The one thing about planning trips every year is that they come around so damn quickly. I remember planning the Northshots musk ox trip with great excitement and before I knew it, six of us were driving in a minivan out of Trondheim towards the Dovrefjell National Park in Norway. The 3 hour drive in winter is really picturesque although it can get a little hairy with the speeding trucks and narrow snow lined roads. Mark Hamblin, our tour leader / photographer / rally driver, did a sterling job of keeping us out of any ditches and from under the thundering wheels of the speeding behemoths.
We met up for a quick briefing with Roy Mangersnes, guide and photographer, who would guide us up into the land of the musk ox. So after a tasty dinner we settled into the Army barracks for the night. Oh….did I mention it was bloody cold.
The following morning we met up with the dog sled teams and were asked to assist in getting these louder than loud beasties harnessed up to the sled. It was the first time this boy from Africa had done this and I loved every minute of it. Everyone did really, even those who got urinated on, which was quite common place. All our camera bags and tripods were packed into the sleds and were whisked up to the foot of a small hill where musk ox had been seen. Three of us were given snowshoes and had to walk after the sleds for a while which was another first for me. Bearing in mind that I am the proud owner of a larger than life chassis, without these plastic snow flippers I simply went through the snow, up to my hips. So walking on top of the soft stuff and not falling through was a novel concept for me.
Once we put our backpacks on and headed up the hill, it became clear that despite being athletic and reasonably fit, snow and hill walking were going to use muscles that were long since dormant. All was forgotten when we sighted a small group of 9 musk ox foraging in a snow free area. As Roy was quick to point out to us, these beasties like to rummage around in exposed areas of the mountain for food, and those particular areas were the most exposed areas to the wind. Oh….did I mention it was bloody cold.
We settled down to some good photography and I managed to get some photos that I had visualised before I left on the trip, so I was happy to get them in the bag. This proved fortuitous as I buggered up my knee and had to sit the second day out in a warm cabin next to a log fire. I won’t go into just how windy it was on then second day and how great the photography would have been – I have blanked it from my mind.
So thanks to some ibuprofen and paracetamol provided to me by one of the other kind photographers, I managed to get up the hill on the third day. The weather was sunny and clear but the musk oxen proved very elusive. It was one of those days as a wildlife photographer where you put in a big effort and nature says thanks a lot but come back another time. I managed a few ‘musk ox at a distance’ photos before we called it a day and headed back down.
On the final day, we were out before sunrise to get some dawn landscape photography of Snøhetta, the highest mountain in the Dovrefjell mountain range. I am not a landscape photographer by any means so it was great to have Mark and Roy on hand for a bit of tuition even though the -19 degree temperature made for very cold hands and fingers. Hats off to these Landscape nutters.
Thanks to everyone for a great trip. I would love to go back in the autumn for some photography of these wonderful creatures in the Norwegian autumn landscape.