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This is a guide to the techniques for effectively climbing the mountains in Skyrim.
Why Climb Mountains?
A valid question, given that you can get to the top of any peak without leaving the well-beaten paths to the summit. Climbing mountains, however, can get you past a lot of difficult dungeon-diving, avoid ambushes, find unmarked mountain passes, and give you access to areas that may not be reached until later events otherwise. Among the spoils you can earn by climbing are:
- Find all of the outdoor Word Walls without having to go through any dungeons.
- Find back-doors to many dungeons, which can take you right to the end, skipping the rest of the cave. Many dungeons use other means to prevent you from progressing through from the end, such as lever-operated gates or one-way drops, but there are definitely some you can get into and proceed through most or even all of the cave entering from the back.
- Reach High Hrothgar without setting foot on one of the 7000 steps (or being ambushed by trolls and sabre cats on the way up).
- Reach the Throat of the World before being invited by Paarthurnax. He won't be there, of course, but you can still climb the rest of the way from there and acquire the Notched Pickaxe.
- Reach the four marked mountain peaks of Solstheim: Frykte Peak, Hvitkald Peak, Mortrag Peak and Mount Moesring.DB
Can I Climb Effectively at Level X?
The answer is "yes". With a few exceptions, everything that you need that can aid in mountain climbing you already have at Level 1. There are a few skill perks that make things easier, but none of them are required. Unlike previous Elder Scrolls games, there are no Acrobatics or Athletics skills, nor are there any spells or rare items that will make mountain climbing any easier. As for monetary expense, the only thing you could possibly spend your gold on which would aid in climbing would be a horse, though even this isn't a requirement.
Can My Follower Climb With Me?
Unfortunately, no. Followers are unable to jump, first of all, and are utterly confused when you try to go off the beaten paths. Followers can be useful to the climber, however. Seeing your follower waiting below you can give you an idea of how far you've climbed; and if you see your follower on the slopes above you, you know that your climb is nearly at an end (they haven't necessarily found another way up; more likely is that when you've stayed out of range of them for too long, they will automatically teleport to the nearest easily traversible area, which may just be the last bit of trail leading to your destination). You should be very careful when climbing down slopes with a companion, as they may try to follow you and fall off a cliff to their death. If you ever lose your companion while climbing, they'll generally catch up to you when you fast-travel or enter any interior location, assuming they haven't taken a fatal plunge somewhere.
The following is a list of tips and techniques that can aid you in climbing mountains. Most of these techniques (except for the horse) can also be used for climbing indoors, which can be used to reach otherwise hard-to-get-to places, and possibly get in the back way, provided there aren't other means of preventing this.
Horse or No Horse?
Horses are an incredible boon when climbing, but also a serious liability. While they can climb steep slopes much more easily than you can on foot, horses unfortunately can only move forwards generally, and are unable to make sharp turns. This can lead to them becoming stuck on a narrow precipice, since they cannot turn around without falling off, and they cannot move backwards. You actually can move backwards a little bit by performing a standing jump. This will cause the horse to rear up on its hind legs and take a few steps backwards. You may need to repeat this several times if you are stuck on a long narrow rock. You must also be very careful when climbing with a horse to avoid any falls. A short fall which may be easily survivable on foot may prove deadly for your horse. It will complain if you've caused it injury by falling too far. If this happens (and the horse survived), you should either wait for it to recover, or find a safe place to dismount and cast a healing spell on it. If you want to avoid the risk of killing your horse, you're better off going it alone. There's no slope you can climb on horseback that you can't also climb on foot, horses just make it easier and faster.
If you have the Dawnguard add-on, you can acquire the Summon Arvak spell. This gives you all the advantages of owning a horse with none of the responsibility. If you fall off a ledge and kill him, you can just re-summon him as often as you want. Arvak can also be summoned in places you can never bring a normal horse, such as Blackreach and some other interior areas. He does suffer from the same maneuverability issues as regular horses, and he'll only stick around for a minute if you don't immediately mount him, which can be inconvenient if you're not keeping track of the time. But in general, this can be a huge benefit when it comes to climbing.
All that armor you're wearing can be a hindrance when climbing. Your best bet is to strip down and wear just clothing (or go au naturel - nobody will see you up there, and the cold isn't really a problem). If you must wear armor, stick with light armor, but you're unlikely to find too many enemies to fight up in the steep slopes of the mountains, the only exception being dragons near the tops of some peaks, and you can always just pause the game and go to your inventory to put your gear back on if you encounter hostility. You can ignore this section if you have unlocked the relevant skill perk for your armor type (Unhindered for Light Armor and Conditioning for Heavy), or you are traveling under the blessing of The Steed Stone. The same goes for your weapons (including spells). Keep your sword or axe sheathed and your hands at your sides to have the easiest time on the slopes.
