Having saved Rito village from the Divine Beast Vah Medoh, I decide to try to finish up a few of the quests in the area. There’s the mysterious “white bird” that you can supposedly see from the tall peak with the lone cedar tree.
I transport to the shrine nearby the Flight Range, and hike the rest of the way up there. It is a pretty long trip, and not easy due to the mountainous and snowy terrain.
I get there and spend several game-hours waiting for that bird to show up. The first time I made it up to this peak, there was a large eagle that was flying in circles just northwest of the point the little girl Rito had told me about; I had tried to fly out to see if it was grab-able, or if I could shoot it down from mid-air, but I wasn’t skilled at that at the time, and failed. I don’t see the bird again, and after waiting a considerably long time for it to show up, I get the impression that the bird I saw the first time wasn’t really the right bird.
Staring out over the landscape for many minutes, I eventually catch it out of the corner of my eye that there’s a land formation that looks like a bird in flight, if you look at it from just the right angle. A snowy plateau, aligned just so, from this specific vantage point, looks like a bird. On a hunch, I fly out in the direction of the bird, and as I get closer, I see that there’s a sheer cliff face on the side I’m approaching, and in the cliff face there’s a cave, with a shrine in it. I land in the cave, and activate the shrine, and the “white bird” shrine quest is completed.
As long as I’m up here, I decide to scout around to see what else I can find up in the snowy mountains of Hebra.
It’s easy to get disoriented here. The terrain is very monochromatic, white snow covering grey rock and it seems the sky is perpetually grey and overcast, and it’s like twilight most of the time, and frequently snowing with low visibility. The mountains are hard to climb and slow, since I have to wear my cold weather gear and can’t wear my climbing gear. At least I have the snow shoes back.
I get turned around a lot, trying to find ways around obstacles, and trying to make sure I explore thoroughly, seeing stuff from all angles, trying not to miss any hidden away corners with something good waiting for me.
Climbing out of the shrine cave, the plateau I’m on is covered with moose, it’s like a small herd of them. Wildlife is especially plentiful up here. There are tons of moose, wolves, arctic fox, wooly rhino, and at least one bear, that I encounter.
I find many frozen treasure chests half-buried in snow, and occasionally I’ll find bomb-able rocks along the mountainside, which conceal something. There are a lot of mineral deposits, and less common but still plentiful in certain spots are some wintery plants and mushrooms and insects. I don’t bother with the insects, because you can only catch them if you’re sneaking and it’s too slow. The insects are used in elixirs, and I don’t make much use of elixirs. But they might also become useful in enhancing my clothing at the fairy ponds, so I should try to ensure I have at least a few on hand for that.
In the upper north west corner of the map, I find a shrine, and a korok seed. A second shrine nearby keeps pinging, but I can’t find it. I spend a very long time combing over the north face of the mountains looking, and don’t find it. I don’t want to give up, because I don’t really want to return to this part of the world again once I’m done here, but I can’t find it.
After about two hours of futility, I give up on finding it myself, and cheat a little it by looking it up on the internet. This has got to be one of the hardest shrines to find in all of BOTW. It is extremely well-hidden, deep inside the mountain, in a cave that requires an improbable sequence to discover on your own.
I actually almost had it completely by accident. On my first approach up this mountain, I picked up the signal, and was looking for a shrine on the southeast face of the mountain, but couldn’t find it. I had come to a ledge where there were a few giant snowballs, and so I pushed them off to see where they would go and what would happen but they just sort of went poof when they reached the bottom, and I didn’t really think much about it, and went over the mountain. If I had followed the snowballs down, I would likely have discovered the stone doors then, and possibly figured out how to open the doors on my own.
I came to a hot spring, where I as able to heal myself, and there was a cooking vessel there, so I lit a fire and cooked some meals and sat until morning, then went all the way to the northwest corner of the map and found the one shrine, then on the way back over the mountain I picked up the second signal.
The signal I picked up on the north face was the same shrine as the one I was detecting from the southeast side, but the entrance is on the southeast side, and I could have spent forever there on the north side searching in vain if I hadn’t given up and cheated.
The solution involves a pair of stone doors built into the side of the mountain, which you’re supposed to knock open by rolling those giant snowballs down the hill. But those snowballs won’t make it all the way to the door unless you create a bridge for them to roll over a hole, which is filled with water. So you have to lay in two ice columns using the Cryonis power, then roll these snowballs down the hill, and if it hits the door just right, it’ll open and reveal a great cavern inside the mountain, and deep within the cavern there’s the shrine.
Also in the shrine, I find the Leviathan skeleton, so I take a picture, and then of course I climb the skeleton to look for possible korok seeds, and find one.
After that, I climb up a long, gentle slope, and at the top of it, I find another shrine. but it’s one that I’ve already been to. Where am I? Oh, it’s the cabin where the shield surfing pro lives! I had not been checking the map to see where I was, and somehow wandered all the way back up here!
I decide to try more shield surfing, and I pass the Novice course and then try the Advanced course. She will give me a special shield if I do well enough on the Advanced course, but not if my shield inventory is full, which it is.
So I quick-travel back to Hateno village and go to my house, and put some of my best shields away on the display case, and then return back to the slopes to see what kind of amazing shield I can win here.
