VII. Three Borders Point

Malla Strict Nature Reserve, Kilpisjärvi Municipality, Lapland Region, Finland

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Next: VIII. 70th Parallel


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.

1. My car left at the parking lot near the Northern Lights Road. Saana Mountain is on the other side of the road, and remains unvisited for now. There is a legend linking Saana and Malla mountains as star-crossed lovers; Saana was the guy and Malla was the girl, and they were about to get married, but another fell named Pältsä grew jealous, and, together with Lapland witches, made this whole area so frigid and harsh that it is encased in ice and snow for most of the year now. Malla cried a lot, and from her tears Kilpisjärvi lake was formed. I’m not sure exactly how the climate prevented her from having a happy marriage, what with them being mountains and all, but that certainly is a touching tale anyway. There is a song on the subject, named Haltin häät (Finn. Wedding at Halti).

Before leaving I put on my winter boots, and put some sandwiches and a half-full bottle of iced tea in my bag. Despite the fact that I love to explore relatively remote and less often visited places, I still don’t really have any hiking equipment, other than a cheap compass. No sleeping bag, tent, not even a proper backpack, just a shoulder bag I take everywhere. I never actually went on any hikes that lasted longer than a day. I had a sleeping bag once but I used it only a few times when I attempted long distance hitchhiking some seven years ago; I don’t even remember what happened to that sleeping bag. Actually it was this walk to Treriksröset that made me curious about more serious hiking, and I hope to buy some equipment by the summer of 2016, and try starting with something simple, like staying in a tent at a camping, or going to some Finnish island with a tent for a weekend, or walking Salpa Line Trail or some other trail that is short enough and doesn’t require a whole day of driving just to reach it.

2. Well, off I go.

3. Almost immediately there was a bridge over some rapids, connecting smaller Siilasjärvi lake, pictured, to Kilpisjärvi.

4. More Siilasjärvi.

5. The trail then went uphill for quite some time. I didn’t research Treriksröset trail enough and it didn’t even occur to me that it would be quite mountainous. For some reason I imagined I would just be walking through some forest, like when I went to see Seitakivi rock the day before. Well, I was wrong. The first section of the trail goes uphill fairly steeply, then for most of the way it goes on top of a plateau and around a mountain, and the final section is downhill again. The uphill/downhill sections go through some stunted birch forests but eventually the trail rises above the treeline.

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7. I think I picked the best time of year for my trip that I could. Winter is, well, winter, and spring comes late here anyway. Summer is nicer but it reportedly has huge numbers of mosquitos and gnats. And the grass cover is much prettier in autumn anyway. Finnish language has a word for the time of autumn when grass and trees get strikingly yellow or red, ruska; we call it “golden autumn” in Russian. There had been quite a bit of green around Äkäslompolo, but here in Käsivarki ruska apparently was in full strength.

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9. I climbed the last ridge and was utterly awestruck by the views that opened. Just endless bare fells disappearing into the mist.

10. The huge boulder, some ten meters high, and cracked in two, marks the place where a trail to the summit of Pikku Malla mountain branches off. I was out of breath after climbing the plateau, and the weather got rather poor, with strong wind blowing sharp sleet in my face. I sat down near the boulder which shielded me against the wind, and ate my sandwiches, considering my options. Maybe I should just go to Pikku Malla (only 1 km more) and call it a day. On the other hand I was here to go to Treriksröset (some 8-9 km more), wasn’t I? After all I always could turn back. I was in no danger of getting lost; the trail was very obvious and marked with the same orange-topped poles. And my phone actually kept excellent reception all the way to Treriksröset. It was a bit surreal getting notification from a Slack chat at work in these landscapes.

