Santrauka: he novel opens in a Confederate military hospital near Raleigh, North Carolina, where the male protagonist, Inman, is recovering from a recent battle wound. Tired of fighting for a cause he never believed in and longing for his home at Cold Mountain, North Carolina, pushed by advice from a blind man, and moved by the death of the man in the bed next to him, he steals out of the hospital after nightfall and sets out west on a walking journey of approximately 250 miles. The narrative alternates back and forth every chapter between the story of Inman and that of Ada Monroe, a minister's daughter recently relocated from Charleston to a farm in the rural mountain community called Cold Mountain from which Inman hails. Though they only knew each other for a brief time before Inman departed for the war, it is largely the hope of seeing Ada again that drives Inman to desert the army and make the dangerous journey back to Cold Mountain. (Details of their brief history together are told at intervals in flashback over the course of the novel.) At Cold Mountain, Ada's father soon dies, and the farm that the genteel city-bred Ada lives on, named Black Cove, is soon reduced to a state of disrepair. A young woman named Ruby, homeless but a stronger worker than Ada and resourceful, soon moves in. She is capable of hard work and not only helps Ada clean the place up and return it to productivity, but teaches her what she must know to survive in this very different environment. Inman is on his way, but must beware of the Home Guard, who search for and capture Confederate deserters. He meets a preacher called Veasey, whom he catches in the act of attempting to murder his impregnated lover. After Inman dissuades him, they travel together. They butcher a dead cow that had fallen into a creek and the cow's owner, Junior, gives them away to the Home Guard. They are put into a group of other captured prisoners, and march for days before the Home Guard decides to simply shoot them because they are "too much trouble". Veasey steps forward to try to stop them and is killed. Inman survives when he takes a graze from a bullet that has already gone through Veasey and they think he is dead. They dig a shoddy mass grave and Inman pulls himself out, helped in part by some passing wild pigs. He cannot bury Veasey, but turns him face down, and continues on. Inman's journey is rough. He faces hunger, and an attempted armed robbery at a rural tavern, though carrying a LeMat revolver, which he uses when necessary. Occasionally he is helped and sheltered by civilians who want nothing to do with the war. Through cunning ingenuity he helps one of them track and recover a hog, her only possession and source of food for the winter, which had just been seized from her by Union soldiers. He is also helped by a woman who owns goats, who gives him advice and medicines to finally heal his wounds. At Ada's farm, Ruby's father, Stobrod, is caught stealing corn. He was a deadbeat who abused and neglected Ruby when she was very young; he is also a Confederate deserter. Ruby grudgingly feeds him. He returns another day with a friend named Pangle, and they play a fiddle and banjo. Stobrod and Pangle soon leave and, instead of stealing, take food from a hiding place where Ruby leaves it for them. They are caught and shot by the Home Guard. A third companion hides when the Guard finds the other two. He runs back and alerts Ada and Ruby, who ride out to see the two men. Stobrod just barely survives; Ada and Ruby pitch camp to give him a place to recover. Inman arrives at Black Cove to find it empty, and sets out to find Ada on the mountain. He unexpectedly encounters her, greatly altered; she's dressed in britches, and is out hunting wild turkeys. Both have changed so greatly in their appearance and demeanor since they parted that it is some moments before they recognize one another. Inman takes up camp with Ada and Ruby. Ruby is afraid Ada will dismiss her now she has a husband, and Ada reassures her that she needs her as a friend and for her ideas and help. Ruby gives the pair her blessing, and they make love. They happily begin to imagine the life they will have together at Black Cove and make plans for their future. As the party begins the trek back to the farm, however, they encounter the Home Guard. A shootout commences in which Inman kills or chases off all the members of the Guard except for a seventeen year old boy who flees into the thicket and is cornered against a rock ledge. Inman, reluctant to shoot him down in cold blood, tries to convince him to lay down his arms and leave. But as he approaches, the boy shoots and kills him. Ada is left a pregnant widow. She raises her daughter at Black Cove, where she lives with Stobrod and Ruby, who eventually also marries and has children.