Friday, 28 June 2013

Rainbow Summit 5 - Vinson Massif

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

It’s fairly safe to say that no-one had climbed Mount Vinson, the highest peak in Antarctica, before 18th December 1966 when a group of American climbers became the first to reach the summit. In fact, no-one had ever seen it until 1958, and the highest peak wasn’t even named officially until seven years ago. Consequently,  Vinson is the newest of the Seven Summits, in that is the only one of the seven not known to ancient cultures.

Mount Vinson, or Vinson Massif,  lies in the Sentinel mountain range and comprises of several high peaks. In 2006 the highest of these was named Mount Vinson, named after a US Congressman who was a major supporter of Antarctic research. The other peaks were named after members of the 1966 expedition.

Cason Crane arrived on Antarctica from Punta Arenas on the southern tip of Chile. There were a couple of familiar faces who joined him on this expedition – a young British climber who was part of the Carstenz climb, and a guide who led the Aconcagua climb. Before leaving Chile Cason celebrated his 20th birthday on 2nd December 2012.

Even being the height of summer in the southern hemisphere Vinson is still the coldest of the Seven Summits. Being in permanent sunshine for several months doesn’t stop temperatures getting below -30 centigrade.

The attempt to reach the summit of Vinson started on 11th December. The weather was perfect with clear skies. At about half-way to the summit one of the team began to show signs of hypothermia. For the sake of his health the whole group decided to return to base. Was this going to be the second unsuccessful summit attempt for Cason after the disappointment of McKinley Denali? Fortunately, no.

The following day the group set off again. The weather was no worse that the day before, and the team member who was ill was well enough to join them. Ensuring that this team member was properly stocked up n food and drink to help keep his body fuelled up (his illness the previous day was probably because it wasn’t) the group made their way slowly up the mountain.

The group finally reached the summit. They celebrated and rested briefly, and Cason unfurled his Rainbow Pride flag. This was the farthest south the flag had even been flown, none had been flown this near to the South Pole (unless research discovers otherwise, of course). So even before completing his challenge to be the first openly gay man to climb all Seven Summits, Cason had gone into the record books.

With five of the Seven Summits now successfully climbed Cason was entering the last stages of his project. The next climb would be the most difficult and the most high-profile – the climb to the top of Mount Everest. It wasn’t until Cason reached Everest that the mainstream media began to take real notice of his achievements. The lgbt media had been following his progress from day one, but the mystique and majesty of Everest turns every climber with a cause into a news story. It was Cason’s unique cause and, dare I say it, his sexuality that turned him into a global celebrity as much as did his age and achievements.

By this time, the early part of this year, Cason’s project was getting more international notice. It meant more interviews, more talks, and more fundraising, but all the time focussing on the great challenge ahead.

For the first part of the challenge, up to Everest Base Camp, Cason was joined again by Isabella his mother. Arriving in Nepal at the beginning of April the pair prepared for their time on the world’s most famous mountain.

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