There has been a continuing effort by GLAAD to showcase positive advancements made by the LGBT community in the world of Athletics. A significant example of this is shown by Cason Crane, who is attempting to become the first LGBT man to climb the highest peak on each continent—known as the "Seven Summits". Below Cason—who only graduated high school in 2011—discusses what motivated him to climb the Seven Summits, the challenges involved with assaulting Everest, and how he hopes his story will inspire LGBT youth to follow their own interests; whatever they may be.
Elliott Moore: What is the motivation for starting the Rainbow Summits Project?
Cason Crane: The foundation for what inspired and motived me to start the Rainbow Summits Project, even though I had an accepting environment growing up, is that I still faced homophobia. I still faced bullying and I still got called names as a result of my sexuality. I knew what that felt like. So, that visceral experience was the basis of the foundation. However, the real inspiration for the foundation happened when I was in high school; one of my friends committed suicide. That was the first time I was aware of the issue of youth suicide in general. Then a couple of months later Tyler Clementi committed suicide. That incident coming just after my friend's at school opened my eyes to the issue of LGBTQ suicide that I had never really been aware of before. Actually, it did more than open my eyes, I absolutely knew at that moment I needed to do something about this. It was like a wakeup call for me.
EM: The Trevor Project is a fantastic organization that assists LGBT youth in crisis assistance and suicide prevention. How do you hope the Rainbow Summits Project will assist the goals and overall mission of The Trevor Project?
CC: Well there are a couple of ways, the first way is raising awareness for The Trevor Project. My mission is to raise awareness by being the first openly LGBT person to climb the 7 summits (the highest points on each of the seven continents). That’s the first way that I am supporting the Trevor project because every time someone hears about the organization serves to help save young people's lives. The more people that are aware of the organization the more people that will know how to use The Trevor Project's services. The fact that more people are calling (The Trevor Project) is not a sign that suicide is increasing, it’s a sign that they know to call. Additionally, I am excited to have raised $105,000 so far for the organization, which is important because all nonprofits need funds to offer services. I also hope to be a role model for other LGBT youth that are interested in athletics, or anything else, and inspire them to follow their own dream.
EM: What initially got you interested in Climbing as a sport?
CC: I've been outdoorsy my whole life, something I can attribute to my family. Since I can remember we have been going out and hiking and exploring the natural world. My mother is a very adventurous personality. When I was a freshman in high school I had a different spring break then the rest of my 4 siblings, but I had the opportunity to have mother son bonding with her. She suggested to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. I was 15 when we went over. She ran the Kilimanjaro Marathon and I ran half marathon. Afterwards, we started the expedition. 7 days later we were on the summit and we were 100% addicted. Kilimanjaro is quite easy, it's an easy climb. But, it's like a gateway mountain so once you do it you're addicted.
EM: For any readers that are not familiar with the sport can you describe a little the process of scaling a summit, or the process of trying to climb the 7 summits?
CC: Well, most people who climb on each continent don’t attempt to do it in such a short period of time. Everest is the longest and it will be two months long climb. The shortest is Kilimanjaro which is a 7 or 8 day climb. So, no matter what it is relatively a long period of time. There are very few living things that you can see while climbing, flora or fauna; which I find amazingly beautiful. But, I spent a quarter of last year on a mountain so I better love it. At the start of the process I travel to the mountain and meet with a team. I always climb with a team. They have saved my life and I have saved their lives so it is important for me to not go alone. Then, I have a gear check to make sure I have everything. I know about all the gear I bring so the check is to make sure I have all the supplies I need. At this point my team and I trek to the base of the mountain and set up. We assess the conditions on the mountain and we set up the tent and the base camp. Then we start the climb. To deal with the altitude we climb high and sleep low. That means you go up high and stash gear and then you go down to a lower camp and to sleep. We do this as we climb the mountain. You go from Basecamp up to the first point and then back to basecamp, then basecamp up to the second and back, basecamp up to the third, etc. That’s how you deal with the oxygen changes while climbing. Even then, some people deal better than others with altitude because it's genetic. I have not had problems with altitude yet, meaning I haven't had altitude sickness. I do feel woozy on the top of a mountain but going down is the worst part. Physically going down is a lot harder than going up.
