ADVENTURE

Former Hong Kong schoolboy Cason Crane completes ascent of seven highest summits

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 July, 2013, 6:00am

Former Hong Kong schoolboy Cason Crane has achieved his goal of becoming the first openly gay mountaineer to scale the seven highest summits on the six continents after conquering the final climb -Mount McKinley in Alaska.

He says the reality of having realised his dream four days ago has yet to sink in. American Crane, 20, is one of the youngest climbers to have achieved the feat.

He moved quickly to finish his quest on Mount McKinley, also known as Denali, after completing the ascent of Mount Everest on May 21 since his body was already oxygenated and accustomed to high altitude.

"When I got to the top of Everest in May it was so emotional. I just cried. It was unbelievable, it's been my dream since I was a child," he said. Climbing Denali was a different kind of victory, as it was his second attempt - he failed to reach its summit last year. Both mountains presented frightening challenges.

"It's not an easy mountain," says Crane of Everest, where he was taken up by New Zealand climber Lydia Bradey, the first woman to ascend Everest without oxygen. The worst parts for him were being above 8,000 metres in the so-called death zone. I just didn't want to fall, so was super careful. You will die there if you can't walk."

The final ascent to the summit involved sheer drops either side, where Crane refused to look down "because I'm afraid of heights".

"The most dangerous part is the Khumbu Icefall, where ice blocks - the size of cars - can be very unstable. You go through the icefall in the middle of the night when it is coldest, but I could hear these loud sounds of the ice moving and I was petrified because you couldn't tell whether the sound was 10 metres or 100 metres away."

Cason's mother, Isabella de la Houssaye, who climbed the initial stages of Everest and some of the other peaks with her son, was relieved that he came back with no frostbite, he said. Denali was warm this year, but that presented other dangers. Less stable snow means more chance of rockfalls, and Crane finally scaled the peak on a difficult day, because he feared the weather would only get worse.

"We were bent double as the winds were blowing at 30 to 40 miles per hour," he said.

So far, Crane's Rainbow Summits Project (rainbowsummits.org) has raised US$135,000 in funds and increased awareness of the Trevor Project, a US-based organisation which provides a 24-hour hotline for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth (LGBTQ) as well as a question-and-answer page online, a secure online chat and a worldwide social network called TrevorSpace. Crane was inspired to embark on the summits project after Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old American student, committed suicide in 2010 in New Jersey in the United States, following a spate of cyber-bullying over his sexuality.