The Bleak Mountains divided the Cape of Forochel from Talath Uichel in a dark granite wall of majestic yet terrible spires. From a distance, the Ered Muil (S. "Bleak Mountains;" La. Kuolleet Vuoret) appeared much like their friendlier cousins in Lindon—blue and serene. Yet the vision turned sour as the traveler drew near; the blue faded into grey, and the outlines of sharp, barren ridges took shape. In truth, the Bleak Mountains Were not as utterly lifeless as their name might have suggested—any number of lichens, algae and mosses clinged to their rocks—but neither bird nor beast made its home among these dread peaks, and no forest hedged their slopes. The foothills and lower slopes housed the lairs of Trolls and Orcs. Though the climate was right, the lack of available prey dissuaded most dragons from making a home of this frigid range.
The lower slopes of the Ered Muil held another danger. Without soil or significant plant-life, the rain and snow-melt of spring and summer rushed down the mountainsides in wild torrents. Wanderers who did not take care to avoid the ravines and valleys subject to these sudden floods risked being swept away into raging waters. Above 5,000', the mountains were lifeless and frozen in winter and summer. Spirits of wind howled incessantly amid these heights, and climbers had to securely brace themselves against their malice.
The Bleak Mountains were Orc-infested north of Torogmar, especially in that portion of the range which faced the Forsaken Sea. These Orcs eked out a meager existence, subsisting for the most part by hunting seals, fish and whales along the shores of the Forsaken Sea. They also raided the villages of the Lumimiehet to their east, wandering into the Lakeland in spring and summer, and seizing what animals and plunder they could find. For endless generations, inter-tribal warfare had kept the Orcs in check; but about late TA 1640 the fratricide had abated, and a strong leader, Agog, had arisen. This would-be monarch had established a tribal council to settle disputes and reduce vendettas to (for Orcs) acceptable levels of bloodshed. It was unknown whether these developments reflected some scheme of the Witch-king's, but whatever its impetus, the iron rule of Agog rendered the Orcs of the Bleak Mountains more organized and therefore more dangerous to the folk of Forodwaith.
The Orcs maintained an uneasy coexistence with the dragon Canadras, who occupied the peninsula at the mouth of the Forsaken Sea, just to the east of the Bleak Mountains. Of old, the Orc-chieftains of the Ered Muil would acknowledge the dragon's lordship of this region by delivering up prisoners to him as victims. With Agog's rise to supremacy, this practice had ceased. The two powers have not yet become truly adversarial but, with the growing strength of the Orc-king, the matter was not likely to end peaceably. For the time being, the two sides watched and waited. Any travelers captured by the Orcs were invariably accused of being spies and henchmen of Canadras.
At the top of one of the range's peaks stoods the frozen corpse of a Second Age Noldo lord. The face of another mountain at the north end of the range was said to have been carved with runes revealing every spell of magic known in the world.