Jonathan Waterman paints a startlingly intimate portrait of the white leviathan and brings to vivid life men and women whose fates have entwined on its sheer icy peak.
Veteran mountaineer Waterman ( High Alaska ) here offers a series of essays about his relationship with a particularly dangerous peak, but his stoic attitude about the dangers of climbing may strike some readers as machismo that detracts from the heart-stopping moments he describes. In the preface to this new entry in the Laurel Expedition series, he notes that active mountaineers are annoyed by questions about why they climb--which may explain why he fails to offer any reasonable explanation for continuing his attempts after the deaths of numerous friends and acquaintances. In a touching if ultimately unsatisfying chapter, he profiles an unrelated climber named John Waterman, who disappeared on Denali (the original native name for Mt. McKinley) at a time when the author was also climbing it; descriptions of John Waterman's physical abilities and his failure to commit to anything in life other than climbing, although sometimes poignant, don't add up to a coherent essay. Other pieces detail the writer's experiences as a ranger: the discovery of a dead woman imprisoned in ice; close calls with grizzly bears; and the death of Mugs Stump, a purist who ignored Park Service regulations and climbed solo without a radio. Taut, understated prose captures the commitment of dedicated climbers, though it may not convince those who think the entire sport is for lunatics.