They explain the course to me before I run, but it’s hard to follow as you’re going down, and easy to take a wrong turn. Somehow, I go way off course and end up falling down into some water, where I swim until the course timer gives up on me. I think it’s strange that the race trial lets you go off course and doesn’t just stop. But I think that maybe the designers intended for the shield surfing challenge to provide a way to discover parts of Hebra that you probably wouldn’t find any other way. Certainly trudging through this snow is difficult, and I probably wouldn’t have been very inclined to spend a lot of time here or discover things. Most of what’s here is not directly related to the main quest. But there are tons of very good weapons to find here, and the shrines and korok seeds are always good to find. You don’t need them to beat the game, though, and I could see players skipping much of this map since they don’t absolutely need anything here in order to beat the game. But, by introducing the shield surfing course and giving it twists that can take you to different parts of the region by accident, the designers made this region way more fun to discover and more accessible than I would have initially given credit. In my initial encounter with the surfing pro, I had assumed that these race challenges were unessential and a waste of time, for a meager reward. And while the direct reward of a Soldier’s Shield is pretty meager, the incidental benefits of discovery are much better.
On another run, on the advanced course, I end up running into the stone doors that hid the shrine I spent hours looking for, and the instructor pro even warns me about this, cautioning me that it’ll hurt to crash there. This is a brilliant way to clue in that the doors are there, and give the player a legitimate chance to discover them. If it wasn’t for my stupid Sheikah slate pinging off the scale on the wrong side of the mountain, I very probably would have ended up discovering the hidden shrine all on my own, and felt like a genius for doing it. Instead, I feel like a schmuck who had to cheat in order to figure it out. Well, I put in a lot more time than I should have, and had run out of patience, and was well up the wrong tree.
I find the downhill course to be a bit difficult to relate to the map generally, though. This is because you just appear there — You go to the pro’s cabin, talk to her, and then the action cuts to the starting point of the slope. Thus, you don’t really have an understanding of how to get there, and this means that everything else is disconnected from your experience navigating around the region.
I solve this by bringing up the map at the start of the race and planting a stamp at the starting point. That’s when I realize that the course starts just by the shrine near the pro’s cabin, which even though I had just come up that way, I didn’t fully understand the geography. But now, suddenly it all clicks and makes sense. It’s still an easy place to get lost or take a wrong turn, but at least now I am starting to get a sense of how the different interesting spots in this region are connected to each other.
There’s still a lot of crannies and chasms in this region, and I likely haven’t covered it all yet, but after exploring for about 4-5 hours I feel like I’ve gotten most of it, and at least the best parts that Hebra has to offer.
I had only mentioned the monster encounters passingly, and really I didn’t try to run into too many of them. But the monsters up here are pretty strong — very well equipped, and more numerous, with larger groups hanging out in their camps, often 6-8 of them, and mostly moblins and lizals, and they’re equipped with some of the better weapons you can find in the game.
This gives the play more reason to come out to Hebra, to pick up strong weapons and shields. They’re easily obtained through fighting monsters and taking their stuff, but there’s also a lot of chests to find that also hold powerful swords.
After passing the Advanced shield surfing course with a time of 1:50, the pro says I’m on a par with her best times, and she rewards me with a Soldier’s Shield, which isn’t a particularly strong shield, with less than half the defensive rating of the Knights shields I’ve been carrying in my inventory.
But it turns out it comes in pretty handy a bit later.
I continue exploring the north coast of Hyrule, and find a couple of monster camps, which I skirt around and avoid, and a couple of korok seeds, which I grab, and then I pick up another shrine signal.
This one, I am able to find, and when I do, it’s in a partially covered cave-like region that is labeled “Pikida Stonegrove” on the map.
In this shrine, the first obstacle involves burning some dried out ivy that conceals an entry way into an adjacent chamber which opens up the rest of the tower. There are open flames in the form of floor torches in this shrine, but I have no torch to light, nor any wooden weapons that I could ignite. I could use fire arrows, but I don’t really want to waste them.
That’s when I remember the description of the Soldier’s Shield mentions that it is built from wood, so is flammable. I equip it, an hold it out and stand next to the fire for a few seconds,and it catches fire. Then I catch fire. But before I put myself out, I run over and get the ivy set on fire.
The rest of the shrine involves fighting a couple of those weak mini-guardians, which is super easy, and then a switch puzzle involving burning some wooden barrels that are just out of reach, sitting on a switch that is keeping the door to the next room that you need to go into closed. I shoot a fire arrow through a barred window, and light the barrels on fire, and when they finish burning they disappear, the switch flips, and the door opens.
I didn’t really talk about the other shrines that I found in Hebra; there were two Major Test of Strength combat trials. I find these to be relatively easy now. I know how to fight the shrine guardians, I now know all their tricks and how to hit them and especially how to dodge. So they no longer present an especially difficult challenge, as long as I have a couple of powerful weapons, I can take them out. If I screw up I might need to eat a meal.
The Pikida Stonegrove shrine is pretty near the border of Hebra, and I’m getting closer to the Tabantha region of the map, which I haven’t done much beyond unlocking the map to the region, so I’ve got a ton of exploration and discovery yet waiting ahead.