The Mountains Of Middle Earth

Andrast Barrow Downs Ash Mountains Blue Mountains Carn Dum Emyn Beraid Emyn Muil Erebor Ettenmoors Gray Mountains Gundabad Hills of Evendim Iron Hills North Downs Misty Mountains Mountains of Shadow Pinnath Galin South Downs Weather Hills White Mountains

Middle-earth is made up of four tectonic plates bounded by the the Western Ocean, and by mountain ranges (Sarjeant, 1995). Its largest mountains, such as the Misty Mountains are formed by the collision of these tectonic plates. Collision of the Eriador plate to the west and the larger Rhovanion plate to the east has produced the Misty Mountains. The Rhovanion and Eriador plates are bounded to the south by the White Mountains, which form the northern boundary of the Harad plate. But, east of the White Mountains, the Rhovanion plate and the Harad plate are separated by the small Mordor plate. Motion of the the Rhovanion and Mordor plates is westward, and motion of the Farlindon plate is eastward, relative to the Eriador and Harad plates, whose relative motions are south and north, respectively.

A remnant of a fifth plate - the Forlindon plate - lies west of the rugged Blue Mountains. It has mostly been subducted beneath the Eriador plate, but the collision of the Forlindon and Rhovanion plates has produced the Lhûn orogeny, and the Evendim foreland basin, through which flows the Lhûn River. This collision is associated with volcanism and mineral enrichment in the Blue Mountains, and regional faulting throughout the Eriador plate.

A sixth plate - the Forodwaith Plate - bounds Middle-earth to the north. Its southern plate boundary is marked by a series of low mountains trending east-west from the Bay of Forochel through the Mountains of Angmar, the Gray Mountains and the Iron Hills. These hills are the weathered remnants of the ancient Thangorodrim massif. Rich mineral deposits are found throughout the Utumno massif.

Compressional tectonics associated with collision of the continental plates has produced extensive metamorphism within the Eriador plate, and uplift of the Blue Mountains, White Mountains, and the Misty Mountains. Collision of the Eriador and Rhovanion plates has also formed the extensive Anduin foreland basin all along the western margin of the Misty Mountains. The northern basin has been completely filled by glaciofluvial sediments, and drainage of the northern Anduin Basin is now eastward into the cratonic Rhûn Basin.

The southern end of the Anduin Basin has been transformed by extensional tectonics associated with the collision of the Rhovanion and Mordor plates, and clockwise rotation of the southwestern Rhovanion plate druing the Evendimian. However, the current interpretation recognizes no evidence for extensional tectonics in the Anduin Basin north of the Nandalf sub-basin, as has been suggested by Reynolds (1974) and Sarjeant (1995).

Rifting in the Nandalf Basin has produced a series of half-grabens whose up-thrown edges form the Emyn Muil and Emyn Arnon, which are cut by the southern Anduin River. The collision of the Mordor plate with the the western Harad Plate (Harondor Craton; Sarjeant, 1995) has produced the Mountains of Ephel Nuath and the Ithilien foreland basin, through which flows the southern Anduin River. However, the continued westward movement of the overriding Morodor plate is blocking drainage of the Anduin, producing extensive marshlands north of the White Mountains as far east as the Ephel Duath.

Regional intra-cratonic subsidence is seen in the Rhûn Basin of the eastern Rhovanion plate and in the Nurnen Basin of the southern Morder Plate. Continued subsidence of the Rhûn Basin, coupled with closure of the gorge at Osgiliath are likely to shift drainage of the Anduin River eastward.

Within the Eridor Plate, the topography is dominated by the collision of the Forlindon and Eridor plates, which have produced metamorphism, uplift, and extensive southwest-northeast faulting. The Hills of central Endor are part of the Eriador Anticline, a broadly uplifted feature stretching over 300 miles from the Far Downs to the Trollshaws. The anticline is truncated by the Lhûn orogeny to the east and the Hithaeglir orogeny in the west (both are plate boundaries).

The anticline was mildly compressed east-west during the Andorian orogeny, which produced minor folding and faulting in the south, but strong compression (and high-grade metamorphism) in the northern Hills of Evendim and North Downs. The same event is associated with minor mafic volcanism in the North Downs, extending southward to Bree.

The sediments exposed in the Eriador Anticline are marine limestones, shales, and sandstones of Vardan age. Massive limestones are exposed in the eastern end of the anticline, and chalky limestones in the western end. Arkose sandstones, metamorphosed to quartzite, occur in the Hills of Scary and northward. Shales are exposed in the southern Green Hills.

The Anticline is cut north-south by a series of streams which follow structural lows created during the Andorian-age folding and faulting: the northern Brandywine, the Midgewater, and the Hoarwell rivers. However, the drainages of southern Eriador are dominated by southwest-northeast normal faults, along which drain the lower Brandywine, Grayflood, and Issen Rivers.

