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Misty Mountains

  (Redirected from High Pass (Middle-earth))

In J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy world of Middle-earth, the Misty Mountains are a mountain range, and one of the most important features of Middle-earth's geography.[1] The mountain-chain is less well known by its alternative names. One of these is Hithaeglir (meaning mist-peak-line in Sindarin, one of the languages invented by Tolkien);[2] this was misspelled as Hithaiglin on the original main map of The Lord of the Rings. Other alternative names are the Mountains of Mist or the Towers of Mist.[3] The range stretched continuously for some 900 miles[4] (1440 kilometres) across the continent of Middle-earth.

Misty Mountains
J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium location
TypeMountain range
Notable locationsCaradhras, Eyrie, Goblin-town, Mount Gundabad, Khazad-dûm (Moria), Zirakzigil
Other name(s)Hithaeglir, Towers of Mist
LocationBetween Eriador and Wilderland

The Misty Mountains first appeared in print in Tolkien's 1937 book, The Hobbit. A vision of the mountains is invoked in the first chapter: "Far over the misty mountains cold..."; they are encountered directly in chapter 4. Further information about the mountains was added in Tolkien's subsequent publications.

Middle-earth narrativeEdit

Mist on the Alps, which are said to have inspired Tolkien


The Misty Mountains stretched continuously for some 900 miles: from Carn Dûm in the north[5] to Dol Baran in the south, and were a formidable barrier between the large Middle-earth regions of Eriador and Wilderland.

The northernmost section of the Misty Mountains ran from Carn Dûm to Mount Gundabad, and was known as the Mountains of Angmar. Mount Gundabad was where Durin awoke according to legend, though it was later an abode of Orcs. Mount Gram, another Orc nest, was not far away. Mount Gundabad was on the eastern side of the range, where it nearly joined the westernmost extremity of the Grey Mountains. The strategic gap was about 10 miles wide.

The greatest Dwarf realm in Middle-earth, Khazad-dûm, was located at the midpoint of the Misty Mountains. The area's three massive peaks - the Mountains of Moria - were Caradhras (Redhorn and its pass), Celebdil (Silvertine) and Fanuidhol (Cloudyhead). Under Celebdil was the main part of Khazad-dûm; it included the Endless Stair, which the Dwarves built from the foundations of the mountain to its summit.

The southernmost peak of the Misty Mountains was Methedras (end-horn); from here the great range finally subsided into foothills, the last being Dol Baran. Here the southernmost foothills of the Misty Mountains looked across the Gap of Rohan to the northernmost foothills of the White Mountains.


The Misty Mountains had very few passes; these are presented in the following list. The most important were the High Pass and the Redhorn Pass.

Cirith Forn en Andrath, illustration by Matěj Čadil
  • a minor pass near the source of the Hoarwell[6]
  • the High Pass, near Rivendell
    • Also called the Pass of Imladris[7] and Cirith Forn en Andrath (S. 'cirith'=pass, 'forn'=north, 'andrath'=long climb).[8]
    • The Orc-stronghold of Goblin-town had an outlet onto the High Pass.
    • There were actually two alternative routes in the High Pass; the lower pass[9] was more prone to being blocked by Orcs; hence most travellers used the higher pass, except during those rare interludes when the Orcs were suppressed.
  • a minor pass at the source of the Gladden[10]
  • the Redhorn Pass near Moria
    • This pass was usually open year-round, even in winter.[11]
    • Farther south there were no passes, until the Misty Mountains ended at the Gap of Rohan.[12]

Valleys and riversEdit

Some of Middle-earth's notable valleys and dales lay in or close to the Misty Mountains:

  • Rivendell was hidden in the foothills near the western end of the High Pass.
  • Further south the eastern end of the Redhorn Pass led into the great Dimrill Dale in the arms of the Mountains of Moria.
    • This dale led down into Lothlórien: the Valley of Singing Gold.
  • At the southern end of the Misty Mountains, Fangorn forest reached right up into the eastern foothills; the deep dales there were filled with an ancient darkness.
  • Nearby lay Nan Curunír (the Wizard's Vale), where Isengard was built. It faced the Gap of Rohan.

