often heard them very close to our tent at night. It was very cool and slightly un-nerving all at the same time.
So the next time somebody asks me how we dealt with the mosquitoes in the mountains, I’m going to tell them not to worry about the bugs but beware of Bambi.