The journey across the Helcaraxë was difficult and perilous, but how long did it take to reach Beleriand?

  • 3
    Fingolfin, you should know, surely?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 11:38

2 Answers 2


Around twenty years.

In the earlier version of the Annals of Aman in History of Middle-Earth V, where it is noted that each Valian Year (VY) "is as ten years of the Sun now are", we have:

VY 2998-3000: Now Fingolfin [...] won their way at last with grievous losses and with minished might into the North of Middle-earth.

So it took two Valian years, or twenty years in the usual reckoning.

  • 4
    It seems like Fingolfin had very poor navigational skills. Then again, the Old Testament tribes of Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years, so I suppose there are other precedents. Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 11:30
  • 1
    20 years?! It certainly makes the Fellowship's journey seem like a nice, leisurely stroll
    – Voronwé
    Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 10:01
  • 1
    It probably wasn't a matter of everyone walking straightforward for 20 years. Given that any food you needed for the trip had to be carried from the eastern edge of Aman, imagine how long it would take to carry the necessary supplies out onto the ice so that once you did start moving forward, you didn't have to do all the way back to Aman for more. Something of a 2-miles-forward-1-1/2-miles-back kind of trip.
    – chepner
    Commented Sep 11, 2019 at 20:28
  • 1
    1) You're looking at an older version of Tolkien's writings, written a good 15 years or so before the versions generally used in the Silmarillion. There are newer versions available with different dates. 2) I think you're misinterpreting the notation Tolkien is using. As I read it the entry is just discussing when the crossing finished, and the year picks up from right after the last entry ends. Note that ships were already burnt in VY2994. 3) When each Valian Year is 10 solar years, you should give some more error bounds. Even if it was 2998-3000 that could be anywhere from 10 to 30 years.
    – ibid
    Commented Jul 23, 2021 at 5:24
  • 1
    @RoyalCanadianBandit Israel did not wander forty years because they didn't know the way. They wandered forty years after having already reached the destination once but being unable to take the land.
    – kutschkem
    Commented Jul 27, 2021 at 6:42

One hundred and forty-four years

Around 1959, Tolkien wrote a series of notes working out the final chronology of the First Age. These reflect a recent change that he had made regarding the length of a Valian year. Previously, in 1951 he had done it as 5VY, which was then equivalent to about 50 years. Now he had changed each Valian Year to the equivalent of 144 sun years, and felt the dates of the journey needed to be revised.

Note in the "Tale of Years" that 5 VY is allowed for the wanderings of the Exiles, 1495 to 1500, but that was reckoned on a scale of 1 VY = 10 SY, and so was insufficient, being only 50 Sun-years. It is now far too much, being 720 years! Adequate would be 1 Valian Year = 144 [SY]. Therefore the Crossing of the Ice should be in FA 1496.
The Nature of Middle-earth - "Difficulties in Chronology"

The Valian Year spent in reaching Beleriand via the ice aged all the Exiles about 2 years (it took 144 Sun-years) = 72 (but Feanor reached Beleriand in one half the time = Bel. 50 and so only aged 1 year). As soon as they reached Beleriand the rate quickened to 50 = 1.
The Nature of Middle-earth - "Difficulties in Chronology"

As soon as the Exiles left Valinor their ageing and growing rate increased. Those who had to make way on foot and cross the Ice spent a Valian year(= 144 [sun-years]) on the journey after the doom of Mandos. This dreadful journey aged them all to an extent of about 2 [Valian] years (or 72: 1). As soon as they stepped on Middle-earth the growth rate leapt to 10 : 1.
The Nature of Middle-earth - "Ageing of Elves"

The journey to Middle-earth [took] 144 [sun-]years but counted as 2 [life-]years ... We still have to alter the arrangement during the march from Aman in VY 1496. This occupied 144 sun-years; but it was so horrible that the mature aged at a double rate 2 [life-]years during that time.
The Nature of Middle-earth - "Ageing of Elves"

Note that this all reflect Tolkien's final view on the matter. In previous, now rejected, versions of the legendarium, the crossing had taken anywhere from about six years to about seventy years.

  • What were the other Noldor (or, given the time this was written, Ñoldor) doing in Middle-earth for those 144 years? This really seems too long to my eyes. I know this is really for another question, but ... wow. I can understand the Eldar taking so long to move west in the initial migration, given the exciting lands they were moving through, and growing crops and raising kids and all, but there's precious little to enjoy on the Helcaraxë. Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 2:07
  • @DavidRoberts - Not sure, but while this seems like a long time, it was the equivalent of just one year as Elves had been perceiving time in Aman (though due to the march it was now two years). Also, the initial Great March westwards was significantly longer than this.
    – ibid
    Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 3:43
  • I think I saw another excerpt (posted by you?) that says that Elves are just faster than Men at things. If this is true, then they will experience time as even longer than we do, rather than as shorter. Experiencing 144 years as just 2 years means they were moving really, really slowly... But maybe I just don't understand this notion of "experiencing" that Tolkien is writing about. Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 3:51
  • @DavidRoberts - It's complicated. I think Tolkien is saying that they age slower and are less motivated by everything going on in the present, but then clarifies that it doesn't mean they move slowly, but that they actually move much faster than Men.
    – ibid
    Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 5:53
  • Yeah, ageing slower is fine. Having faster cognition (and so "perception") than Men means 144 years would actually seem longer to them than for Men. But it's possible I'm attaching the wrong significance to the words, and I'm only reading your snippets, rather than the original :-) Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 6:43

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