The Myth of the 7000 Steps

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The Myth of the 7000 Steps
by Arlan Jurranius

There is not a Nord in Skyrim who has not heard of The Throat of the World and the Pilgrimage of the 7000 Steps. Visitors from all nine holds come to Ivarstead and attempt to climb the mountain either out of curiosity or in hopes of finding spiritual enlightenment. As the journey is long and perilous, however, few if any ever reach the summit. There is little debate that doing so represents an astonishing achievement.

There is some debate, however, over whether the difficulty of the pilgrimage is overstated. Not in terms of the environmental hazards, of which there are many, but whether the number 7000 represents an accurate count. The most damning evidence comes in the form of the local farmers, who routinely walk up and down the mountain in order to deliver supplies to High Hrothgar. The pace at which they do so seems to indicate that the distance traveled is not much longer than the breadth of Lake Tear. Given the width of the average step, a more accurate approximation puts the figure at a little more than 700 steps as opposed to 7000.

However, as climbing up a mountain is only half the journey, one could argue that the full pilgrimage requires roughly 3400 steps in summation. This still puts the total figure at a significantly lower number than the 7000 we have been led to believe.

There is little historical record as to where the number originated, as much of Nord folklore is passed on through the oral tradition of songs and poetry espoused by the Bards. As the Greybeards choose not to leave their towering citadel, they themselves cannot provide further illumination on the origin of the number. Moreover, as they make no efforts to profit from the myth, there seems to be little motivation for them to perpetuate it, although those who enjoy conspiracy may imply otherwise.

Ultimately, history is full of such harmless exaggeration, and this author sees little harm in the myth as a piece of cultural fiction. On the other hand, scholars who wish to study the history and architecture of the area, however, can look to documents such as this as a reference, without having to disrupt the mythology and folklore that gives the area its charm.