Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Rainbow Summit 2 - Aconcagua

For an introduction to Cason Crane’s Rainbow Summits Project go here and here.

Cason Crane graduated from Choate Rosemary Hall high school in June 2011. He decided to take a year out and climb a mountain before going to Princeton University.

After getting the mountaineering bug after climbing Kilimanjaro at the age of 15 Cason was eager to climb another. So he joined Lydia Bradley in New Zealand where she would be his coach. Lydia is an experienced and respected climber, also being the first woman to reach the top of Everest without oxygen.

In New Zealand Cason made the decision to climb the Seven Summits for a good cause. It was while he was still in high school that one of his friends committed suicide because of homophobic bullying. It was a distressing time. Cason had often been bullied himself but managed to handle it. Then, a few months later another teenager, Tyler Clementi, committed suicide. Cason had never met him, but it was an event that attracted a lot of media attention to the problem of bullying in schools and universities.

Tyler was a student at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He had only recently started his undergraduate course in September 2010 when his room-mate set up a secret webcam in their shared accommodation. The room-mate had been aware of Tyler’s sexuality before they began their course and had discussed it on social media sites several times. Tyler did his best to ignore such gossip, and by the time they moved into their room they were barely on speaking terms.

But it was what happened after the secret webcam was set up that stirred public discussion. Tyler asked if he could have their room to himself one evening. He met a gay friend and it was this sexual encounter which his room-mate watched with another student. Almost immediately the room-mate was tweeting about it and suggested that he would be spying on Tyler again. Tyler found and disconnected the camera, but the experience of being spied on and treated like a sideshow subject to gossip prayed on his mind. Several days later Tyler jumped to his death off the George Washington Bridge.

Cason Crane was moved by the death of his friend and Tyler to contact The Trevor Project, an organisation set up to hep victims of bullying and educate the education system into the dangers of not controlling bullying in and out of the classroom. Cason was too young to be accepted as a counsellor, but he was still determined to do something to help.

Training in New Zealand everything came together – the mountaineering, the Trevor Project and Cason’s desire to help victims of bullying. He’d climb all the Seven Summits to raise funds for the Trevor Project. To highlight the lgbt aspect he named him project the Rainbow Summits Project. He also realised that he would, in all probability, be the first openly gay mountaineer to climb all seven summits as well.

So it was off to South America in February 2012 for the first proper summit in his project, summit number 2 in his challenge.

Aconcagua is the highest mountain in South America. It is located in Argentina high in the Andes. It also holds the record as the highest mountain in the western and southern hemispheres. Like Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua is regard as an “easy” climb for experienced mountaineers. It is also the highest non-technical mountain to climb, which means you don’t need a lot of ropes or axes.

Base Camp for Cason and the rest of the team was Playa Argentina, the smaller of the two on the mountain. After spending St. Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14th) as a rest day the team began the climb. By the time they got to the second camp site higher up they had lost two of the 12-person team due to altitude sickness or other illness. That didn’t seem to be much of an issue, but then the head guide informed them that bad storms and high winds were on their way and that there were two options. Option 1: wait at the camp for a week until the storms had gone; or Option 2: move the schedule ahead and start out for the summit in time to be back at camp when the storm arrived. The team chose Option 2.

An hour before sunrise on 24th February the team set off for the summit. Luckily, the sun came up into clear skies and the -20 degree night-time heat soon soared. The team took a break two hours before trekking along the hardest part of the route called Canaletta to the summit. During this last push Cason began to feel the enormity of climbing Aconcagua. He has recorded on his blog and in interviews how this feeling made him very emotional, and he cried as he though of his coming achievement and how proud his family and coach would be.

Cason reached Aconcagua summit at 3.10 pm. that day. But that’s only half the expedition over – there’s still the trip back down. As the team stood on the summit the bas weather began to close in quickly, and it got worse as they went down. Resting overnight at the camp site the team were glad to leave the 80 mile and hour winds for the increased oxygen levels lower down.

With summit number 2 safely under his belt Cason returned home to the US for a short break before heading to the Caucasus Mountain range to deal with the highest mountain in Europe. More of that tomorrow.

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