Sunday 23 June 2013

The Rainbow Summits Project

This coming week sees the 35th anniversary of the Rainbow Pride flag. Little did Gilbert Baker know when he and his team of volunteer flag-makers decked out the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Freedom Day Parade on 25th June 1978 with his 8-striped designs that it would become so universal.

As a vexillologist (flag studier) for exactly the same length of time I can think of no other flag that is used by the same community in so many countries so much. Even if the Guinness Book of World Records doesn’t list it as such I believe the Rainbow Pride flag is the most popular flag in history, used by more people than any national or empire flag.

But Guinness has recognised the Rainbow Pride flag’s record-breaking achievements in the past. In 1994, to mark the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, and the Gay Games being held in New York that same week, Gilbert Baker produced a flag that was one mile long. It was recognised as the world’s longest flag.

Almost a decade later Gilbert’s flag had to relinquish the record to another. In 2003 a flag that was a quarter of a mile longer took the record. Was Gilbert disappointed? Hardly, the record went to a Rainbow Pride flag that was unfurled in Key West, Florida, to celebrate the flag’s 25th anniversary. (The record has since gone to a Syrian national flag.)

To celebrate the flag’s anniversary, in this US Pride Month, there’s no better way than to highlight a project which takes the Rainbow Pride flag as an inspiration.

The Rainbow Summits Project is a highly ambitious challenge that young American Cason Crane set for himself. Hopefully, in the next few weeks he will complete his project to climb the highest mountain on 7 continents (listed below). Climbing specifically as an openly gay man for an lgbt cause Cason created his project after the suicide of a school friend and of Tyler Clementi. Cason was always been open about his sexuality. He received abuse from fellow students, and from visiting sports teams when he appeared in the school athletic events. Recognising the struggles and challenges encountered by many gay teenagers because of homophobia and bullying Cason contacted The Trevor Project, an organisation which supports victims of bullying, and volunteered to take on his mountain challenge to raise funds for them. He also hopes to unfurl a Rainbow Pride flag at each summit.

So, who is Cason Crane? What makes him the right person to take on the 7 Summits challenge?

Cason Crane was born in 1992 to two Princeton graduates, David and Isabella Crane. Both of his parents come from influential and prominent families with distinguished ancestry, including royal blood through some early settlers, notably Mrs. Anne Hutchinson who was accused of heresy and witchcraft.

The family moved to Hong Kong when Cason was young when his father worked for Lehman Brothers. They returned in 1999 and lived in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. At his private boarding school Cason showed a keen passion for sport from an early age, encouraged by his parents. His mother in particular was instrumental in getting Cason interested in mountaineering. He had always dreamt of climbing mountains as a young boy and got his chance to do it for real when his mother Isabella took him to Tanzania to climb Kilimanjaro when he was 15. From then on Cason got the mountaineering bug and it seems only natural that he would try his hand at the Seven Summits.

Now, what about the Seven Summits? This is a semi-official list first drawn up by mountaineer Richard Bass after he became the first to climb all 7 summits in 1985. However, definitions vary as to how mountains are measured or on which continent they are located. These variations will be discussed in the coming days.

Another mountaineer, Reinhold Messner, compiled a slightly different list, giving Carstenz on Guinea as the highest in Australasia/Oceania (Bass listed Kosciusko, a smaller mountain on the Australian mainland). Cason Crane chose to climb all 8.

Here is Cason’s Seven Summits list in the order in which he climbed them :-

Height (meters)
South America
Oceania (Australia)
Carstenz Pyramid
Oceania (Guinea)
Vinson Massif
McKinley Denali
North America

I’ll be taking each summit individually over the next 7 days (numbers 4 and 5 together) in that order to follow Cason’s challenge. You can follow Cason’s progress yourself and contribute to his project by visiting his website.

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