A pilgrimage to the most remote point of Europe

Away. Completely gone for a while. No news, no meetings, no hassle. Where should you go then? You can of course be dropped off at Bouvetoya, 1,700 kilometers away from the nearest mainland (Antarctica). But arranging the trip there only results in more consultation and stress.

It should be simple. How far can you go in Europe? What is the most remote point on the continent? And then there, on foot.

If someone had asked me a few years ago where that most remote point would be, I wouldn’t have hesitated for a second: in Sarek, a national park in the north of Sweden, above the Arctic Circle, uninhabited, no marked hiking trails, no tourist cabins. Nothing. Only accessible to those who have their shelter and all their food with them, who can navigate and feel comfortable in the wilderness. For those who can withstand wind, rain and cold. And mosquitoes. There’s no range. It is an overwhelming mountain landscape where even in summer there is still snow in all kinds of places. Domain of reindeer, moose, bears and wolverines. Of ptarmigans and eagles. From crowberry, iced ranunculus, blueberry and the delicious hjortron.

In the middle of Sarek, that seemed to me the furthest away from everything and everyone.

I was wrong. On a Swedish outdoor sports forumI saw, a discussion about the exact location of the inaccessibility point, the place furthest away from a public road. That seemed like a good criterion, better than village or house. And it also means: you have to walk there.

Claes Grundsten, photographer and author of many books about the Swedish mountain world, had once determined with a compass and ruler that this point must be on the shore of the small lake Rissájávrre. Now you can measure much more accurately with digital maps and satellite images. And more roads have been built in the north of Norway. Thanks to a few Swedish hobbyists, we now know exactly: the inaccessibility point is located on a stubby ridge between two peaks of around 1,100 meters, more than a kilometer east of Grundsten’s point. They have calculated the location with an accuracy of ten centimetres: it is more than 46 kilometers from the nearest road.

In a nutshell then. It is considerably further on foot, there are mountains and wide, fast-flowing rivers in between. It lies at the center of a circle that touches three roads: the end of a dead end at Sulitjelma in Norway, into the end of a cul-de-sac Kvikkjokk, Sweden, and a dead end to Ritsem in Sweden. The latter runs along a reservoir that you cannot pass through. So that will be walking from Sulitjelma to Kvikkjokk.

That is partly familiar territory, because I had already walked from Kvikkjokk to Sulitjelma via a completely different route. I was also a few kilometers away from the inaccessibility point twice. But then I didn’t know it existed. Now I went there with premeditation. Call it a pilgrimage.

It was not the shortest route, and certainly not the easiest, because there is a lot to see between Sulitjelma and Kvikkjokk. Such as Meertje 879; unnamed lakes and mountain peaks are indicated by their height above sea level. Meertje 879 is a fairytale glacial lake, in which small, apparently artistically designed icebergs float. It was foggy and raining, but that only added to the beauty. It was cold: five degrees during the day, wind force six and rain. At night minus eight. It’s not always like this weather. A few days later it was sunny and almost twenty degrees. At night it freezes, yes.

Talk to environment

The tour leads largely through unmarked terrain. Most days there is no human to be seen. Being alone in the wilderness changes your mental state. That goes in four phases, I notice every trip.

In phase one you talk to yourself a lot. All kinds of echoes of troubles at home still haunt my head. Fragments of conversations from the last days before departure, incorrectly chosen sentences in presentations, unresolved problems from meetings. But also: the precise construction of a cupboard that I am making. It has little to do with this spectacular environment. That takes about a day and a half, sometimes two.

The environment is becoming more and more imposing and demands more attention. You also have to be careful where you put your feet. This brings you to phase two: talking to the environment. “Her reindeer, you don’t have to run away so fast, I won’t hurt you.” Grumble against slippery stones. Swearing at swampy peat that you sink into above your ankles. Expressing pity in front of a dilapidated bridge.

