Cold Springs Ranch - The Real Cold Mountain
Cold Mountain from Bethel


    The Real Cold Mountain
     by Mike Miller
      February 28, 2005
The unedited version of my article in Roam Magazine


By now many of you will have either read Charles Frazier’s best selling novel “Cold Mountain” or have seen the Oscar winning movie by the same name starring Nicole Kidman, Jude Law, and Renee Zellweger. But did you know that there really is a Cold Mountain in Haywood County North Carolina? Although most of the novel is fictional there are a few facts woven into the story. In the novel there is supposed to be a mountain and a town named Cold Mountain. While the town of Cold Mountain is a fictional amalgamation of many towns and communities in Haywood County, the mountain is very real. You may also be surprised to know there really was a man named W.P. Inman from near Cold Mountain. He fought in the Civil War and was killed by the Home Guard on his return to Haywood County before the war ended. But that is a fascinating tale for another time. Let’s go explore the real Cold Mountain!


The real Cold Mountain, at 6030 feet, is the pinnacle of the Shining Rock Wilderness Area. The Shining Rock Wilderness area is one of the few designated wilderness areas in North Carolina and indeed the country. One of the original wilderness areas formed by congress in 1964, the 18,483 acre Shining Rock Wilderness Area is a very special place indeed. For those of you unfamiliar with what a wilderness area is, it is an area set aside by the federal government to be as wild as possible. Unlike National Parks and Recreation Areas, a Wilderness Area is to be as untouched as possible and visiting them is not necessarily encouraged. In fact, up until a few years ago, a permit was required to hike into the Shining Rock Wilderness Area. No mechanical vehicles or horses are allowed. The only way to travel in a Wilderness Area is by human foot. Camping is only allowed in the few designated camping areas. In other words, congress created the Wilderness Areas to try and keep a special place protected as best we can. Part of the Wilderness act describes it best " area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvement or human habitation..." Section 2(c). Take note of the little used word “untrammeled”. This word does not mean “untrampled” as in not stepped on, although untrammeled land is usually untrampled. Untrammeled means free and unconstrained. A Wilderness Area is, by definition, a land free and unconstrained by man. So needless to say, you will not find a T-Shirt stand at the bottom of the mountain offering Jeeps rides to haul you to the top. Most of the trail heads to the summit of Cold Mountain start around 3500 feet so the hike to the 6030 foot summit is quite steep and a challenge for even experienced hikers. Cold Mountain today exists much as it always has, a silent peaceful mountain standing over fertile valleys.


So when folks ask “How do I get to Cold Mountain?” I usually have to tell them, you don’t. It is best to view the mountain from afar. However, with a 6030 foot peak there are many places to see Cold Mountain. Although there is no town called Cold Mountain, the community that would come closest to being that town would be my home community, the Pigeon River valley community of Bethel. Cold Mountain soars over Bethel to the south-east and can be viewed from many places up and down the river valley. One of the best views of Cold Mountain can be had on N.C. 215 about half-way from the town of Canton to Bethel. As N.C. 215 winds it’s way south along side the Pigeon River, Cold Mountain will be the tallest mountain visible to your left. This is a good place to see the full massiveness of the mountain, from river and valley floor all the way to the summit. At the time of this writing, Cold Mountain and the coves flanking it are still recovering from the devastating remnants of hurricanes Frances and Ivan in September, 2004. On the upper slopes of Cold Mountain, upstream from Bethel, the Cruso community received 17 inches of rain in one day. Many roads and bridges and indeed whole communities are still recovering. In fact, highway 276 through the Bethel community is still closed and the road detoured because of a washed out bridge.


Another good place to view Cold Mountain is from along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Cold Mountain can be seen from many places along the Parkway, but some of the best are from about Milepost 412 near Wagon Gap Road and southwards. Wagon Gap Road can be reached by following Highway 276 from Bethel east to the Parkway. At the Wagon Gap Road parking area, you can pose with the Cold Mountain overlook sign with Cold Mountain in the background. You can also hike the not too difficult three mile trail from the Parkway to Mt. Pisgah to get a good look at the eastern side of Cold Mountain. There are also good views near Milepost 407.


While riding along this section of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Cold Mountain you will see that you are in a much different environment than the valley floors below. The highest elevation areas around Cold Mountain and the Shining Rock Wilderness Area contain an ecosystem and climate unique in the South. You can think of these highest mountain peaks above 5000 feet as “islands” of Canadian spruce-fir forest. During the last Ice Age the world’s climate cooled significantly. Great Ice sheets pushed out of Eastern Canada and New England southward. Although these ice sheets never reached as far south as North Carolina, they pushed south the flora and fauna of those northern territories. North Carolina forests were covered in Spruce, Fir, and hardwoods such as Maple, Beech, and Birch. As the Ice Age ended and the climate warmed again roughly 18,000 years ago, the northern spruce-fir forest retreated back north. However, on the very highest peaks of the Southern Appalachian Mountains, those peaks above 5000-6000 feet in elevation, the climate has remained cool enough for the northern forest to still exist.  Although completely logged, except for a few isolated outcroppings, in the early 1900’s some of the Spruce and Fir forest have come back and offer a unique experience in the South.


So get out there and see the real Cold Mountain. Experience and appreciate the unique qualities of the area. And like W.P. Inman in the novel “Cold Mountain”, you will also find your self longing to once again see that high unreachable peak again.



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