Sometimes our passions take us to far corners of the world; for Cason Crane, it has taken him to all seven continents. A mountaineer who started the Rainbow Summits Project, Cason successfully became the first openly gay mountaineer to conquer some of the world’s tallest peaks. While these mountain share that they are each the tallest on its continent, each climb was unique.
Cason found his interest in climbing very early. “As a freshman in high school I climbed Kilimanjaro with my mom. We heard from people it was going to be an awesome climb, and it was an amazing experience.” He then explained an aspect of climbing that would hold true for the rest of his experiences, “As Kilimanjaro, the reality is that people die climbing it. But it’s somehow accessible. And every mountain has something to offer.”
It was during his gap year that Cason became inspired to reach the seven summits. Kilimanjaro was his first. Below are brief glimpses into the next 6 of his climbs, in chronological order.
“Aconcagua is just North of Mendoza which is wine country in Argentina. What’s crazy about mountain climbing in South America is that we went from walking through flat vineyards to suddenly seeing one of the world’s largest mountain ranges just a couple of hours away. Another interesting aspect is that there was hardly any snow at the top of Aconcagua which is kind of unexpected given the altitude.”
Mt. Elbris, Russia
“To get to Mt. Elbris you fly to a town that I kid you not translates to ‘mineral water.’ But when I showed up I found out that the group had cancelled. They didn’t have an expedition for me to go on the south side, but said we could go up the north side. Elbris is kind of odd because there is actually a chairlift that goes all the way to the top. But to get to the north side I went on this five-hour car journey in a something that looked like an old soviet car for five hours listening to Russian elctro-pop. It was so funny. The mountain itself is a really difficult hike. To be honest I had warped expectations for what Russia would be like but it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve been.”
“I didn’t summit this the first time around, but went back to finish the climb. It’s an absolutely massive mountain, and probably physically the longest climb out of all of them, and definitely one of the biggest changes in altitude. I’ll never forget that when we got back I had the biggest breakfast I’ve probably ever had in my life.
You know after doing a lot of climbing, it was actually really cool to do climbing in the US; I went to the park services office, got my permits, and it was official. It sounds funny but it actually made me feel proud to be an American, to just have access to such a beautiful mountain.
Carstensz Pyramid, New Guinea
“I would say that this one was the biggest adventure. We were in Bali, which is a jumping off point, I saw on Facebook that one my old coach and mentor was being held hostage on the same mountain that we were about to climb. At the time there were militia who trying to break away from Indonesia, and were taking travelers hostage. We talked to our guides, who assured us that we were going on a different route. Thankfully my mentor ended up being perfectly fine but they did have to pay a huge ransom.
This trek is hard. I have climbed a lot and this is definitely the most miserable I ever was. It’s a weeklong trek in the jungle, sometimes through mud up to your waist, and you up against anything from leeches to mosquitos. And it was a dangerous area. After we got back, we were waiting for the pilot (in the village there are no roads, just planes). But anyway we met our pilot and we learned that he used to work for a huge commercial jet company. We asked how he ended up flying little plains in Papua, and he said ‘for the adventure. Because it’s thrilling to know that every time I fly I might not make it.’ I mean I couldn’t believe he told us that.”
To get there we took this huge soviet Jet to get union glacier. You arrive in something like a mini city on this vast continent. The city is a logistical jumping off point for a lot of adventure travel (it’s where the Antarctic marathon happens.” Antarctica was stunning. But you also realize that it’s all flat and white in every direction, which can be very disconcerting. It can make you fee isolated, separated from civilization.
Mt. Everest, Nepal
We trekked nine days to Everest Base Camp. Base Camp is awesome; again, it’s like a mini city. When people hear that the climb takes two months, people assume that it will be the absolute worst. But we had a lot of fun. And we brought portable DVD players and stuff like that.
Everest was a party. I was actually really proud because I hosted a party at base camp, which was a huge success.
That’s one part of Everest. The climb itself is terrifying. You literally pass bodies on the way up. They almost become part of nature. It’s extremely eerie. If you’ve read “Into Thin Air” then you know who Scott Fischer is. He died on the expedition but his body is still there. His boots and clothing anyway.
I also passed someone who was near death. He had only been climbing with a couple of other people, and we learned that his guides had to make a choice and could only save one of them. This normally should not happen and we still don’t really know the events that took place. When I found this guy he was unresponsive but still moving his arms. I radioed down and they said they would try to get help but there was little they could do. By the time they reached him they radioed to me that he was gone. I then heard my guides say on the radio to people behind us to watch out for an obstacle on that part of the trail. It was so disconcerting to see how human life so quickly just morphed into something like an “obstacle”
What keeps me climbing? I’ve had this experience of being hyper aware. When you are climbing you realize how close you are to death. It’s physically challenging but it also exposes you to beautiful parts of the world. I mean even thinking of it now literally brings tears to my eyes. Looking from the top of Everest all around, I never felt so incredible in my whole life. You can’t get that elsewhere. You have to climb to see.”
-Interview on March 9 2016
~Charlotte Williams '17
"Aconcagua" by Jorge Díaz (https://www.flickr.com/photos/xurde/) is licensed under CC BY 2.0
"Carstensz-019" by Olof Sundström & Martin Letzter (https://www.flickr.com/photos/se7ensummits/) is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
"Denali Double Rainbow Panorama" by Grant Eaton (https://www.flickr.com/photos/granteaton/) is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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