Scandinavian Mountains over 2000 metres - James Baxter
Rondane is a mountain massif in Central Norway, lying between the two major valley of Gudbrandsdalen and Østerdalen. In 1962 A large area of this area, nearly 600 km², was designated a national park, Norway's first.
The national park was partly set up to protect the fragile environment of Rondane which due to a dearth of soil nutrients supports a limited but unique vegetation. This sparse vegetation has not conducive to domestic grazing there is little history of summer pastoralism in Rondane. This has enabled the native wild herd of reindeer to survive better here than in other area.
Rondane is a not a particularly alpine region and the generally rounded mountains are more or less glacier free. The ice ages have certainly left their mark, however, and all the four high massifs which make up Rondane have been heavily influenced by glacial erosion. These fours massifs Rondvasshøgdi, Høgronden Smiubelgen and Stygghøin are divided by three deep valleys Dørålen, Rondvassdalen and Langglupdalen. Three of these four massifs proudly boast mountains over 2000 metres.
The climate of Rondane is almost continental with relatively little rain compared to other mountain areas in Scandinavia.
Perhaps the overall defining characteristic feature of Rondane is the rock from which it is built namely Sparagmite, a sedimentary sandstone type which breaks by frost action into large blocks which further weather into smaller block and slabs. This is very apparent on the ridges especially in the Smiubelgen massif where large pillars of blocks are stacked up waiting for a bit more frost action before they collapse breaking into slabs and these in turn smaller blocks.
The nature of this sedimentary geology in Rondane has also allowed recent glaciers to grind deep steep-sided corries in the massifs. These glacial and frost-shattering processes have produced a vast debris of broken slabs and smaller blocks. This debris has often been transported by the recent glaciers to the valleys surrounding the massifs where it forms an compact layer covering over the whole landscape.
Although the stones in this landscape weather and erode quite readily into gravels and sands that are very poor in nutrients. Furthermore due to the porosity of the stony surface water is scarce and plants must be able to withstand occasional arid conditions.
As a consequence of the poor soil conditions and the harsh climate the vegetation of Rondane is limited. Pine, Pinus sylvestris, and to a much lesser extent Spruce, Picea abies, dominate the lower forests in the large valleys which fringe the massif. Due to the less favourable conditions of Rondane this forest peters out at lower altitudes than usual.
By 950 metres these larger trees are generally replaced by the smaller mountain birch, Betula pubescens ssp. czerepanovii, which extend into the lower reaches of the smaller higher valleys. The mountain birch themselves are in turn replaced by their much hardier cousins, the knee high shrub dwarf birch, Betula nana, which thrives from 1050 metres up to 1200 metres.
Various plants in the heath family, Ericaceae, especially in the Vaccinium genus, like cranberry and blueberry take over as the main plant types once life has become too harsh for the dwarf birch, but they struggle to exist in the Rondane above 1300 metres.
Above this it is just the hardy lichens that prosper. The "reindeer lichen" Cladonia rangifera, which flourishes in the pine forests and beyond the tree line up to 1450 metres, almost carpets some of the stone field plateaus. Above 1500 metres the climate is to severe even got this tuft like woolly lichen and only the yellow/green "map lichen" Rhizocarpon geographicum thrives on the rocks and boulders of the higher slopes and in the corries above 1400 metres.
There used to be large herds of wild native reindeer which migrated across large tracts of Scandinavia. These herds have greatly diminished in the recent centuries and the surviving herds have had their migrations curtailed. Rondane is host to one of these few surviving wild herds. This is largely due to the geology which ensured limited agricultural development and an abundance of the reindeer lichen. In addition, some of the regions in Rondane, Langbotn and Verkilsdalsbotn corries in particular, are very remote and provide good sanctuaries for today's herd especially during the calving.
The reindeer no longer migrate to the fiords but winter in Rondane where there is sufficient lichen buried under the snow and the pine forests provide some protection. There are some Elk in the pine forest surrounding Rondane. A few wolverine also thrive in the higher valleys of Rondane where the scavenge or prey on the reindeer. However wolverine are very elusive animals and are seldom seen. Birdlife is quite sparse in Rondane.
Rondane is exceptional in Scandinavian as it is the one of the few high mountain areas that enjoys a climate that is not dominated by maritime influences and Atlantic low pressure fronts. As a rule therefore rainfall is much lower than in West Jotunheimen and temperatures vary to greater extremes. In the winter it can get down to -40 C, while in the summer it can get up to 30 C. In the winter one can expect blocked access roads, occasional storms, short days and severely cold temperatures.
Spring can be a excellent time to visit with some superb ski-touring. During May and early June all the winter snows are melting travel unpleasant and frustrating-the area is best avoided. Late June, July, August and September are excellent summer months to visit.
Skranglehaugan is a unique relic of the last ice age. A moraine covered glacier accumulated in the Dørålen valley just south of Dørålseter. Towards the end of this ice age this glacier became stationary and covered in an insulating layer of moraine became dead or dormant ice. Over the centuries this ice slowly melted. The covering moraine and sand settled with the melting ice and eventually formed deep pits as the last of the ice melted. Today the whole area of nearly a km² is covered in funnel shaped holes that lie adjacent to each other. Some of the holes contain small tarns.
Reindeer calving occurs in Rondane during May and the first half of June. As the herds are completely wild they are very timid and easily frightened. If disturbed the fickle animals will run off and are reluctant to return until the perceived danger has passed. It is vulnerable period for the new born calves made even more so if the herd is scattered by walkers. Because of this visiting Rondane during these 7 weeks is discouraged. All the DNT cabins are closed for the duration of the calving period. This also includes the self-service cabins. It is not a particularly good period of the year to visit Rondane anyway.
Animal Pit Traps
Animal pit traps were used across the arctic regions to trap predominantly reindeer, and occasionally moose. Reindeer traps are pits about 2 metres deep, 2 metres long and just over ½ metre wide. The pits would be located along narrowing of routes which reindeer frequented and covered over with twigs and moss. The reindeer would have crashed through this covering into the pit. The pits were lined with large slabs which were slightly were overhanging. Once in there would be no way for the animal to get out and they were easily killed. The oldest trapping sites have been dated as year 0; the most recent were in use right up until the 1800’s.
Autumn colours are very vibrant in the Rondane. This is especially so on the eastern side where in Atnadalen. Perhaps the most magnificent of all is up the Doral valley in the vicinity of Dørålseter. It is usually at it most magnificent in mid to late September. The dry alpine landscape is suited to birch trees and scrub and cranberry bushes which seem to turn into a blaze of colour during this period. With the backdrop of Hogronden massif and a foreground of tranquil tarns the area is a photographers paradise.
Canyons have been formed in a number of place in Rondane. and appeared when the ice ace last ice age disappeared 10,000 years ago. The most famous is perhaps Jutulhogget just to the west of Rondvassbu across the lake. There is also a canyon to the south of Bjørnhollia in the valleys of Illmanndalen and Skjerdalen. The biggest of these canyons is to the north of Bjørnhollia at Myldingsgjelet. The canyons around Bjørnhollia are very lush and have a unique vegetation. In the summer months they are well worth a visit.