EM: One of your biggest challenges may be your assault on Mount Everest. How are you preparing for that climb compared to some of the other summits you have conquered? In relation to how you sleep, what you eat, struggles with oxygen deprivation.
CC: Most people who climb on each continent, don’t do it in a short period of time. In the past year I have climbed 6 of the past 7 summits. No American has climbed them in less than a year for context, even though I will be taking slightly more than a year to do it. Most people take a year to prepare for Everest. They train and they generally have jobs so they don't have the time. I have been climbing consistently for the past year so my preparation is different. I've only had three months of off the mountain training time for Everest. But, I am basically preparing like I prepare for the other mountains I climbed; maybe it is that I over prepared for the other mountains. People underestimate how mentally rigorous climbing a mountain can be. People will struggle with the physical component but they also struggle with the mental aspects.
EM: How do you plan to celebrate when you reach the summit of Everest?
CC: I am going to take lots of pictures. That’s really important, it’s a necessity. Other than that I kind of just want to soak it in. I've been visualizing the summit, which is a large part of my mental preparation. It's amazing to think about being on the top of the world.
EM: What so far has been the most enjoyable part of this experience? Perhaps your favorite climb or your favorite experience on a climb?
CC: There have been so many amazing experiences. It is hard to narrow it down to even my top three. One of my favorite experiences has been climbing Carstensz Pyramid. The climb is almost otherworldly. It felt like I was going back in time to a culture that I would never have even thought existed. Locals walked around in traditional attire. It was fascinating and so different from anything to which I had been previously exposed. I love when I can go to a place and climb and it can open my eyes to new cultural experiences. That's just one though, there are so many others and they are all amazing.
EM: How do you hope your story inspires or affects LGBT youth?
CC: There are two primary ways where I hope my story affects or inspires LGBT youth. I hope that it inspires LGBT athletes. I had a great time running cross country in high school, and a supportive team, but I had no openly gay role models. I know that LGBT kids around the country are desperate for openly gay LGBT role models, whether they are athletes or not. I hope they will see what I am doing and follow their interests, whatever they are. I want it to serve as an example of something that you could do. Two years ago in high school if you would have asked me if I thought I was an activist I would have said no. It can be a scary thought. In the past year I have embraced the idea of activism and my role as an activist and an advocate on LGBTQ issues. So the second was is to encourage youth to become activist and explore their passions. I feel like young people are afraid; like I was. I feel like there is no passing this off though. We each can, and should, try to act out on issues.
EM: How can someone reading this story get involved with the Rainbow Summits Project?
CC: The first way is to go to our website, or Facebook page. I will be out of touch myself for the next few months because of my Everest expedition. However, I will be updating my progress on things like twitter if someone wants to get involved in that way. There is also the prayer flag initiative that I am doing. I am bringing Tibetan prayer flags that will be dedicated for people who have been bullied or harassed because of homophobia. People can join me in the spiritual and emotional part of the Everest expedition by dedicating these Tibetan prayer flags. I encourage people to do that before I go. Beyond that I suggest them to contact me because I am always looking for the next transformation for my project. I am happy where it is right now but I am open to suggestions and collaborations, and I am outgoing, so I would like for people to get in touch with me.
EM: Where do you see the Rainbow Summits Project in the future, in 5 to 10 years, after you have climbed the seven summits?
CC: I start at Princeton in the fall; I am really excited. I don’t know what my life will look like for the next 4 years. I am not certain where the Rainbow Summits Project will go. I can promise, though, that I will be committed and passionate about raising awareness for the Trevor Project and the LGBTQ community.