After a day or two of talking to the environment, it finally starts to talk back. A conversation starts. “I saw you,” says the reindeer that spies on you through the binoculars. “But I’ll just stand there for a while. I run faster than you.” Which the reindeer is right about. The terrain is very uncomfortable at times for those who only have two legs.

Negotiating with a swirling, icy glacial river. Kolka: okay. Ice cold: okay. But deep. And links. Deafening roar. River says no. There is a bridge ten kilometers downstream, so a detour of twenty kilometers. You sometimes do.


“I am doing my best,” says the sun, “but those clouds are not cooperating.” I complain: it makes it difficult to enjoy the landscape, with all that fog and rain. “Yes, hello,” says the landscape, “stop with those urban antics, we are not here for your pleasure.”

There are people who think that at some point you become one with nature. I never have that feeling. After a week I do feel like an accepted guest. We have animated conversations, the landscape and me. And I get presents all the time. A ptarmigan sits quietly six feet away, relying on its camouflage colors. A river that, according to reports on forums, is very difficult to ford, appears to be in a good mood. And even the rain holds back for a moment as I approach the point of inaccessibility.

A tent? No, a stone. A snowy owl? No, a stone. Always another stone

Rissájávrre comes into view. No one has been seen for two days. But what is that? Is there a tent there? Am I not the only one looking for the inaccessibility point? I grab the binoculars. No, it’s a stone. I walk around the lake, on my way to Lulep Rissájávrre, a smaller lake, a little to the northeast. There must be a camping spot somewhere. Stop. Standing still. An owl on a large boulder. A snowy owl? In terms of size, yes. Binoculars. Alas, a stone. Always another stone. Meanwhile it is raining again. It’s not a friendly environment.

Oncoming traffic

The next day, without a heavy backpack, up to Oarjep Rissávárre, the hill on which the point of inaccessibility is located, in a saddle between two languid peaks. It is remarkably easy to walk. Not wheelchair accessible or anything – it remains wilderness – but easily accessible. Stones, large pieces of bare rock, grass, a little heather and a lot of moss. Some flowers here and there. Wherever you look, everything is bare. Not a tree in sight, as far as you can see. No wonder there’s no way here. There’s nothing here. Rarely seen so much nothing. Not even a bird to be seen. Far in the distance, a lot lower, a reindeer scurries through the greenery.

Just puzzle where the inaccessibility point is exactly. Between the two peaks, a little past a dry lake, close to the edge. For an inaccessibility point, it doesn’t look that inaccessible at all. It’s just a walk away.

There is no sign. But there is also no waste. There is no sign of human presence, recent or ancient. A main character from the Swedish thriller Otillgänglihetspunkten Hans Fowelin provides deeper insights into the future of this piece of land. There should be no roads here, no mining, but also no visitor center. This has to stay wild. Bald. Raw. Inaccessible. He must pay for that insight with death, it is not a thriller for nothing. The low clouds do not make the view of the entrance of three main valleys of Sarek any less breathtaking. I’ve been to two of the three. Through the third, Njoatsosvágge, I will descend towards Kvikkjokk in the coming days. Walk for four days.

The next day I look at Oarjep Rissávárre from the east. From there, the hill looks like a solid, smooth dark gray rock face. Inaccessible, absolutely. You can’t get it from this side.

The longing for home begins to impose itself. What would it be like there?

At a certain point, the last phase of a journey through the wilderness begins. The longing for home begins to impose itself. What would it be like there? Thoughts of the return journey try to drown out the landscape. Visions of good food and good wine. On the final day, those thoughts get it easy, because the last hours are about Kungsleden, a marked route that runs through the forest there. Boring, little view, and – for the first time in eight days – oncoming traffic. Now I want to take a shower, now I want to go home.

After fourteen days I arrive in Kvikkjokk. For those coming from the city, this is the end of the world, the end of a dead end road more than a hundred kilometers long. To me, this hamlet of over twenty permanent residents is a return to civilization, with hot water, fresh food and real people to have a conversation with. A bus leaves once a day.

The beginning of the world.

photos Dick van Eyck