It may seem like you can't jump very easily while on steep slopes, and this is true for the most part - you must be on a relatively flat surface and not sliding in order to jump. But even then, it may seem like it's impossible to jump from one ledge to the next when it's only slightly higher than your current perch. The trick to jumping effectively is to take a step back first. What's happening is your feet are hitting the edge of the higher ledge before you reach the apex of your jump, and then it's counting as if you landed on the edge and you slide off, so you don't get as much height as you would just jumping straight up. If you back away a bit (assuming there's room), you can jump a good deal higher, and possibly make that jump that otherwise seemed impossible.
Climbing is much easier in third-person view, particularly if you zoom the camera out as far as it can go, so as to see as much of the surrounding slope as possible. In particular, you generally want to zoom out at least far enough that you can see your feet. To avoid sliding on steep slopes, always keep your camera perpendicular or nearly perpendicular to the surface of the slope, and push forward constantly. You can even go around near-vertical promontories using this technique, provided you keep rotating the camera to always be pointing uphill.
Sometimes, a slope which seems impossibly steep can be traversed simply by going back and forth over and over, jumping repeatedly. With each zig and zag, you may gain an imperceptibly small amount of height, until you ultimately reach a slightly shallower slope and you can climb a bit further. Choose an identifiable mark, such as the corner of a rock or something, to use as a measure of your progress. If you find yourself at the same height every time you reach that rock, you'll probably need to find another slope, but if you're just a little bit higher each time, keep at it, you might reach a breaking point.
Follow the Seams
Sometimes, the seam where a rock intersects with other rocks or with the terrain can be easier to climb than bare slopes. These can be the fastest way to climb otherwise inhospitable slopes. There are also invisible vertical seams in seemingly smooth terrain where you can gain some progress, sometimes for quite a distance up an otherwise unclimbable slope.
The one case in which it can be advantageous to climb with a weapon drawn is that the standing and sprinting power attacks for both One-handed and Two-handed weapons can sometimes cause you to gain a little bit of ground on difficult slopes. Additionally, the Power Bash or Shield Charge from the Block tree can be helpful in certain situations. Overall, though, you're better off keeping your weapons sheathed.
While mainly useful for stealth, this perk on the Sneak tree can be useful for mountain climbing as well. Going into sneak mode and performing a series of Silent Rolls can get you up slopes faster than just walking.
This can be useful when climbing, but it can also be incredibly dangerous. This shout causes you to move forward very rapidly, and can be useful for jumping across wide chasms. This can be very effective for indoor climbing, but when climbing mountains outside, just be sure there's something solid in front of you or you might overshoot and fall right off the other side. Keep in mind that Whirlwind Sprint moves you forward horizontally, not up slopes. You won't gain any height using this shout, but you can avoid losing height getting from one ledge to another if there isn't a traversible slope between them. Just make sure you're facing the right direction, or you might find yourself in mid-air with a long drop below you. Saving judiciously before such a stunt is highly recommended. With the Dawnguard add-on, the Vampire Lord's Bats ability serves a similar function.
This shout won't help you much when climbing up a mountain, but it can be a useful way of climbing down very quickly. Use the shout before you jump off a cliff, and you can avoid all falling damage when you land. Be careful if you have a companion, however, as they may attempt to follow you and possibly fall to their death. Needless to say, you can't shout from horseback, so this is another argument for staying on foot while climbing. Unfortunately, this technique cannot be used to save you after you are already falling, since you can't shout in mid-air unless you fell without jumping.
The werewolf form's natural speed and leaping abilities make it well suited for climbing, but the short duration and once-daily limit to transforming make it somewhat impractical. Using the Ring of Hircine eliminates the once-per-day limitation, making it somewhat more viable, but you still need to keep the duration in mind or risk changing back at an inopportune moment (the duration can be extended by feeding, of course, but you won't find many people to feed on up in the mountains, so this is not much help.)
With the Dawnguard add-on, you can gain the ability to transform into a Vampire Lord. In this form, you have about the same movement speed as a werewolf, and when sprinting, you can move even faster - as fast as a horse, in fact, with none of the maneuverability difficulties. This uses up stamina, of course, and if you're climbing in the daytime, it won't regenerate, so you'll either need to wait for nightfall, stock up on stamina potions, or have some other means of regenerating it (the Respite perk in the Restoration tree is useful for this). Alternatively, if you've acquired Auriel's Bow, you can use a Bloodcursed Arrow to blot out the sun before climbing. Note that regular vampires do not gain any such advantages, only those with the Vampire Lord form. In addition, the Vampire Lord's Mist Form power allows for a similar effect to the Become Ethereal shout, negating falling damage.
If climbing becomes difficult, try turning backwards while looking down at a 45° angle. This should allow you to move farther up the mountain.[verification needed]