What is it like to become obsessed with a mountain? In The Measure of a Mountain: Beauty and Terror on Mount Rainier, Bruce Barcott describes how he circled the mountain on foot and interviewed mountaineers, climbing guides, priests, historians and scientists before he and his father attempted to scale the country's highest volcano. Barcott, a Seattle-based writer, takes a critical view of the mountaineering subculture, one that can be ruthless in its quest for dangerous peak experiences. Suffering in the pursuit of peaks isn't noble, he concludes: "Sometimes suffering in the wilderness is just suffering in the wilderness and the only knowledge you gain is the knowledge that you don't want to do it again." Barcott concludes that Rainier's power comes not from its 25 glaciers and daunting summit but from its commanding presence on the Puget Sound horizon. "Mount Rainier does not exist under our feet," he writes, "Mount Rainier lives in our minds."


Sasquatch Books, 615 2nd Ave., Suite 260, Seattle, WA 98104-2200. $23.95 hardcover, 288 pages.


* Sara Phillips