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Location
A long range running north to south, between Eriador and the Vales of Anduin
Origins
Said to have been raised in ancient days by Melkor as a defence against the Valar
Races
Various, but notably the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm and the Orcs of Goblin-town
Settlements
From north to south: Carn Dûm in Angmar, Goblin-town, the Eyrie, Khazad-dûm
Sources
Many rivers had their sources in the Mountains, but most notably Glanduin, the Hoarwell and the Loudwater to the west, the Gladden River and the Silverlode to the east, and the river Isen from the Mountains' southern reaches
Important Peaks
Passes
The High Pass, The Redhorn Pass; lesser unnamed passes included one above the sources of the Gladden River, and another above the sources of the river Hoarwell; the mountains could also be passed by traversing the Gap of Rohan at their southern end
Other names

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  • Updated 21 July 2019
  • This entry is complete

Misty Mountains

The backbone of Middle-earth

Map of the Misty Mountains
The Misty Mountains

The longest and most significant of the mountain ranges of Middle-earth, the Misty Mountains ran in a shallow arc for more than a thousand miles from Carn Dûm in the cold north to Methedras above the Gap of Rohan in the south. Crossed only by a few difficult passes, the range divided the lands of Eriador to the west from the Vales of Anduin and Rhovanion to the east.

In the most ancient times of Middle-earth, the first Dark Lord Melkor raised the Misty Mountains as a barrier to the Vala Oromë in his journeys across the Great Lands. Those primordial mountains were rows of immense jagged peaks, even more forbidding than in later ages. The peaks within the range remained sharp and narrow (hence the Elvish name for the Misty Mountains, Hithaeglir, meaning 'misty sharp peaks').

Geography

The line of the nearly impassable Misty Mountains formed an effective barrier between two major regions of Middle-earth. To the west were the wide lands of Eriador and Enedwaith, while to the east lay the Vales of Anduin and Rhovanion. The grey slopes of the densely packed tall peaks of the Misty Mountains fell down into dreary foothills to the west and east. On the higher foothills, forests of pine grew up into the mountains, at least in their northern and southern reaches. Above these foothills, the tall rocky peaks rose to be capped with snow, and from the meltwater of these snow-capped heights many streams ran down to water the lands to both west and east.

At their far northern extent, the Misty Mountains began as a range of hills running west to east between Eriador and icy Forodwaith to the north. The first true peak in this northern region was Carn Dûm, from which a string of mountains led eastward and southward that would become known as the Mountains of Angmar. Southward of Angmar, the Misty Mountains branched to connect with other ranges of mountains and hills. One branch ran eastward from Gundabad to connect with the long Grey Mountains of Ered Mithrin, while a lesser branch ran westward to form the heights of the Ettenmoors.

The main range of the Misty Mountains ran on nearly southward from these northerly regions, bending back slowly westward as they went. This long stretch down from the north gave rise to several important rivers, including Mitheithel and Bruinen flowing down westward, and Sîr Ninglor, the Gladden River, that ran eastward into Anduin. Above the sources of Bruinen lay one of the range's most important passes, Cirith Forn en Andrath, commonly known as the High Pass.

We know of two other lesser, unnamed, passes in this general section of the Misty Mountains. One ran through the mountains about a hundred miles north from the High Pass, leading down on its western side into Eriador at the sources of the river Hoarwell or Mitheithel. The other crossed at a point about a hundred miles southward of the High Pass, leading down on the mountains' eastward side to the sources of the Gladden River, Sîr Ninglor, that flowed down into the Vales of Anduin.

A little more than halfway along the Misty Mountains' length, they branched again to form a deep valley on their eastern side. This was Nanduhirion or the Dimrill Dale, so called because it was cloaked in shadow by three tall peaks that rose above it: Celebdil, Caradhras and Fanuidhol. These three peaks were collectively known as the Mountains of Moria, because this was the region where Durin the Deathless established the greatest mansion of the Dwarves, Khazad-dûm or Moria. This area was also the site of the other major pass through the mountains, the Redhorn Pass that ran over the shoulders of Caradhras (which was known by Men as the Redhorn).

Southward from the Mountains of Moria, the Misty Mountains ran on for another three hundred miles. In its southern parts, the range widened somewhat, with its pine-covered eastern slopes running down into the dense Fangorn Forest. The southernmost peak was recognised as the mountain named Methedras, below which the range descended into a region of hills before failing altogether. Beyond the southern end of the Misty Mountains, between them and the White Mountains to the south, lay an open plain some sixty miles wide. This gap (known in later times as the Gap of Rohan) provided an important conduit between the western and eastern lands of Middle-earth.

History: The Elder Days

In the utterly distant past, the Valar had dwelt in Middle-earth, but Melkor's assaults had caused them to abandon the Great Lands and remove to Aman in the West. Nonetheless the Huntsman Oromë often returned to ride in Middle-earth, and Melkor raised the Misty Mountains to form a maze of needle-like peaks in the hope of hindering Oromë's exploration. In this they had little direct effect, because Oromë succeeded in passing beyond them and discovering the first Elves at Cuiviénen.

Oromë persuaded many of the Elves to return with him into the West, and those that chose to follow him began a Great Journey from the place of their awakening. As part of this journey, the Elves came to the great barrier of the Misty Mountains. Many of them were dismayed when they saw the tall spires rising before them and abandoned the Great Journey, settling instead in the Vales of Anduin. It was from these people, the Nandor, that the later Silvan Elves of Lórien and Mirkwood were descended.

After the Elves had awakened in Middle-earth, the Fathers of the Dwarves also appeared. Of these, the one known as Durin the Deathless had an important connection with the Misty Mountains. Tradition said that he first awoke at Gundabad, on a spur of the northern range, but he journeyed southward until he came to a valley beneath the three tall peaks that would later be known as the Mountains of Moria. There he began the delving of Dwarf-mansions into the mountains, eventually giving rise to a city cut from the rock that would be known as Khazad-dûm. Considered one of the wonders of the World, this would be home to Durin's clan, the Longbeards, into the Third Age. Meanwhile other Dwarves were found elsewhere in the Misty Mountains, especially mining beneath the northernmost peaks of the range.

History: The Second Age

The Wars of Beleriand of the First Age had taken place far from the Misty Mountains, westward across the long miles of Eriador and the Blue Mountains beyond. In the War of Wrath that brought the First Age to an end, most of Beleriand was lost beneath the Great Sea, and peoples from that far western land escaped eastward over the Blue Mountains. Among these were Dwarves from the old citadels of Nogrod and Belegost, who journeyed to the Misty Mountains and made a new home in Khazad-dûm among its native Longbeard Dwarves. It may also have been at this time that the first Eagles came out of the west into the Misty Mountains. Their eyries in the Crissaegrim had been lost in the cataclysm, so this seems plausible, but we cannot be sure about the precise dating of their arrival.

During the Second Age, Gil-galad ruled the Elves in the land of Lindon, far to the west of the Misty Mountains. In about the year II 750, a group of Noldor departed from Lindon and created a new realm, Eregion, below the western slopes of the mountains near Khazad-dûm. A great friendship grew up between these Elves and the Dwarves living in the mountains to their east.

The Elves of Eregion fell under the influence of a being known as Annatar, who gave them the knowledge they needed to make the Rings of Power. Eventually this teacher was revealed to be Sauron, who had been manipulating the Elves to his own ends, and in the War of the Elves and Sauron that followed, Eregion was laid waste. These events did not involve the Misty Mountains directly, but the War saw the founding of a new refuge of the Elves in a hidden valley of the mountains' northern foothills. This was Imladris or Rivendell, which would remain as the Last Homely House beneath the stark peaks of the Misty Mountains for thousands of years. At approximately this time to the east, on the other side of the mountains, a force of Orcs attacked and captured Gundabad from the Dwarves, eventually making it their capital.

The Elves had been aided in their war against Sauron by the Men of Númenor, who were at that time their staunch allies. As darker times descended on the Númenóreans, they began to be feared by the Men of Middle-earth, many of whom retreated into the valleys of the Misty Mountains. Among these were the ancestors of the Dunlendings, who founded a land on the western side of the mountains near their southern end. At the beginning of the Second Age these foothills had been heavily forested, but widespread logging by the Númenóreans had cut away these trees. By the end of the Age, the slopes of the mountains had lost almost all their trees, leaving only the so-called 'East End', Fangorn Forest, marching against the eastern foothills of the Misty Mountains.

In the later Second Age, the Númenóreans came against Sauron with overwhelming force. He surrendered to them, and was taken from Middle-earth as their hostage. Because of this, for a brief time the western lands of Middle-earth were free of Sauron's influence, and in this time Gil-galad extended his power. The lands of Eriador fell under the control of the Elves, and during this short period the Misty Mountains formed the eastern borders of Lindon's extended realm.

This period of relative peace came to a sudden end. Without warning, great waves washed against the western coasts of Middle-earth, marking the Downfall of Númenor. These were followed in time by Men aboard ships escaping the destruction, and by Sauron's return to Mordor. New realms emerged, founded by the Exiles of Númenor, that included Elendil's kingdom of Arnor that lay directly to the west of the Misty Mountains.

These Dúnedain built many great works in their new lands. Most of these were far from the Misty Mountains, but one was established within a rocky circle near their southern end. This was Angrenost (later to be known as Isengard), situated to guard the Gap of Calenardhon. In that place (which would later be known as the Gap of Rohan) the southern Misty Mountains came to an end and a stretch of open country ran for some sixty miles before the White Mountains rose. At the time, this Gap was the weakest point on the western borders of the South-kingdom of Gondor, and Angrenost was constructed to guard against invaders from the wild Enedwaith beyond.

Eventually there was war between Sauron and the Dúnedain, and a great Alliance was formed between Men and Elves. The armies of this Last Alliance gathered at Imladris in the mountains' western foothills, before crossing the Misty Mountains over various passes, especially the High Pass and the Redhorn Pass. After descending from the mountains, they marched on to Mordor and to a victory that would bring the Second Age to an end.

History: The Earlier Third Age

Not all of Sauron's Orcs had fought in the War of the Last Alliance, and at least one band hid itself in the Misty Mountains at this time. As the victorious Isildur led his Men back northward to take up the High Kingship in Arnor, this band of Orcs descended and crossed the Great River, ambushing Isildur's army from the Forest beyond. Thus Isildur, his three elder sons, and his followers were lost, and only a handful made it back through the passes of the mountains to the North-kingdom.

Despite Isildur's loss the North-kingdom survived, with his young son Valandil founding a line of Kings. The kingdom of Valandil and his descendants ran across Eriador, with its eastern province of Rhudaur meeting the feet of the Misty Mountains. In the year III 861, less than a thousand years after the victory of the Last Alliance, the realm of Arnor broke apart, leaving the mountainous land of Rhudaur as an independent kingdom.

As the first millennium of the Third Age drew toward its close, an unregarded people made the journey through the mountains. These were the creatures known as Hobbits or Halflings, then living as three distinct peoples in the valleys eastward of the Misty Mountains. Escaping the growing dangers and numbers of Men in the Vales of Anduin, these Hobbits made the passage of the mountains over a period of about a century. Crossing to the mountains' western side, they followed rivers down from their mountain springs and then passed on across the lands of Eriador.

Some two centuries after the Hobbits had passed through the Misty Mountains, the dangers they had feared followed them into the range. Orcs multiplied throughout the mountains, occupying the passes and attacking the Dwarves who remained among the northern peaks. A sinister being known as the Witch-king - later known to be the Lord of the Nazgûl - also entered the northern parts of the mountains at this time. This Witch-king had observed the disunity in the old land of Arnor, and this gave him hope of destroying the Dúnedain of the North. He therefore established a new mountain kingdom, Angmar, with its capital at Carn Dûm. Spreading out from the Misty Mountains to the east and west, the new realm of Angmar stood as a threat on the very borders of Rhudaur and the lands of the Dúnedain to the west.

The Witch-king built a secret alliance with the realm of Rhudaur. Working first through the lord of Rhudaur, and then openly, the forces of Angmar began a long war against Arthedain. Over the next five centuries, the evil peoples of the northern Misty Mountains wore down the forces of the Dúnedain, until in III 1974 they attacked and captured Arthedain's capital of Fornost. Arthedain's last King, Arvedui, fled the fallen city and found his way to the old Dwarf-mines in the range's extreme north, where he remained hidden for a time. Angmar's victory was soon reversed, when a force out of Gondor drove the enemy from Fornost, bringing the realm of Angmar to an end.

