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Discussing: Crossing the High Pass in winter

Crossing the High Pass in winter

Can those more experienced (or better-read, or more geographically inclined) than I am tell me how feasible it would be to get across the High Pass (from Rivendell through the Misty Mountains) in late winter/early spring? Say early February? I haven't managed to find any canonical info on how high the pass is - Barbara Strachey's Journeys of Frodo shows the Redhorn Pass as being about 5000 feet up, between peaks many thousands of feet higher, and she says those peaks (Caradhras, Celebdil and Fanuidhol) were the highest in the range, so the High Pass might be lower than 5000 feet, but that's speculation. Frodo and Co were going to attempt the Redhorn Pass in January, but as Aragorn points out that is further south ( some 175?? miles as the crow flies) and the High Pass could well have a lot more snow. Would that make it impassable? If so, would a party who really wanted to get across set off as soon as a thaw set in, or would that actually make it more dangerous (risk of avalanche etc)? The party in question involves: a few Rivendell Elves (probably hand-picked for their mountain skills), a young and fit-ish woman from Rohan who's been riding since she could walk, and an older (late middle age, but pretty hardy and outdoorsy) Man, plus horses (Elven ones, and a pony or mule for the baggage if they'd need it - but they're wanting to travel as fast and as light as is feasible) Gloin talks in "Many Meetings" about the Beornings "keeping open the High Pass", but he seems to be talking not so much about snow as about them preventing the passes being overrun by orcs (which is of course another issue, but I'm hoping my kick-ass Rivendell Elves will deal with it Thoughts?

 

 

Re: Crossing the High Pass in winter

how feasible it would be to get across the High Pass (from Rivendell through the Misty Mountains) in late winter/early spring? Sorry, I really don't know. But in Unfinished Tales, it is referred to as "Cirith Forn en Andrath, the high-climbing pass of the North, that led down to Imladris." So the term High Pass seems well-deserved. Everything that I found about the High Pass is in this Resource Library entry: High Pass, including the description of Bilbo's crossing of some of it (they were waylaid by Orcs). IIRC, that was in early summer, and he remarked upon how cold it was. I thought I had seen something saying that the High Pass, the Redhorn Gate, and the Gap of Rohan were the only routes through the Misty Mountains that were passable in the winter, but I can't find it now, and would not trust my memory... and I didn't put it in either the High Pass entry or the Redhorn Gate one. Sorry! - Barbara

 

 

Re: Crossing the High Pass in winter

Hi, I've done this question before on the list. Alas, it was a long time ago, so I'll have to go at it from scratch and hope I don't forget anything. In regards to Beornings keeping the pass open, Gloin is referring to orcs and wargs, not snow. Elves should be able to travel the High Pass any time of year as they can walk on the snow, horses and humans, on the other hand, will have more difficulty in winter and might get stuck if the snow is deep. The biggest problem with snow is that it slows things down while eliminating potential food foraging, so your travelers will have to pack with more care -- emphasis on food and warm clothing. Where I live, pack companies take hunters up into the mountains (the pass is 5,500 ft. and the mountains go on up to around 9,500 ft.) all winter long, so it is possible. Horses will do all right in light snow and on frozen ground, but they will have trouble with the mud in spring, so you might want to limit the horses to pack horses and put the elves and humans on foot. Spring arrives much later in the mountains than the lowlands. Here where I live, which is around 4,500 feet, we usually get snowed on if we go higher up into the mountains before about mid-July, but the worst time for traveling is right after the winter snow has melted when the ground is boggy. It would be better to make the trip early in winter before the snow has gotten deep, or after the ground has had time to dry out after the winter snow melts (give it a couple weeks.) Optimally, send an elf scout in advance to test out the ground. I’m afraid I have no idea how high the pass is, sorry. Karri

 

 

Re: Crossing the High Pass in winter

I've done this question before on the list. Alas, it was a long time ago, so I'll have to go at it from scratch and hope I don't forget anything. I had already found *one* of your posts on the subject in my file of posts from the H-A list, Karri - even way back then I knew this was going to be cropping up in my verrrrrry slow-growing fic and kept it - but I don't think I had everything, so thanks for posting again. Hmmm, this is going to take some thinking about - I had a nasty feeling I was digging an Oliphaunt-trap for myself here... Cheers, Az

 

 

Re: Crossing the High Pass in winter

Thanks, Barbara - I'd looked at the Resource Library entry. If you do happen to have a flash of inspiration about the source for the quote re. passable routes, do let me know! It looks from what people are saying here and on the H-A list as though the horses are the bigger problem, not the humans. Hmmm hmm hmmm... Cheers, Az

 

 