Rivers originating in the Misty Mountains (north to south):


Deep beneath the Misty Mountains lay a primordial underworld in perpetual darkness. It was inhabited by primitive creatures. These are reported in and near the underground lake below Goblin-town,[14] and in the underworld of Moria.[15] The Watcher in the Water was one of the creatures from Moria's underworld.[16]


The Misty Mountains were raised by Melkor (Middle-earth's first Dark Lord) in a primeval epoch of the First Age, no later than the War of the Powers. He hoped to impede Oromë, a god who often rode across Middle-earth hunting. The Mountains were far taller in those days and had a more dreaded appearance.[17]

However Oromë established the High Pass. He did this to assist the Eldar to cross the mountains on their Great Journey to the West. Even so, the Misty Mountains were still viewed as too formidable by a large number of the Elves; they forsook the great migration, and dwelt east of the mountains (i.e. in Wilderland). This was a major sundering of the Elves; the group who remained behind became the Nandor.

Dwarves began to use the High Pass later in the First Age. They connected their roads (the Great East Road and the Men-i-Naugrim through Mirkwood) with this pass, which reinforced it as the major gateway between Eriador and the regions to the east.

The great Dwarf realm of Khazad-dûm had been established beneath the Misty Mountains earlier in the First Age, and flourished for thousands of years, until the unearthing of the Balrog (Durin's Bane) in T.A. 1980. The Dwarves then deserted Khazad-dûm, which then became known as Moria (the Black Pit), and it came to be occupied by Orcs and other creatures.

In the year 3434 of the Second Age, the High Pass was used by the army of Gil-galad and Elendil when they marched east to Mordor in the War of the Last Alliance of Elves and Men. After this war (which ended the Second Age), Isildur was slain by Orcs watching the way back towards the pass.

Third AgeEdit

Halflings had begun to migrate west across the Mountains by the year 1050 of the Third Age. They were the ancestors of Hobbits.

By T.A. 1300, the Witch-king established the realm of Angmar at Carn Dûm. He was based there at the northern extreme of the mountains for several centuries.

During this time the Orcs spread through the Misty Mountains, and the High Pass became dangerous again. Only with the War of the Dwarves and Orcs (T.A. 2790-93), which nearly wiped out all Orcs of the mountains, did it become safe again for a while. Nevertheless, by the time of the Quest of Erebor the goblins of Goblin-town had burrowed their way back to the pass, and thus captured Bilbo Baggins and Thorin Oakenshield's company of Dwarves.

The Fellowship of the Ring tried to cross the Redhorn Pass (after rejecting the High Pass leading to Wilderland as being watched by the Enemy, and the Gap of Rohan as taking the Fellowship too close to Isengard), but a blizzard forced the companions to go under the Misty Mountains instead of over them. There, in the subterranean realm of Moria, the Nine Walkers unexpectedly encountered the Balrog, Durin's Bane. Gandalf fell with the Balrog into the uttermost depths of Moria and fought the Balrog all the way up the Endless Stair, finally slaying it by throwing it from the peak of Celebdil, but sacrificing his own life in doing so.


Eagles had eyries in the Mountains from the earliest times. It was also anciently the habitat of great bears, who were said to be the ancestors of Beorn.[18] Stone-giants (also called mountain giants) were another race that inhabited the outside of the mountains. Sometimes, because of their size, a stone-giant could be mistaken for the side of the mountain itself; at times these creatures could reach heights of forty feet tall. The only surviving report of stone-giants was made by Bilbo and the thirteen Dwarves, as told in the Red Book of Westmarch in the chapter "Over Hill and Under Hill."

Various races made their homes underneath the Misty Mountains. The Dwarf realm of Moria flourished from the First Age well into the Third. In the early Second Age, escapees from the War of Wrath established subterranean lairs: Orcs (e.g. at Goblin-town, Gundabad) and (as far as is known) one Balrog (under Moria). The Balrog was destroyed by Gandalf the Grey in T.A. 3019.

From time to time the Orcs dominated the Misty Mountains. Their known leaders were Golfimbul (k.i.a. T.A. 2747), Azog (k.i.a. 2799), the Great Goblin (killed 2941) and Bolg son of Azog (k.i.a. late 2941).

Gollum, a key character of the Third Age of the legendarium, was fascinated with the Misty Mountains as a youngster. When exiled from his original home, he followed an unnamed stream into the Mountains, and lived underneath them for over five centuries. His home there was an island in an underground lake near Goblin-town. With him resided the One Ring.