With the end of Angmar, the far northern mountains had peace for a time. A new people appeared to occupy the lands eastward of the mountains, a people known as the Éothéod. Coming north out of the Vales of Anduin, they drove away the last remnant of Angmar's followers and rode their horses across the plains of the upper Anduin, eastward of the Misty Mountains' northern peaks. This was the people who would, long afterwards, give rise to the land of Rohan at the faraway southern end of the Misty Mountains.

The peace following the fall of Angmar lasted for some centuries, but within the Misty Mountains were bands of Orcs, and these began to work together. At first in secret, they spread through the mountains, making underground holds for themselves and occupying the old Dwarf-city of Moria, from which the Dwarves had recently been driven by an awakened Balrog. At this time the passage of the mountains became a dangerous endeavour. Most notably, Celebrían the spouse of Elrond was captured by Orcs as she attempted to make the crossing, though she was rescued by her sons Elladan and Elrohir. It was also at about this time that the Misty Mountains gained another occupant: Gollum crept into the darkness under the peaks to hide with his Ring for centuries to come.

History: The Later Third Age

The Orcs of the Misty Mountains continued to multiply over the centuries that followed. Some five hundred years after the fall of Angmar, they were strong enough to muster an army that could threaten Gondor, joining an assault that came close to overwhelming the South-kingdom. When Eorl brought an army south from the Éothéod to Gondor's aid, even his massed Riders avoided coming close to the mountains for fear of the Orcs still lurking there. Though Steward Cirion of Gondor defeated the enemy with Eorl's aid, the Orcs of the Misty Mountains remained a significant threat.

In the late twenty-eighth century of the Third Age, the chieftain of the Orcs was Azog, who ruled from Moria. When the Dwarf Thrór of Durin's Folk attempted to re-enter the old mansions of Khazad-dûm, Azog murdered him, giving rise the conflict known as the War of the Dwarves and the Orcs. Over the years that followed, battle after battle was fought in the darkness beneath the Misty Mountains. The Orcs were routed from their holds and dens, assembling in Moria as a final refuge. The war culminated in the momentous Battle of Azanulbizar fought in a valley beneath the Mountains of Moria, which saw the Dwarves victorious and the threat of the Orcs of the Mountains all but eliminated.

Even after the victory of the Dwarves, other dangers lurked in the mountains. There were Trolls in the northern valleys, and Stone-giants wandered among the peaks. The Orcs, too, began to spread in secret once again. One large band, led by an Orc known only as the 'Great Goblin' held a network of caves and tunnels, 'Goblin-town', beneath the High Pass. As these Orcs grew more numerous, other dwellers in the mountains were forced into the plain below including, apparently, the skin-changer Beorn.1

In the year III 2941, a party of Dwarves, accompanied by the Wizard Gandalf and the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins, attempted a crossing of the mountains from Rivendell into the Vales of Anduin. Travelling over the High Pass, they sheltered from a storm in a small cavern. That cavern concealed a secret entrance into Goblin-town, and the Dwarves were captured by the Orcs, though with the aid of Gandalf, the Great Goblin was slain and the Dwarves escaped. More importantly (from a historical perspective) Bilbo became lost in the dark tunnels of the Orcs, where he discovered Gollum's golden Ring. This Ring (later identified as Sauron's Ruling Ring) conferred invisibility on its wearer, and using this power he was able to escape from Goblin-town and rejoin the Dwarves. Together they travelled on down the lower eastern slopes of the Misty Mountains and towards their goal of distant Erebor.

The northern regions of the mountains were filled with Orc-delvings, with tunnels and passageways leading as far north as the Goblin capital of Gundabad. News of the Great Goblin's death was brought to the chieftain Bolg, and he began to plot revenge. An army was gathered in secret at Gundabad, and then set out eastward in pursuit of the Dwarves and their allies. The Eagles who dwelt on the Eyrie, a peak of rock that rose somewhat eastward of the main range of the Misty Mountains, spied these Orcs going to war and set out in a pursuit of their own. These movements culminated in the Battle of Five Armies, far away to the east. The Orcs were soundly defeated in that battle, and few indeed returned to the Misty Mountains to hide in their deep caverns.