Re: Crossing the High Pass in winter

Erin posted the following in reply to the same question over on the H-A list: Greetings Az ~ I've no real clue about how high the High Pass is - since Tolkien never said, it's entirely possible that you can just make it up! A point I would make, however, is that I *live* at 5500 feet elevation - and that's not high. The snow seldom lasts long, and by March is long gone. Our passes are 8,000 feet and better. So I guess one would have to guesstimate how high the Misty Mountains really are. If they are like my Sierra Nevada range, then it would be common to see peaks of 10,000-13,000 feet and passes of 8,000 to 12,000 feet. If we're thinking the highlands of Scotland, as fits Ms. Strachey's stimations, then the peaks would be only 5,000 to 8,000 feet and the passes correspondingly lower. That would mean a *much* earlier snow-melt. So just how much snow was Tolkien envisioning as covering those mountains? Anyone know? Anywho, wintertime travel in the high passes is risky for several reasons. Storms can whip up fast and blind travellers to dangers such as cliffs, rocks and slides. (Mountains of course tend to create their own weather.) Snow can pile up deep and soft in places and conceal crevasses, drop-off and sharp rocks. Plus, depending how long you're up there, there will be nothing to hunt and little to graze. Since your party has horses, this makes it *extremely* difficult. Those long horse/mule legs and hard hooves just punch straight down into deep snow and flounder badly, exhausting the animals swiftly as they plunge for footing, while hidden rocks can cut them to ribbons. Also, a laden pack animal can unbalance when floundering in conditions like that, and end up tumbling down some slope or cliff to injury or death. Getting down to lead a riding horse is also dangerous, as the horse's tendancy is to try to leap through bad spots - which may mean he'll come down on top of the person leading him. Also, if you have a lot of horses, the snow they're tromping on will collapse and create holes, so that the latter animals will be floundering in various odd pits and stumbly spots. The plain fact is, nobody can find a trail when its buried under snow: you're going to be frequently off by several feet one way or another, which increases the risk of punching through to sharp rocks below. Bottom line, for myself, I'd not chance winter travel with horses or mules across alpine passes, because I would likely cripple or exhaust my animals within a very short time. If I simply had to go when snow was on the ground - I'd go on foot. Preferably with snow shoes, LOL! ;-) Really, the only time safe for crossing high, snow-prone passes with livestock is when the snow has melted from the pass. Even then you may be going ahead of your animals wish shovels, digging safe paths across the remaining deep spots. So ... I guess it depends on what elevation we really suppose the High Pass is at, and how early in the year it would melt open for livestock. Humans and elves would have a far easier go of it without horses, since elves of course traipse on top of the snow and humans weigh a lot less than horses. ;-) So them's my thoughts on winter travel with livestock, from someone who has had the c**p scared out of her numerous times by wallowing horseback across late-spring alpine snowfields! ;-) I'll hope someone else can help you with matters of elevation and such. Also, since this IS fiction - feel free to completely ignore anything I've said!!! I am horribly anal about horse stuff, and you are welcome to smack me with an old shoe at any time. ;-) Cheers ~ Erin

 

 

Re: Crossing the High Pass in winter

Hi, Erin's posts reminds me that I was going to add that the winter snow here usually melts away late-February/early-March (depending on the severity of the winter), so your scounts could starts checking the ground a few weeks after that. We alway get a few good blizzards after the first thaw, so beware of that possiblity, but after April, any snow is only going be flurries that will melt off after the sun comes up. It also occurred to me that in The Hobbit, Gandalf and the company sounds as though they may be above the tree-line when they reach the top of the pass, but that is only speculation.

 

 

Re: Crossing the High Pass in winter

Hi Az, I actually did search for the quote in LoTR and UT before answering your post, and couldn't find it. But I think that the quote They were high up in a narrow place, with a dreadful fall into a dim valley at one side of them. indicates that it would indeed be difficult, if there were snow on the ground -- you never know when you are going to step onto a patch of black ice in a shaded spot. And I agree with Karri, in her post below. The first quote from The Hobbit in the Resource Library entry implies to me that, not only were they above the tree line, but they were above it for many days. - Barbara

 

 

Re: Crossing the High Pass in winter

Barbara, is it possible you were recalling Aragorn's comment when debating whether to attempt the Redhorn Gate? He said, '...Further south there are no passes, till one comes to the Gap of Rohan....' (LotR: FotR: The Ring Goes South) And after they are turned back by the snow, he says, '... I knew the risk of snow, though it seldom falls heavily so far south, save high up in the mountains. But we are not high yet; we are still far down, where the paths are usually open all the winter.' (ibid.) ~Nessime addendum: I forgot to note that I am referring back to Barbara's original post (Message: 30247), where she said:
I thought I had seen something saying that the High Pass, the Redhorn Gate, and the Gap of Rohan were the only routes through the Misty Mountains that were passable in the winter, but I can't find it now, and would not trust my memory...

 

 

Re: Crossing the High Pass in winter

One thing to consider, though, is that it isn't going to take elves and humans as long to get over the mountains as it took the company of dwarves. For the most part, Thorin and Company traveled at a snail's pace. Karri Oh, and I did some checking: - In the northern Alps, the tree line is around 3500ft. - In the southern Alps, the tree line is around 7500ft. I think they would be nearer the southern Alps when they reach the Redhorn. The High Pass is probably nearer the norther Alps.

 

 

Re: Crossing the High Pass in winter

Barbara, is it possible you were recalling Aragorn's comment when debating whether to attempt the Redhorn Gate? He said, '...Further south there are no passes, till one comes to the Gap of Rohan....' (LotR: FotR: The Ring Goes South) No, Nessime, I did see that one when I was searching for the quote. It's close, but I really thought I had seen something mentioning all three major passes. It really bothers me that I can't find that quote, because I put in the description of the Redhorn Gate that it was the only pass between the High Pass and the Gap of Rohan. I do know now that it is not the only pass between those two, but probably the only reasonably traversable pass, especially in wintertime. I noticed that, in FoTR, (The Ring Goes South) some of the scouts "climbed the pass at the source of the Gladden River", and also The Hobbit mentions other passes (not by name), then dismisses them. - Barbara

 

 

Re: Crossing the High Pass in winter

- In the northern Alps, the tree line is around 3500ft. - In the southern Alps, the tree line is around 7500ft. That's impressive, Karri! Good info... - Barbara

 

 

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