Deep inside the Pisgah National Forest, myself and four of my good friends trotted along an old laden rock bed, the old bones of an abandoned mining track. The goal was Cold Mountain, the elusive summit of a mountain popularized by a movie of a similar name.
The forecast was bad. Incredible waterfalls of rain made the passenger van just in front of us disappear as we traveled to the trail head. The weather man promised lots of rain, and rain we were receiving.
I’ve spent many nights in this particular wilderness. Despite this fact, I’m none the more aware of the actual location of the trail leading to the cold mountain summit. Map in hand, and bearing set, I can’t manage to lay eyes on the packed dirt expressway that leads me to the top. You see, the Shinning Rock wildnerness area, within the Pisgah National Forest, is completely unmarked. To aid in complicating the situation, there are more false trails than actual trails, all heading in the general direction of our destination.
We arrived at the trail head, somehow under beautiful blue skies. White fluffy clouds pranced overhead, playfully teasing us with the possibility of dramatic weather variations. We questioned our good fate, threw on our backpacks and lumbered into the wood without hesitation.
Going in, I knew finding cold mountain would be a challenge, but I didn’t realize how stealthy this frosty peak could really be. 6 miles in,I began to develop the sensation that, despite following a detailed itinerary, frequently studying the map, and eyeballing the compass at every turn, we were slowly veering off course. At mile 7, things just weren’t lining quite up. We were now heading east, but our bearing was directly north. A few fellow hikers crossed our path, heading opposite directions. “I have no idea”, “This way, or maybe…”and “”We’re trying to find it too!” were the replies we received when asking how to get to cold mountain.
The day was now getting late and we found ourselves on what we just learned was Old But Knob. We were exhausted, now at 8 miles in, and ready for dinner. Old Butt Knob Sounds like a comfy place to set up camp to me.
So, perhaps we didn’t find our destination. Perhaps we have failed our mission. But, all is not lost. We traveled many miles of mysterious dark forest, earning arousing vistas atop towering knobs we didn’t even know existed, and discovered mushrooms I’ve never laid eyes on. We found ourselves resting high atop a 5,200 foot peak, with teasing views of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains sleeping beneath us. The breeze was cool, the food was hot, and the company was ever so delightful. Laughter was the theme of the evening as we trades stories, thoughts, and planned the future.
We may have never found Cold Mountain, but we never had a drop of rain, and we did discover something much more. We found ourselves exploring for the sake of exploring. The destination was never really the goal, it was the journey, the time spent with friends, and a journey that we most certainly did find.
Cold Mountain still awaits, and for this I’m thankful. We now have reason to return, and return we will.
Dear Mountain, thank you for your life lesson. Things are often better when nothing goes as planned. You may wander, finding things you never knew you wanted to find. But dear old mountain, consider this a challenge accepted. We will return.