The ongoing collision of the Forlindon and Eraidor plates has produced several tectonic events. A strong seismic event on the Evendim fault (Sarjeant, 1995) completely destroyed the city of Annûminus (III 1740), which had been build on lake sediment. The Midgewater River follows the Minhiriath fault through the South Downs. Movement along this fault has accelerated the drainage of Midgewater Lake.

  • "Of the geology of The Shire" at
  • Howes, M.M. 1967. The Elder Ages and the later glaciations of the Pleistocene Epoch. Tolkien Journal 3: 3-15.
  • McIntosh, P. 1973. The geology of Middle-earth. Mallorn 7: 3-7.
  • Reynolds, R.C. 1974. The geomorphology of Middle-earth. The Swansea Geographer 11: 67-71.
  • Sarjeant, W.A.S. 1995. The Geology of Middle-earth. pp. 334-339. in M. Keynes and Altadena (eds). Conf. Proc. Centenary of the birth of J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien Society Mallorn 33, Mythopoeic Press Mythlore 80.

The Annúminus earthquake, and Midgewater River are fan fiction. The fate of Annúminus is not explained by Tolkein, so I enjoy providing a geological lesson at the expense of the Great City. Likewise, I am concerned by the undrained wetland of Midgewater in this region of relatively high rainfall, particularly since I have drained the Combe River into it!


Ras Morthil. A rocky peninsula in the Bay of Belfalas, southwest of Gondor. An important landmark for seamen, but its steep and barren coasts never encouraged settlement.

Ash Mountains

Ered Lithui. The rugged mountains forming the northern border of Mordor. Barad Dûr was built on a spur of these mountains.

Barrow Downs

Tyrn Gorthad. South Downs. Low hills south of the Great East Road, and west of the North Road; i.e., southwest of Bree. The tombs there were the abode of sorcerers of Angmar during their life, and the abode of their undying liches during the time of the War of the Ring. Tyrn Gorthad had been the burial place of the Edain (the first men) since the first age. In the final days of Arnor after the fall of Cardolan, the sorcerers of Angmar entered the ancient tombs, and made them a place of terror.

Blue Mountains

Ered Luin. Ered Lindon. North-South trending mountains which divide Lindon from Eriador. Divided into Northern and Southern Ranges by the River Lhûn and Gulf of Lhûn. The Dwarven citadels of Nogrod Belegost (Gabilgathol) lie in the southcentral Blue Mountains near Mount Dolmed.

Carn Dûm

The peak and citadel of Angmar, built in the Mountains of Angmar, an western extension of the Misty Mountains. Occupied by the Witch King of Angmar from III 1300 - 1975.


A desolate and unihabited range of mountains north of Rivendell. There, the Witch King was overtaken by Glorfindel after the Battle of Fornost, and driven from the north.

Far Downs

Low hills about 40 miles West of the White Downs in the West Farthing of the Shire. The site of Greenholm, the home of Fastred, Elanor Gamgee's husband. Crossed by the Great East Road.

Gray Mountains

East-West trending mountains North of the Misty Mountains, forming the border between Rhovanion and the frozen wastes to the North. An important Dwarven settlement until the coming of the Dragons (including Scatha) in the Third Age (2570). Thereafter occupied by Orcs. The original home of the Rohirrim.

Green Hill Country

The most extensive (50 miles E-w x 15 miles N-S) hills in The Shire, spanning portions of West, South, and East Farthings. It is densly forested except for its western end. Three streams head in these hills: the Shirebourn, Thistle Brook and the Stockbrook. The Stock Road crosses the Green hill Country east-west, starting in Tuckborough.


An isolated peak at the intersection of the Misty and Gray Mountains. The ancient refuge and capital of the orcs. The home of Bolg, son of Azog, who led and army of orcs in the Battle of Five Armies of "The Hobbit"

Emyn Muil

The grey hills astride the Anduin above the mouths of the Entwash that create the Falls of Rauros. Before its decline in the Third Age, they marked the northern borders of Gondor (Sarn Gebir: the stone kings and the seats of Lhaw and Hen). Within them, on the west bank of the Anduin is Parth Galen, where the Fellowship of the Ring is broken. Boromir is slain; Aragorn, Gimili and Legolas persue the Orcs carying Pippin and Merry northward; and Sam and Frodo head eastward on their journey to Mordor. The hills are barren, rocky and steep. They were formerly forested, and still have a few birches and firs in protected place.

Emyn Uial

Hills of Evendim. The mountains between the River Lune and Lake Nenuial, abou 150 miles N-S and 75 miles E-W. Drained by the Evendim River, a tributary of the Lune on their west side and by many small streams draining into the Lake, on its east. The North Moors divide the Emyn Uial from The Shire. For a time at the beginning of the Second Age Evendim was the home of Galadriel and Celeborn, who came east of the Ered Lúin after the breaking of Beleriand and the fall of Morgoth. In Evendim they dwelt with Noldor, Gray and Green elves until II 700. Their children Nenuial, Amroth, and possibly Celebrían were born there. Three thousand years later, Elendil lead the castaways of Numenor on the same ancient road along the Evendim River; and waking on the eastern slopes of Emyn Uial to see the sunrise over the waters of Lake Nenuial, he declared that he would build his home there, and so the city of Annúminus was founded.

