Chasing orcs up Mt. Whitney

I am rereading “The Lord of the Rings” for the first time since I became an ultra-runner, and was struck by a passage in the “Two Towers” where Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli chase Orcs down from the Emyn Muil to the borders of Fangorn. Éomir says:
“This deed of the three friends should be sung in many a hall. Forty leagues and five have you measured ere the fourth day is ended!”

Tolkien’s leagues are 3 miles, so that’s 135 miles in four days. But the 135 mile Badwater course (and a far more challenging route) has been run in under a day. Taking 4 days doesn’t sound very impressive…

The real runners, in Tolkien’s tale, are the Orcs who do the same route in only 2½ days (and carrying hobbits too); but somehow they don’t get mentioned. (“Legolas, it is thrice twelve hours, I guess, since the Orcs stood where we stand now.”)

Badwater has an elevation gain of 8,600ft, while Aragorn climbs down from the Emyn Muil. We aren’t told how tall they are, but definitely he has a net drop to contend with.

Aragorn and his friends carry lembas. Now one cake of lembas can feed “one of the tall men of Minas Tirith for a day of hard labor”, but I need to eat a GU every half hour or so. Lembas wins.

Nor does Aragorn have to face the fearsome heat (and cold) of the desert.

On the other hand Aragorn is unsupported. He must carry all his food (but that appears to be easy as they don’t need many cakes of lembas) and must carry or find all the water he needs. However, this does not seem to be as much of an issue as I think it should be and isn’t really mentioned.

Aragorn and friends are armed. He has a sword, Legolas a bow (and arrows), and Gimli an ax and chain mail.

Aragorn is tracking, though this doesn’t seem to slow them much.

Finally the will of Saruman pushes them back; I’m not sure what that entails, but there is nothing like it at Badwater.

Chasing Orcs Badwater
135 miles 135 miles
8,600feet net elevation gain net drop
lembas GU
Good running condtions Extreme heat and cold
Carry or find water Water provided
Weapons Special anti-heat suits
Route not clearly marked Route supposed to be clearly marked
Will of Saruman ?
4 days 1 day

Another thing that bugs me: on the run Legolas says he can see: “It is a great company on foot, but I cannot say more, nor see what kind of folk they may be. They are many leagues away: twelve, I would guess; but the flatness of the plane makes it hard to measure.”

Now for a person of normal height, standing on level ground, the horizon is about 3 miles (or one league) away. Legolas was standing on an escarpment, but to get a sight distance of 12 leagues the escarpment would need to be almost 1000 feet high which seems unlikely considering how quickly they descend from it. Maybe the radius of Middle Earth is considerably bigger than that of our own world.

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One Response to “Chasing orcs up Mt. Whitney”

  1. Adger Says:

    Gimli has short legs. That ought to count for something… Of course, you’re right about the orcs.

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