Inman finds the camp where Pangle died. He sees the women’s tracks but postpones following them because night is drawing in. Inman feels empty with hunger but vows not to eat anything until he finds Ada. Inman remembers his arrival at Black Cove that morning and how it had differed from the way he had imagined it. The Georgia boy informed him of events and explained that the women had set off up the mountain. Inman rests in front of the fire and hopes that Ada will “redeem” him when he finds her. He thinks about preachers such as Veasey and their false promises of salvation. Nevertheless, Inman holds out faith that he can be saved. He sets out at dawn to follow the tracks in the snow. When a fresh snowfall arrives and fills in the footprints, Inman shelters in a hemlock grove in despair.
Ruby wakes up to find that Stobrod is feverish and decides to make him a poultice (a cloth used to soothe a wounded or aching part of the body). Ada leaves to hunt turkeys and manages to kill a pair with one shot. Inman leaves the grove when he hears the gunshot. He sees a man standing with a gun before realizing that he sees Ada. Ada does not recognize Inman and states that she does not know him. Inman turns to leave but thinks better of it; as soon as he speaks, Ada recognizes him. She picks up the turkeys, and the two return to camp. Inman listens as Ada talks reassuringly about anything that comes into her head.
All you can choose to do is go on or not. But if you go on, it’s knowing you carry your scars with you.
Ada, Inman, Ruby, and Stobrod sit together in a cabin. The men go to bed, and the women clean out and repair another hut. Ada finds an old wooden bowl and sets it in a niche. They roast the turkeys, and Ruby tells Ada that she doesn’t need Inman. Ada replies that she doesn’t want to become an “old bitter woman.”
Inman wakes up and brings Stobrod water from the creek. He enters the women’s hut and eats some cooked turkey. Ruby makes broth for her father and leaves, saying that she might be gone for a while. Inman does not know what to say, so he reads Ada a passage from his copy of Bartram’s Travels. Embarrassingly, the passage he chooses is about sex. Inman leaves to scour his dishes in the river, but the memory of Ada’s touch draws him back to the cabin. He and Ada hold each other while Ada summarizes the letters she wrote him. Inman fears he may be “ruined beyond repair.” The lovers talk about the future and the people who might have lived in the cabin. Ruby returns, and Inman leaves. Ada tells Ruby that Stobrod can recover at Black Cove farm.
The next day, Ada and Inman go hunting for game but find nothing. Ada explains that she wants to keep Ruby around the farm. The couple comes across an old arrowhead buried in a poplar tree while searching for medicinal herbs. They discuss returning to this place in the future with their family to observe the arrow shaft’s decay. Ada and Inman return to camp and the men go to bed. Ada and Ruby discuss their vision “of plenty” regarding the farm. That night, Ruby stays beside her father, and Ada and Inman sleep together. Later that night, the lovers talk about their childhoods and the past. Inman does not talk much about the war because he recognizes that no description, however detailed, could convey the truth of it. Instead he tells Ada about the goat-woman and his long journey home. Inman and Ada discuss their marriage plans and how they will live at Black Cove in the future. Inman resolves to learn Greek and play music.
In many ways, Inman and Ada’s reunion is anti-climactic. Put simply, Ada is not where Inman expected her to be. Instead of striding heroically into Black Cove, Inman is forced to climb Cold Mountain looking haggard and dejected. Ada herself is wearing pants, not the delicate “ankle boots” and “petticoats” Inman had anticipated. The changes in the physical appearances of both characters signify the internal changes they have undergone. Inman recognizes that a life with Ada is his journey’s true destination, rather than his family (of whom he makes no mention) or even the landscape. Inman admits his fear that Ada will “recede before him forever” leaving him a “lone pilgrim.” This anxiety has defined their relationship from the start, as both have sought to overcome their shared emotional reserve and inclination toward privacy. The effects of Ada and Inman’s estrangement are conveyed in the initial awkwardness of their greeting. However, the sincerity of their feelings toward one another soon resurfaces as each gains the courage to reach out to the other.
Footsteps and tracks feature prominently in this chapter as symbols of impermanent guidance. The prints are temporary marks, traces that vanish while nature’s cycle continues. Inman’s emptiness and hunger suggests his need for spiritual as well as physical sustenance. The novel’s treatment of hunger as a metaphor for all kinds of need culminates in this chapter, in which Inman eats real food and reunites with Ada. For once, he feels sated. Hope is born again, although it cannot undo all the anguish he has suffered.
The theme of change dominates in “the far side of trouble.” Both characters recognize that they have changed, but Ada asserts that perhaps she likes “them both better.” The lovers discuss the future and their past experiences. Ada and Inman’s new shared optimism is shown by their response to the antiquated arrowhead. Inman’s reaction is not what it once would have been. Whereas he previously viewed old artifacts as symbols of primitivism, he now sees the arrowhead as a symbol of continuity, something that he and Ada can show to their children in the years ahead.