A survival guide for Norwegian nature

  • Preikestolen, Lysefjorden.
    Photo
    Shutterstock (Image-ID: 163322795)

Norwegian nature can be as stunning as it can be terrifying. Foreigners can easily be caught off guard if unprepared, so here is a quick survival guide for non-Norwegians eager to sample the best of Norwegian nature.

A survival guide for Norwegian nature

This summer, Norwegian media have been filled with news of ill-prepared tourists having to be rescued from some of Norway’s most stunning nature attractions – such as Trolltunga, one of Norway’s most spectacular scenic cliffs.

So if you venture out on one of the many stunning or cosy classical excursions available in Norwegian nature, you better pay heed to that old Scout-motto of being well prepared – no matter if it is trekking in the mountains, hiking in the forests or going on a glacier tour.

Here are some tips from researchers at The Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) on how you can best prepare for Norway’s nature and wildlife.

Tourists make mistakes

«We pay close attention to the development of nature-based tourism in Norway and have observed that there are equipment and expertise challenges. In recent years we have seen this at some of our major nature attractions such as Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock) at Lysefjord and Trolltunga (Troll tounge) near Tyssedal,» said Knut Fossgard, a researcher in the research group «Nature based tourism» at The Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU).

«Unfortunately, we have seen tourists make mistakes regarding clothing, equipment and general knowledge about hiking in rugged terrain. In addition, the weather in Norway may change quickly and in many places the terrain is demanding,» Fossgard continued.

Hurrungane

Hurrungane, a mountain range in the municipalities Luster and Årdal in Sogn og Fjordane, Norway, that is part of Jotunheimen National Park.

Photo
Heidi Degnes-Ødemark

Not all hikes and tours as demanding as hiking to Trolltunga

A NMBU-masters degree student studying nature based tourism, Peter Fredheim Oma, is currently writing a masters thesis on the risks associated with hiking to Trolltunga, one of the most spectacular scenic cliffs in Norway.

According to Fjordnorway.com «Trolltunga is situated about 1100 meters above sea level, hovering 700 metres above lake Ringedalsvatnet.The hike takes 10-12 hours (23 km in total to Trolltunga and return) and the ascent is about 900 meters. It is a long and hard hike.»

Oma told Bergens Tidende (in Norwegian) that he found many tourists did not have any experience at all, and did not realize how demanding it is to walk 23 km to and from Trolltunga in rugged Norwegian terrain.

However, not all tours and hikes in Norway are that demanding or require much expertise in packing.

«An increasing number of trails in Norway will also be marked by the new labelling system where colour codes indicate difficulty,» said Fossgard, and added:

«This is particularly true in urban and sub-urban areas such as Ås. You still need appropriate footwear and clothing, and to bring drink and food, but here you will find hikes that are easy compared to what can be the case in the mountains and in the wilderness,» he concluded.

Ticks a bigger threat than polar bears

However, there is also a fair chance of running into Norway’s fauna when you are out hiking. What should you prepare for?

Foreigners might associate Norway with polar bears and fear meeting wild polar bears while out walking.

But if you read Norwegian newspapers you will soon realise that ticks are considered a much bigger threat than polar bears in most of Norway -  the latter being confined to Svalbard, an archipelago in the Arctic ocean North of Norway. If, incidentally, you are visiting Svalbard while in Norway and are worried about polar bears, see advice on how to deal with polar bears here.

Isbjørnhann

Male polar bear.

Photo
Shutterstock (Image-ID: 129340376)

And if you should see a polar bear in a Norwegian street in any other part of Norway than Svalbard, especially in the dead of night, Norwegian author and comedian Odd Børretzen suggests in the seminal book «How to use and understand a Norwegian: A users manual and trouble-shooter’s guide»: «...you should tentatively say to the animal: 'Good evening?' If the polar bear answers, 'Shutyourbigmouth!' or something that sounds like this, in all likelihood, this is not a polar bear but a Norwegian on his way home from a party.»

In contrast to the polar bear, a threat subject to extensive coverage by Norwegian media each summer is a tiny little creature which mostly goes unnoticed unless it attaches itself to man or one of his pets.

Ticks are small spiderlike mites (arachnids) that bite into your skin and draw blood – and sometimes transmit dangerous infections in the process.

Tick-borne diseases

Interreg-finansiert forskningsprosjekt skal se forske mer på behandling og vaksiner mot flåttborne sykdommer. Flåtten regnes som den verste smittesprederen blant blodsugerne i Nord-Europa.

Tick.

Photo
Erik Karits / Shutterstock
Ticks can spread Lyme disease (Borreliosis), Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE), a viral infectious disease involving the central nervous system which most often manifests as meningitis, encephalitis or meningoencephalitis - or Anaplasmosis, an illness caused by the bacterium Anaplasma phagocytophilium that can be serious or even fatal if not treated correctly.

