So here I am at Treriksröset, the border stone of Finland, Sweden, and Norway, and I’ve got to return to civilization as soon as possible. Booking.com said Birtavarre Camping reception closes at 20:00, and it was about 15:00 at the moment, and walking the trail from the parking lot at Northern Lights Road to Treriksröset in first place took me 3.5 hours. As exhausted as I was, I couldn’t afford to waste much time.
Do you know why the Schengen Agreement was signed in Schengen? And, come to think of it, what the hell is Schengen? Turns out it is a border village in Luxembourg, and the agreement was signed at the point where the borders of Luxembourg, Germany, and France meet (on a boat in a river since the border there follows a river), for sheer symbolism and the like. Schengen thus is probably the best known similar tripoint.
Treriksröset (Swed. Three Country Stone) where borders of Finland, Sweden, and Norway meet is less known but still fairly popular and accessible as far as tripoints go. A 11.5 km long trail (well, some signs say 11 km and some 12 km) leads there from a parking lot at Kilpisjärvi village. The trail goes through Malla Strict Nature Reserve, past a few of the Scandinavian Mountains, in a harsh treeless landscape offering many scenic views. And after driving for 250 km down the Northern Lights Road from Äkäslompolo to Kilpisjärvi, I was ready to explore this trail.
If you’re wondering, the second tripoint of Finland is where Finland, Norway, and Russia meet, at a place called Muotkavaara. The landscape at Muotkavaara is flat and boggy, very different from Treriksröset. It is harder to reach (and crossing into Russian sector there is technically forbidden), the best bet would be going through Øvre Pasvik National Park in Norway. No other tripoints in any Nordic countries exist. I kind of want to visit Muotkavaara too but I’m deterred by the fact that Øvre Pasvik has the greatest population of bears in entire Norway.
If you look at the map of Finland, you will notice that its shape does not have many interesting features, except one: the Arm of Finland, its appendage in the far northwest of the country, over 100 km long and wedged in between Sweden and Norway. The common Finnish name for this territory is Käsivarsi (literally “an arm”); it is also often referred to as Enontekiö, which is the name of the municipality entirely encompassing this part of the country.
Why is it called specifically “the arm” rather than any other body part? Well, you see, there used to be two arms. The right arm was called Petsamo. With two arms, Finland’s shape could be said to resemble a woman a tiny bit, which fit well with the image of the Maiden of Finland, a traditional personification of the country. Petsamo, which actually was originally a Russian territory known as Pechenga, was reclaimed by the Soviet Union in 1945 after the war. Since then Finland has been one-armed.
The Arm of Finland is a very peculiar land. This is the only place in the country where you can see actual huge jagged mountains, completely unlike rolling fells of Pallas-Yllästunturi. These are the Scandinavian Mountains, the great mountain chain which Northern Sweden and pretty much entire Norway owe their stunning landscapes to. The climate of Käsivarsi is harsher than in the rest of Lapland, too; mostly too harsh for any forests other than patches of stunted birch to exist, even. There are not many things to do in Käsivarsi other than hiking, but for hiking it’s absolutely perfect.
The only road in Käsivarsi is Valtatie 21, the Northern Lights Road, which still follows Muonio River (and Könkämäeno River which forms the upper course of Muonio) here up to the very border of Norway. The region is very sparsely populated, with only a few minor villages along the Northern Lights Road; the total population of Enontekiö Municipality is only 1,900 (and the biggest village named Hetta is in Fell Lapland, not within Käsivarsi “appendage”). There’s a significant (19%) Sami minority in the area, enough that road signs are bilingual, with place names duplicated in a bizarre Northern Sami language. The tiny local economy is based on tourism, reindeer husbandry, and local services.
Probably the best known place of interest in Käsivarsi is Treriksröset (Swed. Three Countries Stone). It is the point where borders of Finland, Sweden, and Norway meet. It is relatively accessible; an 11.5 km long trail leads to it from Kilpisjärvi, the northernmost village of Käsivarsi.