Hills of Scary

Low hills of northern East-Farthing, comprised of sandstones and quartzites, the source of stone for the Brandywine Bridge, and the primary building material for The Shire. This low range continues northward to the town of Dwaling on the Brandywine River. Its structure and orientation are similar to the larger White Downs and Far Downs, 60 miles to the southeast.

Iron Hills

East-West trending mountains southeast of the Gray Mountains. Dwarves fleeing the Dragons of the Gray Mountains settled there under Grór, and at Erebor under Thrór.

Lonely Mountain

Erebor. The peak, east of the Misty Mountains and north of Mirkwood that is an important Dwarf settlement founded by Thráin I, and later the home of Smaug the Dragon. After Smaug is killed by Bard the Northman, the Dwarves again occupy the Mountain, and Dáin II becomes "King under the Mountain."

Misty Mountains

Hithaeglir. The Greatest Mountains of Middle Earth dividing it in half from the Gray Mountains of the North to the White Mountains in the South. For most of its length it can only be crossed by high passes such as The High Pass near Rivendale (Cirith Forn en Andrath) and Redhorn Pass (and Dimrill Stair) between Hollen and Lothlórien, or by the tunnels of the Orcs and Dwarves. Its major peaks (north to south) are Carn Dûm, Gundabad, Caradhras, Fanuidhol, Celebdil and Methedras. Along it's eastern flank flows the River Anduin.

Mountains of Shadow

Ephel Dúath. The rugged mountains forming the eastern and southern border of Mordor. Passable only through the guarded pass of Cirith Ungol (Cirith Dúath), east of Minas Morgul (Minus Ithil). In caves beneath the pass lives the monster, Shelob.

North Downs

The largest range Eriodor, between Emyn Uial and The Ettenmoors, about 80 miles north of Bree. The highest peaks (eastern range) reach 8000 ft elevation. The northern range is treeless and frozen, but the southern portion is relatively hospitible. Drainage is eastward into the Branduin. The North Downs have been mined by Dwarves, and have been the home of Orcs. The city of Fornost, the ancient capital of Arthedain, lay at the southern edge of the Downs. Seventy miles to the southeast are the Weather Hills and The Midgewater. The same distance to the east is Lake Evendim, and between Fornost and Evendim are the plains of Fornost, where the King of Angmar was defeated by the Army of Gondor (III 1975).

Pass of South Downs

A pass between the South Downs and the Barrow Downs, ca. 3000 ft, over which ran the "Greenway", the North-South road from Fornost to Osgiliath. From the north, the road rose steeply through many switch-backs. South of the pass, the route descended into Midgwater Creek and followed its deep and winding gorge. After the fall of Arnor, the pass was the most dangerous part of the journey, due to bandits.

Pinnath Galin

Low hills of Anfalas, southern Gondor. An area renowned for livestock and dairy, primarily under the political control of the town of Edheliond

South Downs

A line of hills south of Bree and East of the Barrow Downs and Old Forest. About 150 miles E-W by 60 miles N-S. Separated from the Barrow Downs by a narrow pass through which ran the Greenway.

Tower Hills

Emyn Beraid. A small range separating Lindon from The Shire. The location of the White Towers (Elestirion) which held a Palantir during the Third Age. During the Fourth Age (IV 32, S.R.1452) King Elessar made the Tower Hills and the Westmarch part of the Shire.

Weather Hills

An North-South trending range (75 mi N-S x 30 mi E-W) between the North Downs and South Downs. The Great East Road skirts the southen edge of Weathertop, its southernmost peak. To the West is the Midgewater and to the East the River Hoarwell. The Weather Hills formed the boundary between Arthedain and Rhudaur, and the range front was fortified by King Argeleb I (III 1349-1356) of Arthedain.


Amun-Sûl. The great tower of Amun-Sûl was built by King Elendil (III 103) to hold one of the palantiri of Arnor. Elendil stood on Weathertop, watching and waiting for Gil-Galad to come out of the west in the days of the Last Alliance of Men and Elves. In III 1330 it was fortified by Argeleb I during the conflict between Arthedain and Rhudaur. In III 1409 Amon Sûl was destroyed by the army of Angmar.

White Downs

A small North-South range, of chalk, in The Shire, about half way the Brandywine River and the Tower Hills. They are the location of Michel Delving and Little Delving, on the Great East Road.

White Mountains

Ered Nimrais. East-West trending mountains south of the Misty Mountains. Minis Tirith sits at their eastern limit, beneath the peak of Mindolluin. Rohan lies to the north and Gondor to the South. The Paths of the Dead pass deep beneath the White Mountains, from Dunharrow to the headwaters of the Morthond.
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