By the way, this place is a strict natural reserve, not a national park, and very different rules apply. You’re allowed to walk the marked trails but that’s about it. You’re not allowed to go off trail, to pick berries (although there aren’t any anyway), or to put up a tent, unless you’re in mortal danger of course. There are 19 strict nature reserves in Finland, but they have much smaller area than national parks. Malla is just 30 sq. km large. The largest strict nature reserve by far is Kevo at Utsjoki, 712 sq. km large. By comparison, Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park is 1020 sq. km large, and the largest national park, Lemmenjoki at Inari, is 2850 sq. km large.

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12. Rainbow over Siilasjärvi Lake. Northern Lights Road can be made out to the right of the lake.

13. The trail goes past two small mountain lakes. This one is Mallalammit, I think.

14. These views made me think of The Lord of the Rings movie. The parts where they ride to Moria, or when Gandalf goes to Gondor. No seriously, the soundtrack just sounded in my head all the time.

15. After the plateau, the trail goes to Malla Mountain, and curves around its slope.

16. This area had some tiny patches of snow on the ground.

17. Some sort of a shelter was embedded into the ground near the trail.

18. It looked like a short wide pipe half-dug into the ground. One side was blocked by a wall and a door without a lock, and the other one opened up a bit like that. The shelter might save some lives in a storm, but it is quite possible that it dates from the war. It was the only one of its kind I saw, although some debris of a similar-looking pipe were also strewn around nearby.

19. The cliff to the right is the slope of Malla. The trail climbs its small side summit; a customary cairn was erected here. The sleet, which had stopped for a while, resumed and turned into more fluffy snow. I liked it — I felt like an explorer going through some uncharted territory, struggling against the elements and stuff.

20. The water surface far in the distance and below is an arm of Kilpisjärvi Lake. The smaller lake in front of it to the right is Harrisaivo, presumably another deep saivo lake.

21. Walking by a minor stone run.

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23. Sorry, couldn’t resist doing this.

24. The trail has to cross a stone run, and, to my amazement, it was much easier than expected. Lots of boulders along the trail were intentionally turned over flat side up, so you could just walk stepping from one stone to another instead of carefully finding a way through cracks and crevices. It must have taken a lot of effort to overturn these stones.

25. After the stone run, the trail continues along a rather steep slope. It was not difficult to walk, but if you somehow slipped here you could have broken a lot of bones.

26. Halfway there, or even a bit more actually! Kolmen valtakunnan rajapyykki is, as far as I understand, literally “Three Borders Point” in Finnish. No wonder that the Swedish Treriksröset name is used more often. (The Norwegian name is very similar, Treriksrøysa.)

27. And the halfway point to Treriksröset is marked by a great waterfall, named Kitsiputous, falling down a huge hole in the side of Malla. I had seen some waterfalls before, but they hadn’t been even remotely similar. For example, I had been at Korkeakoski near Kuopio about a month before; it was pretty high but it still was water just rushing down a steep slope, not outright falling vertically like at Kitsiputous. The river, named Kitsijoki, flows from near the top of Malla mountain into Harrisaivo lake.

28. You could have taken a shower here, if you’re into super strong icy cold showers.

29. The waterfall site frankly looks a bit odd, with lots of sharp jagged stratified rocks strewn around. As if someone had blown up the side of the mountain with some explosives. As usual, I could not find any in-depth information about the waterfall.

30. The stream is narrow enough it can be crossed by just hopping between stones. It continues below with several more smaller waterfalls, but none of them seem to feature similar vertical drops.

31. Continuing along the slope. The weather got better.

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35. Another plateau part of the trail, with one more improvised stream crossing.

36. Malla Mountain left behind (to the left).

37. The edge of the plateau. The descent through another stunted birch forest starts here. The lake ahead is Kolttajärvi where Treriksröset cairn is located (a little bit off shore, reachable with a plankway).

38. This forest would be pretty enough in its own right, but after open landscapes of the plateau it felt very dull. And of course I was pretty tired by that point. I tried not to think about how I would have to backtrack this entire trail again right away.