Immediately after Kilpisjärvi there is a customs building, a small sign saying Norge, and then Troms County of Northern Norway begins. The Northern Lights Road, designated in Norway simply as European Route E8, descends from the mountains to the sea level in 50 more kilometers, reaching the Arctic Ocean and Route E6, the trunk road of Norway, at the shore of the huge Lyngenfjord. From there you could drive to Tromsø, the largest city of Northern Norway, or around valleys, fjords, and islands, as countless there as they are in the more often visited Western Norway.
So… Since I happened to be relatively close to Käsivarsi, I decided it would be downright criminal not to visit at the very least Treriksröset and Lyngenfjord. The original idea was to visit both of them in one day, which would need a 600 km drive and a 23 km hike. That was theoretically doable, and I even got up at 4 AM intending to set out very early. But then, having difficulties getting out of my bed, I checked Booking.com and found that a camping in a village named Birtavarre near Lyngenfjord offered cabins at a very reasonable price. So I decided to make this a two day trip, and booked a cabin right away. This meant I was less time-constrained, and I hoped to drive around Norway on the following day — without any specific destination in mind, just driving around fjords.
On the fourth day of my stay in Lapland I intended to make a very big drive followed by a very big walk. Thus on the third day of my stay in Lapland I decided to go easy on myself. After some planning with a map and on the Internet, I chose two destinations which didn’t require a lot of walking: a small seida stone near Äkäsmylly water mill, and a huge seida stone at Äkässaivo lake. As the names suggest, both places are located near Äkäs river, upstream from Äkäslompolo.
Seida stones are the ancient Sami places of worship. They were used for animal and object sacrifices. The Sami had their shamanistic faith, focusing in particular on worshipping the dead and bears. They were converted into Christianity, somewhat forcefully, mostly in the 17th century. I wasn’t all that interested in Sami faith, and chose these stones as destinations pretty much because of their location.
Both Äkässaivo and Äkäsmylly are located to the north of Äkäslompolo, in about 15 and 20 kilometers, respectively. So they required a little bit of driving. I decided to drive to Äkäsmylly first.
On my second day in Fell Lapland, I decided to try something a bit more exciting than exploring the village and the easiest trails. I wanted to climb one of the fells, and spend a lot of time in the morning deliberating on the choice of that fell. With this and working on photos and letters, I set out only at 2 PM, having failed to really decide on anything. I drove to Kellokas nature center, intending to buy a map and start my walk there. The distance from my cabin to Kellokas was only about two kilometers, but I decided to drive rather than walk anyway, to conserve energy for later.
I was taken aback by how many cars there were at Kellokas parking lot. It felt a lot more crowded than, say, Jounin Kauppas supermarket parking lot. It looked like I wasn’t the only one who wanted to go hiking. Nonetheless I only met a few people during that day.
I can’t really explain what is the exact purpose of Kellokas nature center, as I don’t really know myself. It has a map and souvenir shop, a cafeteria, a library, probably other things. I quickly found the map I wanted, which was the same one I saw on an information board at Ylläs skiing slopes the previous day, only pocket-sized. €6 felt like rather a lot for such a small map. It was really extremely useful though, and I guess the national park must make at least a bit of money somehow. It’s not like they can charge simply for entering; that would be a violation of the ancient Everyman’s Right.
I looked through the rest of the shop’s inventory, but didn’t find anything particularly notable. There were lots of other maps, including some of rather remote areas like Kilpisjärvi or Utsjoki. The souvenirs were more or less what you would expect, including cloudberry sauce and jam. I was more interested in cloudberry liqueur, but as with any hard alcohol in Finland, that could only be found in a specialized Alko store.
After examining the map, I decided I wanted to walk a trail named Tähtipolku (Finn. Star Trail), which climbed Kesänki Fell (it’s KEH-san-kee by the way) through Pirunkuru Ravine. At this, I set out from Kellokas.