Sources and inspirationsEdit

The Swiss Alps at Vallon de Nant

The genesis of the Misty Mountains lay in the Poetic Edda, with which Tolkien was familiar. In particular, the protagonist in the Skírnismál notes that his quest will involve misty mountains, orcs, and giants.[19]

Significant aspects of the Misty Mountains, including their visualization and some of the experiences of Tolkien's protagonists, were inspired by his travels in the Swiss Alps in 1911.[20]

An alternate theory is that Tolkien was perhaps somewhat influenced by the works of Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs. In Burroughs's Pellucidar series from the early 1920s, the Mountains of The Clouds feature. Burroughs' heroic characters, strange worlds and invented languages have been cited as a probable (though uncredited) inspiration for Tolkien. Burroughs was the world's most widely read author in the first half of the 20th century and it would have been all but impossible for Tolkien to not have been influenced by him, perhaps even subconsciously.[citation needed]

Namesakes and cultural referencesEdit

The International Astronomical Union names all mountains on Saturn's moon Titan after mountains in Tolkien's work.[21] In 2012, they named a Titanian mountain range "Misty Montes" after the Misty Mountains.[22]

The title of the 1971 Led Zeppelin song "Misty Mountain Hop" was based on Tolkien's mountain range.[23][24]

Works citedEdit

  • Evans, Jonathan (2006). "Misty Mountains". In Drout, Michael D. C. (ed.). J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment. Routledge. pp. 431–432. ISBN 0-415-96942-5.


  1. ^ Karen Wynn Fonstad, The Atlas of Middle-earth, HarperCollins, 1994 edition, Regional Maps, p. 79, ISBN 0 261 10277 X.
  2. ^ J. R. R. Tolkien (1977), ed. Christopher Tolkien, The Silmarillion, George Allen & Unwin, Index p.335, ISBN 0 04 823139 8.
  3. ^ J. R. R. Tolkien (1977), The Silmarillion, George Allen & Unwin, ch.3 p. 54; ISBN 0 04 823139 8.
  4. ^ Karen Wynn Fonstad, The Atlas of Middle-earth, HarperCollins, 1994 edition, Regional Maps, p. 79, ISBN 0 261 10277 X. In the Appendix (p.191) a different length is listed: 702 miles. The higher-scale map of Middle-earth which accompanies Unfinished Tales yields a length of about 850 miles.
  5. ^ Robert Foster (1978), The Complete Guide to Middle-earth, Unwin Paperbacks, p. 63, ISBN 0-04-803001-5.
  6. ^ J. R. R. Tolkien (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, Prologue §1 p. 12; ISBN 0 04 823045 6
  7. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1980), Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, p. 281, ISBN 0-395-29917-9
  8. ^ Unfinished Tales, p. 271
  9. ^ The Annotated Hobbit, p.105, "their main gate used to open on a different pass..."
  10. ^ J. R. R. Tolkien (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, book 2 ch. III p. 287; ISBN 0 04 823045 6
  11. ^ J. R. R. Tolkien (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, book 2 ch. III p. 302; ISBN 0 04 823045 6
  12. ^ J. R. R. Tolkien (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, book 2 ch. III p. 300; ISBN 0 04 823045 6
  13. ^ J. R. R. Tolkien (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, George Allen & Unwin, 2nd edition (1966), ch. 2 p.63, ISBN 0 04 823045 6.
  14. ^ J. R. R. Tolkien (1937), The Hobbit, 4th edition (1978), George Allen & Unwin, ch. V p. 67; ISBN 0-04-823147-9
  15. ^ J. R. R. Tolkien (1954), The Two Towers, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, book 3 ch. V p. 105; ISBN 0 04 823046 4
  16. ^ J. R. R. Tolkien (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, book 2 ch. IV p. 323; ISBN 0 04 823045 6
  17. ^ J. R. R. Tolkien (1977), ed. Christopher Tolkien, The Silmarillion, George Allen & Unwin, ch. 3 p. 54, ISBN 0 04 823139 8.
  18. ^ J. R. R. Tolkien (1937), The Hobbit, George Allen & Unwin, 4th edition (1978), ch. VII p. 103, ISBN 0-04-823147-9.
  19. ^ Tom Shippey (2003), The Road to Middle-earth, Houghton Mifflin, ch. 3 p. 70-71, ISBN 0-618-25760-8.
  20. ^ Humphrey Carpenter (1981, editor), Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, George Allen & Unwin, letter 306 p.391-392, ISBN 0-04-826005-3.
  21. ^ International Astronomical Union. "Categories for Naming Features on Planets and Satellites". Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature. Accessed Nov 14, 2012.
  22. ^ International Astronomical Union. "Misty Montes". Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature. Accessed Nov 14, 2012.
  23. ^ Robert Plant himself, in Vox, May 1993, page 18, referred to "The self-indulgence, the silly over-the-top Tolkien-esque stuff... John made it everlasting.".
  24. ^ Denis Collins (1993), 'Lord of the Lyrics', in Amon Hen (the bulletin of The Tolkien Society, U.K.), no. 122 p.24.

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