Neil Countryman, the son of a carpenter, is a high-school English teacher, the happily married father of two, and an aspiring writer. As a teenager, he hiked the uncharted wilderness of the North Cascades with his friend John William Barry, an affluent descendant of Seattle’s founding families. Fueled by bravado and adolescent idealism, John William held forth on everything --- from mountaineering lore to society’s failings to metaphysics. After a couple of semesters at Reed College, John William engineers his own disappearance, retreating to a primitive camp high in the mountains. For seven years, Neil is his only contact with the outside world. When John William’s long strange odyssey comes to a tragic end, Neil must deal with the meaning of his friend’s life and its profound impact on his own.