39. Judging by this signature, this plankway had apparently been built just a month and a half ago. There were a few piles of wood along it. I wonder how they delivered it here; in summer, helicopter or lots and lots of trips on foot are probably the only options. Some parts of the trail would be impassable for any vehicle or even a bike.

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41. The trail suddenly reached some fence. I was taken aback for a moment, but then I remembered that the last section of the trail follows the Finland-Norway border exactly. The border fence is meant against reindeer, not against humans. It is rather flimsy; it’s not made of barbed wire or put under voltage. And reindeer are supposed to wander around freely but them entering another state would have probably resulted in some complications.

42. I never saw any reindeer (or humans for that matter!) on this trail, but walking by the border fence I spotted two hen-shaped birds. It looks like this was a willow ptarmigan, the same bird featured on Enontekiö Municipality coat of arms. They seemed relatively fearless, but then, this is a strict nature reserve.

43. Almost there! Kuohkimajärvi and Kolttajärvi are the two lakes in Treriksröset area; Kuohkimajärvi (visible a bit here) is split between Finnish and Swedish territory, and Kolttajärvi (also often mentioned by its Sami name, Golddajávri) where the tripoint actually is located is otherwise almost entirely in Norway. In summer there are actually boat tours to Treriksröset from Kilpisjärvi; the boat takes you most of the way there, leaving you to walk just some two kilometers on easy terrain past Kuohkimajärvi. You may return to Kilpisjärvi on foot then (or do this the other way round, walk to Kilpisjärvi and take a boat back). The season however was too late for these boats, and besides, where would be the fun in that.

Kalottireitti sign reminds that this entire trail is just a tiny part of the great 800 km long Nordkalottruta hiking trail (known as Nordkalottleden in Sweden and Kalottireitti in Norway). I dream of walking this entire trail for real someday.

44. This border cairn is not Treriksröset, it’s just the penultimate border cairn. These yellow-painted cairns are common along the entire Finnish border.

45. An oddly-shaped, reindeer-impassable gap in the fence, which presumably strays from the exact border here a little, leads onto the shore of Kolttajärvi Lake. The lake was amazingly beautiful, greenish in color, resembling seawater, with wind blowing foam across the waves. I read that this lake sits exactly on the watershed, and its southern half flows into Baltic Sea all the way through Kuohkimajärvi, Kilpisjärvi, Könkämäeno, Muonio, and Torne, while its northern half flows into Arctic Ocean. I didn’t even know that was possible.

The wind was extremely strong here, perhaps one of the strongest I ever experienced; I struggled walking against the gale. Sadly I cannot identify majestic snowy Norwegian peaks ahead. (One of them might be Golddabakti but I’m very uncertain).

46. Aaand here’s Treriksröset itself. It’s a block of concrete. Well what did you expect? Took me three and a half hours to walk there.

47. If you spend inordinate amounts of time on the Internet like me, your first exposure to Treriksröset might have been this random Tumblr post. I think I saw it before I even considered going there myself. Well I hate to disappoint here but I didn’t run around saying “I’m in Sweden! I’m in Finland! I’m in Norway!”. It was too windy and the plankway near the stone was wet. Slipping and falling into an icy cold lake didn’t sound like a very nice prospect. I still peeked into Swedish and Norwegian sectors of course. The years inscribed are different because someone, Sweden I believe, didn’t agree with the border point suggested for a while. They wanted some 100 more meters of territory or something like that. Those Swedes.

48. Couldn’t get my camera to focus on me but at least I’ve got a proof I’ve been here, and you can tell I’m actually looking somewhat pleased in this picture.

49. There are two cabins in Finnish sector near Treriksröset, a free autiotupa and a reservable varaustupa. Come to think of it, I could try staying in an autiotupa for the night. That would be certainly an experience to remember. But it didn’t occur to me when I had been planning the trip, and a nice cabin at Birtavarre camping was waiting for me. So I could not afford to waste much time here, and after resting a bit, sitting with my back against border cairn, I had to go back without even exploring the cabins. To be continued.

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