Soon after this battle the creature Gollum, who had held the Ring in secret beneath the mountains for nearly five hundred years, set out from his hiding place and began to track 'Baggins', the thief who had stolen his Precious. The mountains he left behind did not remain quiet for long; the Orcs began to multiply once again, and within a few decades the passes across the Misty Mountains became dangerous to travel. It was during this period that the Dark Lord's influence spread across Middle-earth, and his Shadow began to reach as far westward as the Misty Mountains.

Over the years that followed, Beorn and his descendants hunted the Goblins and Wargs of the northern mountains, and for a time there was peace in the region, though in time these creatures began to spread again.2 The Eagles remained friendly with the Free Peoples, and lent their aid, especially to the Wizard Radagast, during the War of the Ring at the end of the Third Age.

While these events were unfolding in the northern mountains, the far southern dales were also seeing historic developments. In the shadow of Methedras, the southernmost peak of the entire range, the ancient tower of Isengard still stood. In III 2759, Steward Beren of Gondor had agreed to grant the use of the Tower to the Wizard Saruman, who would continue to dwell there during the last centuries of the Third Age.

Within Isengard, Saruman gained access to its palantír, and through that Seeing-stone he was drawn into the shadow by Sauron. In the years leading up to the War of the Ring, Saruman claimed Isengard as his own, and began to build up a force of Orcs and allies among Men. His Orcs ranged northwards along the slopes of the Misty Mountains, ravaging the trees of the Forest of Fangorn and arousing the anger of the Ents. This anger came to a head during the War of the Ring, when a host of Ents and Huorns emerged from the forest, destroying the Circle of Isengard and trapping Saruman in his own unbreakable Tower of Orthanc.

History: After the War of the Ring

Sauron had originally planned that Isengard should be the seat of his lieutenant, watching over the western lands in Eriador for the Dark Lord. If Sauron had won the War of the Ring, then, the southern Misty Mountains would have been a seat of power in Middle-earth. With Saruman's defeat by the Ents, however, and later Sauron's own downfall, these plans came to nothing.

After the War of the Ring at the end of the Third Age, the Misty Mountains play no further direct part in history, with one possible exception. According to tales from volume XII of The History of Middle-earth, Durin VII became King of Durin's Folk some centuries after the War, and led his people to repopulate lost Moria. Balin had attempted this before the War, but where Balin failed, Durin VII succeeded. If these tales are true, then the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm finally reclaimed their ancient home among the Misty Mountains.


Notes

1

Beorn's history is nowhere recorded in detail, so we cannot be sure of his origins, but there is one telling comment in The Hobbit. Speaking of the Goblins of the mountains he was heard to say, 'The day will come when they will perish and I shall go back!' (The Hobbit 7, Queer Lodgings). From this, Gandalf concluded that he had originally come from the Misty Mountains and been driven out by the Orcs, and this does seem to be a logical conclusion. Because Beorn apparently remembered this personally, it cannot have happened more than a few decades before the Quest of Erebor of III 2941. It must therefore have taken place during the expansion of the Goblins following their defeat in the War of the Dwarves and Orcs.

2

There's some small confusion about what happened to the surviving Goblins and Wargs of the northern mountains after the Battle of Five Armies. On the one hand, we're told that Beorn made the mountains safe, and at the Council of Elrond eighty years later, Glóin confirms that the land of the Beornings was still free of any significant danger.

During Frodo Baggins' journey to Mount Doom, however, he sat in the Seat of Seeing on Amon Hen and looked toward the Misty Mountains. From there he saw that the mountains were '...crawling like anthills: orcs were issuing out of a thousand holes' (The Fellowship of the Ring II 10, The Breaking of the Fellowship). Given what we're told about the Beornings and their defeat of the Northern Orcs, Frodo's vision must have been of the more southerly stretches of the mountains, from Moria and southwards, rather than the northern reaches.

See also...

Ambaróna, Angmar, Aragorn Elessar, Aragost, Arahad I, Arassuil, Aravorn, Arnor, Azanulbizar, Balrogs, Barazinbar, Battle of Five Armies, Battle of Nanduhirion, Bilbo Baggins, Bridge of Mitheithel, [See the full list...]

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About this entry:

  • Updated 21 July 2019
  • This entry is complete

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