Several tick species have been found in Norway, and they are mainly found along the coast of southern Norway up to Brønnøysund, especially in areas were deer are located.

The main species is Ixodes ricinus, which is mainly active from April to November.

«If you travel in such as areas, the best advice to avoid tick-borne infections is to remove the tick within 24 hours of attachment, i.e. look for ticks every evening and remove the attached species. However, TBE-virus could be transmitted earlier, but this infection is mainly found in southern parts Norway. You can also use insect repellents, but they only last for a few hours. Dogs on the other hand, can be protected from tick bites for months using special collars or through an oral application. If possible, you should avoid camping in an area with rich vegetation and high deer density,» explained Professor Snorre Stuen at The Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU), an expert on ticks and tick-borne diseases.

Should you get a red ring in the skin around the area of a tick bite which is more than 5 cm in diameter, or you get flu-like symptoms 1-2 weeks after a tick bite, you should seek medical advice.

Wasps, mosquitoes and other insects

Other insects people sometimes worry about in Norwegian nature are wasps and mosquitoes, but compared to the threat of ticks and tick-borne diseases they are not really anything to worry about unless you are allergic to wasp stings.

«It is worth emphasizing that mosquitoes in Norway do not transmit any diseases. They can be irritating, but they are not dangerous. If you are worried about mosquito bites, you can apply a repellent on your clothes or skin. Personally I also think pulling a mosquito net over a hat or cap can be useful. Wasp stings can hurt, but they are not dangerous - except for the few people who are allergic to them,» said Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson, a professor in conservation biology at NMBU who also is one of the main contributors to the popular research blog «Insektøkologene» («The Insect ecologists»).

However, it is worth taking care that you do not incidentally swallow a wasp while eating outside - as stings in the mouth or throat can lead to potentially dangerous swelling. If you are stung inside the mouth or throat, or in another sensitive area such as close to the eye, nostril or ear you need to seek medical attention even if you are not allergic.

Snakes

The only venomous snake in Norway is the Common European viper or adder. Even though it is venomous, its bites are not often serious and rarely deadly – but you should seek immediate medical attention if you are bitten by one.

«If you encounter an adder you should really just leave it alone. It is afraid of big creatures such as human beings. It may wheeze to get us to keep our distance, but the best thing to do is really just to walk away. It is an animal one should have respect for, and some people are allergic to its poison,» said Vidar Selås, Professor in ecology and natural resource management at NMBU, and added:

«If it is a full grown viper and you have to remove it, e.g. from just outside the cabin you are staying in with your family, you can lift it by its tail and carry it away. Of the three snakes you can encounter in Norwegian nature, the non-venomous grass snake and smooth snake can still bite you if you lift them by their tales, but a full grown viper won’t manage to - however, a baby viper will». 

Elks and bears

«Norwegian elk are less aggressive than North American ones, where the moose is considered an animal one should watch out for. But even in Norway elk attacking humans do occasionally occur. These are mainly attacks of a short duration where the elk will kick with its front legs. It is especially cows with calves that can resort to such attacks. A sign that the elk is aggressive is if it flattens its ears against its head and its neck hair bristle. Those are signs you should withdraw quietly the same way you came from,» said Leif Egil Loe, Professor in wildlife ecology and management at NMBU.

But overall, encountering elk in Norwegian nature involves very little risk and is a sight that should be enjoyed, not feared. 

Norway also has a small population of brown bears, but «A hiker or berry picker has little reason to fear bears. The bear will do what it can to ensure that people do not discover it. And when it senses that it has been detected, it will most likely run away as fast as it can,» NMBU-researcher Ole-Gunnar Støen recently told VG.

 .

Norway has a small population of brown bears.

Photo
Jon Swenson

Støen is part of the research team behind The Scandinavian Brown Bear Research Project, a project that maps and examines the ecology of brown bears in Scandinavia.

A Norwegian brochure on brown bears, based on the findings of this research project, but put together by the Norwegian Environment Agency, confirms that the threat of meeting brown bears in Norwegian nature is also statistically limited: although there are over 3000 bears in all of Scandinavia, less than 200 of these live fully or partly in Norway.

Overall, wild animals you can encounter in Norwegian nature, such as elk or bear, would rather avoid human beings if possible.

Dangerous situations are rare, and can primarily occur if you surprise the animal in a way that it feels threatened – or if you provoke it. If in addition you make noise to signal your presence, animals such as wolves, elk and bear will do their best to avoid you.

Oh, and don’t even attempt to get a selfie with any of these creatures. If in doubt, Norway’s tourism board has its own webpage for safe selfie guidelines called #Befsafie.

More helpfull tips:

The Norwegian mountain code

Labelling system with colour codes indicate difficulty 

Packing lists from The Norwegian Trekking Association 

Safe selfie guidelines

Published 28. September 2016 - 13:48 - Updated 23. May 2017 - 19:11