A slim but pleasing meditative account of the Zen of mountain climbing from first-novelist Duane (Caught Inside: A Surfer's Year on the California Coast, 1996, etc.). Native San Franciscan Ray, himself a writer, sits at home waiting for his rejected manuscripts to arrive while he dreams of his past adventures with the charismatic Mo. The two pastimes are in fact well connected, for Ray's novel chronicles Mo's wild escapades and parablelike stories, centering on their pursuit of Yosemite's El Capitan. Before Mo manages to return from his latest pilgrimage, Ray meets Fiona, an artist visiting San Francisco for her mother's funeral. Just as the two begin to bond, Mo returns with hopes of attempting 91 Cap again (when last they tried, Ray froze with fear, and they descended before reaching the top). When the men meet up in an industrial loft gorily reminiscent of Survival Research Laboratories, Mo confronts Ray about his book (which had been kept a secret). Ray maintains his innocence, but Mo sees only betrayal: His life stories, he argues, should remain unfinished for as long as he's alive. Mo leaves, and Ray follows--a running theme in their friendship. Nevertheless, after Ray gets sidetracked with a hallucinogenic experience at a Dead show, he falls in with Mo once more, and they do attempt the climb. Bad weather, few supplies, and the threats of hypothermia and death are obstacles they face just as a rescue team appears. Duane's story of self-exploration is happily unfettered by New Ageisms, and succeeds partly because it chooses to tackle a small scale, not a big one. Even the nonclimber will get satisfaction from his reflections on the interplay of man and mountain. A nicely balanced work on the age-old quest for enlightenment.