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January 12 is spectacular for being one of the few dates that is specifically mentioned in the main narrative of The Lord of the Rings—providing the reader with their only anchor to the calendar between Gandalf’s ‘the morning of October the twenty-fourth’ when Frodo wakes in Rivendell, and Aragorn’s ‘the fifth of March in the Shire-reckoning’ when he meets Pippin in front of the ruined gates of Isengard. The date is mentioned during the snowstorm on the Redhorn Pass:
A great sleepiness came over Frodo; he felt himself sinking fast into a warm and hazy dream. He thought a fire was heating his toes, and out of the shadows on the other side of the hearth he heard Bilbo’s voice speaking. I don’t think much of your diary, he said. Snowstorms on January the twelfth: there was no need to come back to report that!
Since, by the point Frodo dreams this, it’s past midnight—the text told us that ‘by midnight they had climbed to the knees of the great mountains’ before the snow even started falling—we can precisely date the Company’s attempt on the Redhorn Pass to the night of January 11–12, without needing to consult the Tale of Years or count days on our fingers.
It’s impressive that Frodo, even as he’s descending into hypothermia, knows what date it is on the Shire Calendar.
Since the snowstorm doesn’t start until after midnight, there is fairly little action to relate on January 11.
Dawn finds the Company at the very feet of Caradhras. They halt for another day of sleep. Frodo overhears Gandalf questioning Aragorn’s decision to climb the Redhorn Pass—‘But there is another way, and not by the pass of Caradhras: the dark and secret way that we have spoken of.’
The Company wakes before sunset and breakfasts while Aragorn and Gandalf talk. The wizard finally announces that they will try climbing the Redhorn Pass.
Boromir asks that they each carry wood. Sam also lays several branches on Bill the pony. Night falls as they start the climb.
Most of the memorable events of their climb happen after midnight, in the small hours of January 12.
By midnight the Company have climbed high enough on Caradhras to reach the first cliffs, where a sheer wall rears above the narrow path and a steep chasm falls away to the right.
As they complete their first hard climb, Frodo notices flakes of snow on his sleeve.
The Company finally halts. Snow has piled high. They are nearly struck by falling stones, and—if they aren’t imagining it—they hear shrill voices on the wind. The hobbits grow cold. Gandalf brings out a flask of ‘miruvor’ and gives each member of the Company a small drink.
‘Naur an edraith ammen!’ With a word of command, Gandalf lights a fire to provide warmth for the shivering hobbits.
‘If there are any to see, then I at least am revealed to them. I have written “Gandalf is here” in signs that all can read from Rivendell to the mouths of Anduin.’
Dawn reveals that the snow has stopped but that the trail is buried both ahead and behind. Aragorn and Boromir spend the first hour of daylight clearing a path back downhill. They reach the deepest drift last, flung across the trail almost as though to prevent their escape.
After struggling back downhill—Boromir and Aragorn must carry the hobbits—the Company escape the deep snow. A small rockslide blocks the trail behind them.
They start the long hike back down into Hollin, ignoring the flocks of birds that wheel across the hilly land below.
After retreating down the flanks of Caradhras, the Company now face another ordeal, that spans the long winter night between sunset on the 12th and sunrise on January 13th.
At dusk, the Company finally halts. They debate whether to travel under the mountains through the Mines of Moria. Gandalf says he once passed through Moria alive. Aragorn says that he has, too, but ‘the memory is very evil.’ Pippin comments, ‘I don’t wish to enter it even once.’
The Company’s debate is interrupted when they hear distant howls on the wind. Aragorn recognizes them: ‘The Wargs have come west of the Mountains!’
‘Need we wait until morning then?’ says Gandalf, ‘the hunt is up!’
Boromir asks, ‘How far is Moria?’
Pippin admits to Sam, ‘I wish I’d taken Elrond’s advice—these howls freeze my blood.’
‘My heart’s right down in my toes, Mr. Pippin. But we aren’t etten yet—and there are some stout folk here with us. Whatever may be in store for old Gandalf, I’ll wager it isn’t a wolf’s belly.’
The Company have taken shelter in a ring of boulders on a hilltop. They take turns napping. Out in the darkness, many eyes reflect the light of their fire.
A large wolf approaches their firelight. It leaps towards Gandalf—but falls with an arrow of Legolas in its throat.
The Moon is setting in the west when the silence is broken by howls. Wolves assault the Company from out of the dark. After a brief fight against swords, bow, and axe, the wolves are scattered when Gandalf calls down fire upon the entire grove of trees surrounding their camp.
Once the sun rises, the Company have only the short winter day to cross the distance to the west door of Moria and find their way inside before they are again caught in the dark.
A morning hike in the bright winter sunlight brings the Company to the nearly dry stream-bed of the Sirannon, south of where Gandalf had expected to find it. They start hiking east along the track that runs beside it towards the west door of Moria.
Reaching the crest of the Gate-path, the Company finds a dark unexpected lake standing between them and the great grey cliff face where Gandalf believes Moria’s west-gate is hidden. They will have to walk all the way around its north shore to reach the cliff.
The Company finishes their walk around the lake and reaches the cliff face. Gandalf announces that Bill the pony must be left behind. Sam breaks into tears. Gandalf puts words of guard on the pony.
They start dividing up the luggage Bill was carrying. Gandalf stares at the rock.
“Mellon!” Gandalf speaks the Elvish word for ‘friend’ and the Moria-gate silently opens. Suddenly the lake roils and writhing tentacles grasp for Frodo. Sam slashes at one that seizes Frodo’s ankle. The Company flee into Moria.
The tentacles close the huge door behind them.
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