Are There Mountain Hares High in the Alps?

A few years ago I have seen a trail in the snow exactly on the summit of Geisterspitze. But recently, in my tour to Piz Paradisin, I have actually seen the animal.

There are indeed the so-called blue mountain rabbits or mountain hares very high in the Alps. They live in the most extreme conditions, far above the areas where you see marmots, without any visible vegetation. In fact, you can expect to find them on high summits well over 3000 meters of elevation.

If you visit my site Mountains for Everybody, you will see the text about Punta degli Spiriti (or Geisterspitze, 3467 m). This is a completely glaciated summit close to the Stelvio Pass. I climbed the mountain a few years ago, and exactly on the summit I have seen this what you have in the picture below:

Hare trail on the summit.
Hare trail on the summit.

Observe that there are rocks visible, so these are areas where the snow is melted. But all surrounding areas are completely covered by ice. In fact, the lower areas around are a summer skiing resort. At that moment, I did not know what animal this was about, so I forgot about it.

However, these days I was in Livigno area and climbed several peaks over 3000 meters. One of them was Pizzo Paradisino (Piz Paradisin) 3302 meters, the highest in the area. This is a remarkable mountain with well over 800 meters of prominence, and the route is long and exhausting.

Well, there, only around 100 meters below the summit, close to the area from where you have to perform a scramble to get to the top, I have actually seen the animal.

This was what is known as blue hare or mountain hare. It was a sudden encounter, and I was not able to react fast enough to take a photo of it. Its bluish color was indeed so peculiar.

But I can show you the area where this happened. It is not glaciated, but this is the north side of the mountain and the terrain is extremely inhospitable. See how it looks:

The area where I saw the blue hare.
The area where I saw the blue hare.

By the way, this is the border between Italy and Switzerland, but these mountain hares would not care. More importantly, there is no vegetation here or anywhere close, so how they survive is a true miracle.

From the previously given link to Wikipedia you will learn that they may feed on twigs and bark. But hey, what bark and twigs, there are no plants here.

I searched a bit more and found a true scientific study about these animals in the South Tyrol area. They found out that the European hare is a strong competitor for the Alpine mountain hare, and the mountain hare may be displaced with the European hare.

So seeing the mountain hares at such extreme elevations may be their way of escaping competitors by moving higher, all the way to the mountain tops. Apparently, they may live even at 3800 meters of elevation.

Summer skiing probably does not help their existence, so because of this they probably move even higher. In some other source, I read that they may live up to 12 years, and weigh 2-5 kg.

They also rarely drink water, and newborn mountain hares survive because their mother licks them constantly to improve their blood circulation.

Apparently, in winter they change the color and they look like the one in the picture (not my own, it is from a free source). But they live anyhow in the zone of a permanent winter, so I am a but puzzled with their blue color which I have seen.

This is how the blue mountain hare looks in winter.
This is how the blue mountain hare looks in winter.

So the blue mountain hare is a fascinating animal. I wish to stress that I have not seen them on lower elevations, or if I have seen something, those are probably not the same type. You must go very high to see the blue ones.

But then again, after four decades of mountaineering, I have seen only one. So do not get too excited, they are rare.

This site is all about outdoors questions and answers and I add texts here on a regular basis, so bookmark it and keep as a reference. Please use the comment box below in the case of questions or comments.

For more text about mountaineering and similar stuff, please check under the category Mountaineering. In particular, read my text that gives an answer to the question about a country with the most beautiful Alps. You will realize that the answer is far from easy. Thank you for reading and have a nice day.

 
Me on Jalovec.Hi, I am Jovo, the founder of this OutdoorsFAQs site and several other outdoor sites. I have been mountaineering for almost 40 years already, and I have created this site to use as a reference for various questions that I receive in my sites. Being a theoretical physicist by profession, I tend to base my answers on facts and on my own personal experience.

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