The Cold Vanish

by Jon Billman

“A person isn’t missing until they’re reported missing. Even then, if you’re over eighteen years old, going missing isn’t a crime or even an emergency. In this case, no one reports Jacob missing at all – rangers don’t have a missing person puzzle so much as they have a case of a found bicycle. Still, they need to find who it belongs to…

Rangers tell the family that they don’t have much to go on, other than the abandoned bicycle…are they looking in the right place? Jacob’s bike and trailer are functional – the tires are not flat, there’s no evidence the rider (rangers don’t even know for certain the gender of the cyclist at this point) had been hit by an automobile. Nothing appears malfeasant – enough gear to stock an REI store is there, and he probably has his wallet and phone in his pocket.”

Ratings & Reviews

Book Grade: A-

The Cold Vanish is a compelling blend of mystery and outdoor exploration. As someone who lives in the Pacific Northwest, I was fascinated by the fact that people have simply vanished in the wilds of Olympic National Park – a wilderness area that is in my geographic backyard. Jacob’s story hooked me, but I was equally impressed by how Billman wove different stories of murders and disappearances into his book. An avid runner, a young boy, a vagabond explorer all grace these pages and the mysteries that surround them are eloquently and engagingly detailed.

Billman does a wonderful job of telling the stories of these individuals who have disappeared while also respecting the unforgiving, yet beautiful, landscape so often found in America’s National Parks. His journalistic experience allows him to masterfully convey the story without taking sides, allowing readers to determine how best to approach and appreciate the nation’s treasured parks.

This book is hard to categorize – mystery, adventure, outdoor non-fiction. Regardless of which category it falls into, it is well worth a read. The only reason that I gave it an A- instead of a perfect rating was because Billman has a habit of forgetting what readers know, so he defines terms multiple times or reintroduces concepts repeatedly. This wasn’t enough to be a deal breaker for me and didn’t detract from the story as a whole, but it was a bit distracting.

Movie Rating: PG-13

The Cold Vanish is eloquently written for the most part, but there are times when Billman is quoting an individual and mature language is used. Billman does a remarkable job retelling important wilderness mysteries, but some of those include grisly details or gruesome events. There is, for example, a detailed account of a serial killer who is believed to be a suspect in the case of a young woman; in order to understand his level of threat, his story is outlined in a way that is fairly grotesque, and might not be suitable for sensitive readers.

While this is a compelling book that does a lovely job of focusing on Jacob Gray’s disappearance and commemorates the life of the vanished young man, some readers may find the content a bit too mature or gritty. It is not always dark, but I think that this would be best suited for older high school students as it really is an adult-crossover book.

Would I Buy This for My Library: Probably

I so enjoyed The Cold Vanish. The only hesitation that I have is, as mentioned above, there are some scenes that are a bit gruesome or disturbing and this book is not well-suite to all high school students. Most of the students who would be drawn to this would be more mature because of the reading level, but I recognize that this may not be a great fit depending upon your student population and interests.


Olympic National Park is known for rain forests, mountain vistas, and vast expanses of wilderness. In outdoor circles, it is also known for being a locale where people go missing. With thousands of people requiring search and rescue efforts each year at national parks across America (and most safely recovered), there is little awareness of how dangerous these treasured natural spaces can be. In The Cold Vanish: Seeing the Missing in North America’s Wildlands, Jon Billman, an outdoor journalist, became fascinated with the mysterious disappearance of Jacob Gray in Olympic National Park, and with determination, and a lot of time spent in the wilderness, joined Jacob’s father in search of the young man who seemingly vanished in the wild.

Jacob, at once enigmatic and alluring, is compared by some to Chris McCandless, the young man who abandoned all to try to live in the wilds of Alaska. With few material possessions and a lot of gumption, Jacob bicycled through various locales, but in the spring of 2017, his bike, trailer, and four arrows are found on the side of a road in the park. Examining both the confusing legalities, the limitations of the park rangers, and the challenging natural landscape of ONP, Billman crafts a fascinating story for all lovers of nature and fans of real-life mystery stories.

Blending other stories of adventurers who disappeared in the wilds or were killed in nature, The Cold Vanish is a fascinating look at the allure and danger of national parks, forest lands, and wild landscapes. This book, while challenging and intense at times, is a thrilling look at the beauty and threats that the most appealing landscapes present and the strange stories and myths often associated with search and rescue efforts.

Book Talk Questions:

  1. Jacob’s father becomes determined to find his son. Over the course of the book, do you find his efforts respectable and productive, or do you see them as fruitless and distracted?
  2. How do Sasquatch hunters factor into the search and rescue efforts for Jacob? Is this beneficial?
  3. Which other story of an individual’s disappearance or death did you find to be the most puzzling or compelling? Why?
  4. What is one of the Search and Rescue challenges with different agencies? How does this hinder search efforts early on in individual disappearances?
  5. How is the book resolved? What questions still remain? What lessons can you take from this story?

A Perfect Read for Fans Of…

  • Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
  • To the Ice and Beyond by Graeme Kendall
  • 81 Days Below Zero by Brian Murphy

One thought on “The Cold Vanish

  1. I have never read books by this author but think this is worth looking into. Thank you for reviewing it for us.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: