The most amazing thing about hiking scandinavia’s five high points is the people you meet on them.

Last fall, I stood atop the highest point in Denmark and blew into an alphorn. It was a joyous moment. It did not matter to me that this mighty mountain, Møllehøj, the apex of a proud Scandinavian country, measures just 560.6 feet above sea level (nor that the corrugated roof of the cow barn just behind it is probably five feet higher). No, my friend Matthias and I stood on the old stone millstone that marks the spot as if we were Norgay and Hillary and took turns making sounds that rivaled flatulent elephants from our perch. We had completed the Nordic High Five, hiking to the top of Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden and now conquering the Danish highlands.

The idea of the Nordic High Five as an offical accomplishment was the brainchild of Matthias, a German, educated in Canada (who rode a motorcycle across the American West) living in Sweden with a Finnish wife. He also was once the member of a sort of German 1950s revival boy band, and supposeddly fans have named their cars and maybe even their children after him. We bonded singing Frank Sinatra tunes in the wide expanses of Finnish Lapland together. 

Matthias, who has fallen in love with not just the people, but also the lands of Northern Europe, created the Scandinavian Summits project (scandinaviansummits.com) as a way for Nordic and European (and, hey, even the rogue American) to connect to their landscape. Sure, you come to hike the high points, but it’s what you discover along the way, the people, cultures, food and other outdoor attractions of these wild spots that really make you a more enlightened traveler.

Since Iceland and Finland are not technically Scandinavia, hiking the five summits is called the Nordic High Five. Tick off just Norway, Sweden and Denmark and you have completed the Scandinavian Crown. While the other peaks may be more mountainous than Møllehøj, none of them are particulalry difficult. They are a lot of fun: Iceland’s 6,920-foot Hvannadalshnúkur is the most difficult, requiring technical gear and training (or hiring Iceland’s outstanding guides) since it’s glaciated. Sweden’s 6,881.6-foot Kebnekaise and Norway’s 8,100-foot Galdhøpiggen, the highest mountain in Northern Europe, are day-long scrambles with small glaciers that require some mountaineering skills. And Finland’s 4,334-foot high point on Halti (the actual summit of the peak sits barely over the border in Norway) requires a world-class 70 mile trek to reach. The point for all of them, however, is that they are immersed in the surrounding cultures: Sami people herd reindeer near Halti, hordes of Swedes come to summit their mountain, Norwegian school kids climb Galdhøpiggen as part of their cirriculum.

It’s for the people that Matthias decided to bring the alphorn along, to blow the traditional 15-foot long Swiss instrument (we carried a seven-piece and, later, a three-piece travelling version on our hikes) from the top of each nation as a symbol of how the culture of the mountains knows no boundaries. Its a song that, at least the way we have played it, makes you both laugh and feel sweeping joy. And it works. On each of the summits, we met people from across the globe. And we got them to sound the alphorn, too. And then we gave high fives all around.