At the Council of Elrond, it is known that:

  • Saruman is a traitor, thus it’s not possible for the Ring to pass through the gap of Rohan

  • Nobody has heard any news of Balin and Moria for a long time; and although he doesn’t know for certain yet, Gandalf fears that more than just orcs inhabit Moria (see this question)

  • The Redhorn Gate (close to Caradhras) is the only surface path to cross the Misty Mountains between Rivendell and Isengard, and is well known for its dangers

Although Gandalf didn’t have any definite plans, his next goal was to reach Lorien.

Looking at this map, the following alternative paths may be observed:

  1. Walk through Enedwaith into Gondor south of the White Mountains. Isengard and Saruman may be avoided by walking far enough in the west, e.g. along the Greyflood. There are some settlements there (e.g. Lond Daer) which can provide basic support.

  2. Take the High Pass and then follow the Anduin valley to Lorien. This would avoid an encounter with Saruman and since there are orcs and wargs west of the mountains as well it wouldn’t be much more dangerous.

  3. Go further north and take the pass close to Ettenmoors.

So why did Gandalf choose the Redhorn Gate to traverse the Misty Mountains, knowing that it is very dangerous and that only Moria would be an alternative if their attempt at the Redhorn Gate failed, even though he surely knew that there were other and possibly safer ways?

  • 2
    Nice map! It seems more detailed than the map in LotR. Any clue where it is from?
    – Andomar
    Commented May 12, 2013 at 19:37
  • That looks like the map that I remember from my books when I was a kid in the 70's. I'd say the map is from an earlier printing of the set.
    – Dave Nay
    Commented May 13, 2013 at 2:27
  • I'm pretty sure that's the map that is in my Ballantine paperbacks from the mid-70s, though I've never seen it in a glorious single piece like this before. Thanks for posting that link.
    – LAK
    Commented Nov 4, 2014 at 22:32

7 Answers 7


Going into Gondor would mean Denethor finding out about the Fellowship and the Ring. Elrond and the Fellowship don't yet know how Denethor's mind is being twisted but they do know that Isildur's Bane has history with the men of Gondor. Even going through Lothlorien isn't entirely safe but it's at least plausible that Gandalf would decide that Galadriel was a better bet to resist the Ring's temptations than Denethor. Going via Gondor would also be a good bit longer, especially if they had to loop west to keep distance from Saruman.

Avoiding the High Pass was done for reasons of secrecy. In The Ring Goes South it says:

At the Ford of Bruinen they left the Road and turning southwards went on by narrow paths among the folded lands. Their purpose was to hold this course west of the Mountains for many miles and days. The country was much rougher and more barren than in the green vale of the Great River in Wilderland on the other side of the range, and their going would be slow; but they hoped in this way to escape the notice of unfriendly eyes. The spies of Sauron had hitherto seldom been seen in this empty country, and the paths were little known except to the people of Rivendell.

Going north would have much the same problem of exposure to "unfriendly eyes" in Wilderland as taking the High Pass, and add a few hundred miles to the journey as well. All things being equal going north also means going into colder areas and therefore a greater chance of snow than going south (at least for natural reasons - it's strongly suggested that the snow the Fellowship encounters has been diverted from the north by Sauron).

That leaves the Redhorn as perhaps the least bad of a range of unappealing choices.

  • 1
    I don't think Denethor is really relevant here; there were probably aware of a risk but nobody knew how bad things were till much later
    – user8719
    Commented May 12, 2013 at 20:30
  • @mh01 I think Denethor is relevant but you're right that it's important to remember what the characters knew at that point as opposed to what we know having read the whole story. I've rewritten that bit to try and make that clearer. Commented May 12, 2013 at 22:02
  • That reads better, especially given Boromir's words at the council.
    – user8719
    Commented May 12, 2013 at 23:32
  • In addition, Sauron would naturally assume the Ring was being taken to Minas Tirith, and the Fellowship knew he would assume this. So taking that route would have put them in the path of Sauron's army.
    – Kyralessa
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 18:26

Regarding option 1., Boromir verily brings that forth after the company fails to pass the Redhorn Gate:

‘The road may lead to Moria, but how can we hope that it will lead through Moria?’ said Aragorn darkly.
‘It's a name of ill omen,’ said Boromir. ‘Nor do I see the need to go there. If we cannot cross the mountains, let us journey southwards, until we come to the Gap of Rohan, where men are friendly to my people, taking the road that I followed hither. Or we might pass by and cross the Isen into Langstrand and Lebennin, and so come to Gondor from the regions nigh to the sea.
‘Things have changed since you came north, Boromir,’ answered Gandalf. ‘Did you not hear what I told you of Saruman? With him I may have business of my own ere all is over. But the Ring must not come near Isengard, if that can by any means be prevented. The Gap of Rohan is closed to us while we go with the Bearer.
As for the longer road: we cannot afford the time. We might spend a year in such a journey, and we should pass through many lands that are empty and harbourless. Yet they would not be safe. The watchful eyes both of Saruman and of the Enemy are on them.


There's two reasons I can think of. First, the Fellowship left Rivendell on the 25th of December. It might very well be that the High Pass and Ettenmoore were covered in snow and impassable during winter.

