An Oregon State sociologist (and climber) examines climbing as a social event: ""what it is like to be a mountaineer as the occupant of a role and the participant in a relationship""--a topic more likely to interest other sociologists than mountaineers. The latter may be surprised to learn that there are really seven ""components of mountaineering endeavors"": planning, choice of companions, selection of equipment, conditioning, travel, the technical climbing itself, and talking about it afterward. The climber's post-climb ""debriefing"" represents the ""prime time for identity negotiation,"" says Mitchell, who examines the mechanisms by which a climber's identity is ""created, maintained and enhanced."" The identity-creation process involves both ""performance"" and ""negotiation""--but more the latter, since there are few chances for the use of direct performance in identity-enhancement: no matter how good you are, for example, few people ever really see you doing that 5.12 overhang. Clubs (though Americans don't go for them much), rating systems as a yardstick for measuring climbers' skills, journal articles and guidebooks all affect climbers' ""identity-management efforts""; and Mitchell suggests that increasing emphasis on records and ratings shifts the focus of interest ""away from the difficulties of the mountain to the problems of gaining a reputation as a mountaineer."" Mitchell tackles the ""why"" of climbing head-on, in several relentlessly ""scholarly"" chapters: the secret of it all is the climber's achievement of a state of ""flow"" (here Mitchell credits Csikszentmihalyi's prior work), a condition of intense energy outpouring in which the climber is in control, where the distinction between self and environment blurs. Many climbers are white, middle-class males with solid careers, and thus people with minimal chance of experiencing uncertainty in their daily lives. Alienated, they seek variety and personal challenge in their recreation, and they find it in climbing. Sensibly argued, though chiefly for an academic audience.