Student poised to be first openly gay climber to conquer 'Seven Summits'

He raises awareness for gay cause as he prepares to take on Everest in 'Seven Summits' quest

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 March, 2013, 5:48am

An American student who once attended school in Hong Kong is well on his way to becoming the first openly gay mountaineer to conquer the highest peak on each continent - known as the "Seven Summits".

Cason Crane, 20, already has five of those mountains under his belt and was yesterday due to begin his quest to scale the highest of them all, Mount Everest.

That will be followed by his final target, Mount McKinley in Alaska, which will make him the fifth-youngest person to achieve the feat.

Crane's seven-summit challenge is also a fund-raising effort for The Trevor Project, an organisation based in the United States that is the country's sole 24-hour suicide lifeline for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning (LGBTQ) youth.

Crane calls his LGBTQ awareness-building initiative The Rainbow Summits Project, and he puts a rainbow flag on his tent on each of the mountains.

He was spurred into action following the suicide of New York university student Tyler Clementi, who jumped from a bridge in September 2010 after his roommate and others targeted him through cyber-bullying over his romantic relationships.

"I didn't know Tyler at all," Crane said. "But I felt like I knew him."

Crane himself has experienced some bullying at school, but that has not stopped him from becoming a successful openly gay athlete since age 15.

The oldest of five children, he showed early signs of mountaineering skills. At just 15 years old, he went with his mother, a mountaineer and ultramarathon athlete, up Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain.

He has also reached the summits of Mount Aconcagua in Argentina; Mount Elbrus, a dormant volcano in Russia; the Carstensz Pyramid or Puncak Jaya in Indonesia; and the Vinson Massif, Antarctica's highest peak.

As a child, he studied in the primary section of Chinese International School on Braemar Hill before his family moved to the US.

He was back in Hong Kong with his parents last week prior to his estimated two-month climb with a team and guide up Everest. His mother will accompany him on the climb to the base camp.

Crane was also pleased to discover that a number of Hongkongers had joined the Trevor social network. So far, he has collected US$110,000 for the lifeline and hopes to raise US$250,000 in total.

He also hopes to be a role model for LGBTQ youth and get them to enjoy the outdoors.

"LGBTQ young people are four times more likely to attempt suicide" than their heterosexual counterparts, Crane says.

However, if they have just one supportive adult in their lives, that number has been found to fall by roughly one-third, according to Crane.

And he is working just as hard on raising awareness for the cause as he is on getting in condition for his perilous trek.

"It's very important to drink a lot of water," he said, noting that dehydration would increase the chances of frostbite.

Fit and lean, he usually loses 4.5kg on a mountain climb. "You lose your appetite at a higher altitude", so it is important to add a bit of body fat beforehand.

"I stopped off at Mrs Fields yesterday," he grins, "and bought 24 cookies."