Second, a key part of the Quest was secrecy. If Sauron became aware of the Fellowship's route, the Quest was pretty much doomed.

There is little hope of getting through the High Pass unnoticed. There's a big orc lair there, and Dol Goldur is uncomfortably close.

The Ettenmoors are troll country, and trolls are servants of Sauron. It's close to Angmar (the Witch King's former realm.) It's a long way around.

Enedwaith was also guarded. In the book, there are birds ("Crebain from Dunland!") who spy on the Fellowship. The North-South road was especially watched. All the people of Enedwaith were in league with Saruman against the Rohirrim. The Fellowship would not be welcome in Lond Daer.

  • @Andormar How did you know there was a big orc lair in High Pass? And I don't think Dol Goldur is near. Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 14:21
  • 2
    @Iamwaiman1988: the High Pass is the way Bilbo and Thorin took in The Hobbit. Read more about it here
    – Andomar
    Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 17:18

Passing near Saruman was also deemed dangerous, and the far southerly trip would also be slow; that would probably have been the best choice had Gandalf not known the way through Moria.

That there were so many wargs west of the mountains was something of a surprise to the Fellowship, and they met no orcs. They expected many of both to the east, plus they would get uncomfortably close to Dol Guldur (which had been reclaimed by forces loyal to Sauron).

Going even further north would take too long.

So the choices made were the best given the information present at the council of Elrond. Indeed, they very nearly made it through Moria unscathed, save for the Watcher in the Water, which no-one had known about, and the insatiable curiosity of that fool of a Took (i.e. Pippin).


Gandalf had always intended to take the route through Lorien, as he reveals in The Ring Goes South:

'May you have joy of the sight, my good dwarf!' said Gandalf. 'But whatever you may do, we at least cannot stay in that valley. We must go down the Silverlode into the secret woods, and so to the Great River...'

This seems eminently sensible as Lorien is a safe haven from which to make the remainder of the journey, but unfortunately he didn't reveal his designs to anyone else, as Aragorn lets us know in the Breaking of the Fellowship:

In this matter I cannot advise you. I am not Gandalf, and though I have tried to bear his part, I do not know what design or hope he had for this hour, if indeed he had any.

Beyond that only Gandalf himself can tell you.

Edit to add: However, there are also Elrond's words (also in the Ring goes South) to consider:

your hope is in speed and secrecy.

The route through Lorien is definitely the most direct route towards both Gondor and Mordor, and the journey definitely involves passing through areas that would preserve secrecy for as long as possible.


Actually, there IS another surface path across the Misty Mountains between Rivendell and the Redhorn Gate. It is mentioned in Book Two, chapter 3 of FOTR, called "The Ring Goes South."

After the Council of Elrond, scouts are sent out to scour the lands and look for signs of the Ringwraiths, and also to get in touch with allies. In the paragraph that starts with "The hobbits had been nearly two months in the House of Elrond..." it says (about the returning scouts) "...others had climbed the pass at the source of the Gladden River, and had come down into Wilderland and over the Gladden Fields and so at length had reached the old home of Radagast at Rhosgobel."

Since the source of the Gladden River in the Misty Mountains is situated approximately between Rivendell and the Redhorn Gate, so must have been the Gladden Pass.

As to why the Fellowship did not choose to use it, I cannot be certain.

  • 1
    The exit at the Gladden Fields is very close to Dol Guldur, and Sauron's agents were known to be searching that area for the Ring, or so Saruman reported. So both potential enemies might be watching that area.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 19:00

So as far as I can see there are limited roads for the fellowship to choose.

  1. High Pass which Bilbo also took the same route. Then the fellowship either can follow the west of the river until the Woods of Lorien or the mountain side through to Lorien. The risk is they are getting too close to Dol Guldur where there might be scouts of the fortress patrolling the river + as far as known orcs are searching for the ring in that area.

  2. Taking the route to Ettenmoors to the North. Yet, considering December 25 is the date when fellowship left the Rivendell, taking the party to the north would be a huge risk. Besides there are fouler threats lies in the north. Also I must mention that success of their quest lies on the speed and the secrecy of the fellowship. Taking few hundred miles to the north may result in Gondor's fall and in that case the route to southern realm won't be safe anymore.

  3. Passing through the Caradhras/Entering the Mines of Moria, since Aragorn and Gandalf passed through the Mines of Moria before without even noticed so it's quite possible again. Yet, they could have made it out of Moria unnoticed if Pippin didn't mess things up.

  4. Going south to the Gap of Rohan. I think this is the best risk/reward situation here. They can go faster through the Rohan to reach to Gondor. But the problem is fellowship has to tresspass hostile territories. Also the Gap of Rohan is considerably close to the Isengard which would expose their route and secrecy to Sauron. Besides, I doubt Gandalf wanted to take the road to Gondor. Instead, he thought that Elves could provide a safe heaven and passage.

So, starting from Rivendell to Eregion > Moria/Caradhras > Lorien > Emyn Muil > Dead Marshes > Mordor is a top secret route where almost no enemy can be found on the way eventhough the accident of moria happened but that happened because of Pippin, it doesn't change the fact that those routes above are no man's land %99,9 percent of the year (Except Lorien which is a stop by and resupply for allies).

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