The Three-Country Cairn


Today, let’s travel to a triply intriguing geographic location.

Connotatively, we use the term Scandanavia to refer to the Nordic countries. This collection can include Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark. Sometimes we even toss in Iceland, Faroe Islands, and Aland, an autonomous region of Finland. However, the strictest definition of Scandanavia includes only three of the above nations; they might not be the three you’d guess. Historically, just Norway, Sweden, and Denmark comprise Scandanavia. The arm on which Norway and Sweden reside is also called the Scandinavian Peninsula.

With the jigsaw puzzle that is Europe, perhaps not surprisingly, the geography of Scandinavia provides some interesting quirks. One such location is where Norway, Sweden, and Finland meet.

Traditional Scandanavia shown in red; the wider Nordic region in orange - graphic by DemonDays64

A confluence of three countries in one spot is known by a few names to cartographers: tripoints, trijunctions, triple points, or tri-border areas.

These spots contain nothing inherently meaningful. From space, of course, one looks at Earth and sees no country lines. They are the creation of humans. Sometimes we use rivers, oceans, or mountains to form borders, so one could see them from a distance, but the lines themselves are invisible. Still, human politics have produced numerous map idiosyncrasies. Just as many trekkers attempt to reach High Points of states or nations, a subset of adventurers tackle tripoints. They are not particularly rare. At least 172 spots on the globe mark the location where three countries meet. When states or counties are added, the numbers balloon.

Here follows a video of The Mountains Are Calling stewards visiting the tripoint of New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, which sits near the Connecticut High Point:

The fractal and amorphous geometries of Norway, Sweden, and Finland converge at 69 degrees latitude north.

The Norwegians call this spot Treriksrøysa, the Swedish Treriksröset, and the Finns Kolmen valtakunnan rajapyykki.

As we continue to zoom in on these coordinates, the tentacle-like nature of the nations becomes readily apparent.

But if we strengthen our microscope even further, we’ll notice the green turn to blue:

The triple point sits in the water!

As an enterprising reader, you will recall the title of this article and wonder how a cairn fits into the story. Cairns are human-made piles of rocks, used as markers. Nowadays, most cairns adorn trails where blazing is unavailable or the path of the trail is not readily apparent, but, in the past, they have been used as gravestones or memorials. No matter the significance of the cairn, they usually do not rest in water. Rocks sink in water.

Yet, a cairn marks the Norway-Sweden-Finland tripoint. 

Perhaps when you view a famous photograph of the cairn, taken at the end of World War II, after the expulsion of the Nazis from Finland, the cairn might make a bit more sense:

Raising the Flag on the Three-Country Cairn - photo by Väinö Oinonen

Just 20 degrees south of the North Pole, this location gets rather frigid in the winter.

Though one can ski to the cairn when the water is solid, fairweather explorers can visit the cairn even in the summer. And you don’t even need the ability to walk on Lake Goldajärvi.

The Three-Country Cairn in summer - photo by Niko Lipsanen

The easiest way to visit this remote location begins in Finland. A 6.8-mile trail in the Malla Strict Nature Preserve leads to the yellow cairn. A slightly longer hike can achieve the tripoint from Norway. If you want to complete the trifecta, Sweden will present the toughest task, by far. The one-way distance stretches over 40 miles with multiple river crossings.

However you get there, the circular pedestal can allow you to constantly move through three nations at once. This location is the tripoint farthest north on the planet. Triple point enthusiasts are just 300 miles away from another three-nation point: Norway, Finland, and Russia meet, but without the fun, yellow cairn.

For the mathematical enthusiasts out there, the Three-Country Cairn is a frustum, a cone cut by two parallel planes. Is this the only spot on Earth where a frustum sits in three nations simultaneously? Frustrating that we don’t know the answer!

Check out this gorgeous aerial footage of the Arctic landscape of three nations:

Further Reading and Exploration

World’s northernmost three-country cairn – Visit Lyngenfjord

Three-Country Cairn – Discovering Finland

A Journey to the Three Country Cairn – Veganhaven

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