While the start of college is a milestone for most, Cason Crane ’17 had already passed seven others before arriving at Princeton. Crane, who graduated from high school in Connecticut in 2011, deferred his admission for two years in order to climb the Seven Summits — the highest peak on each of the seven continents — as part of TheRainbow Summits Project, an initiative he designed to contribute to efforts against teenage suicide among LGBTQ youth.
His fundraising efforts have yielded $133,920 in donations to The Trevor Project, a national organization focused on providing suicide prevention services for queer youth, according to The Rainbow Summits Project website.
“I was really lucky to have the opportunity to do this project,” Crane said. “I started out with very little experience. I’ve learned a lot in the past year, but I’ve also learned how much more there is to learn.”
Crane said he first decided to climb the Seven Summits in February 2012, while on his first gap year in between boarding school and Princeton. His interest in climbing began with a spring break trip to Mt. Kilimanjaro with his mother at age 15. Years later, after a string of high-profile suicides by gay youth, including Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, Crane explained that he decided to dedicate a second gap year to The Trevor Project cause.
On his list were Mt. Everest in Asia, Aconcagua in South America, Mt. McKinley in North America, Kilimanjaro in Africa, Mt. Elbrus in Europe, Mt. Vinson in Antarctica and Puncak Jaya in Australia.
Many of the donations came after his project attracted national media attention, including a spot on Anderson Cooper’s daytime talk show “Anderson Live” this February. “It was probably the single biggest financial benefit to the fundraising. After that, over 1,000 people gave $5 text donations,” Crane said of his appearance on the show. “To me, that signified that what I was doing was really resonating.”
Before his Everest climb, the penultimate leg of his tour, Crane issued an open invitation on the Rainbow Summits website, which allowed those following his journey online to dedicate a Tibetan Prayer Flag to honor victims of intolerance for a minimum donation of $10, according to the project website.
“Tibetan Prayer Flags are a really important part of Sherpa culture,” Crane explained. “Usually they have prayers on them that you hang in places exposed to wind. The idea is that the wind carries the prayer to all the corners of the Earth.”
Crane noted that he collected about 20 flags and brought them with him on the trip.
“I had people dedicate prayer flags to loved ones or people who had attempted or committed suicide to add that direct emotional connection to the journey,” Crane added.
Crane’s Everest experience spanned two months, which included time spent waiting at the base for favorable weather conditions for the ascent. There, he said he met and bonded with other mountaineers tackling the climb. Crane said he kept the atmosphere fun once by wearing a multi-colored onesie. Hereached the summit on May 21, after scaling the mountain via the Nepal side.
Crane followed up this milestone with an eventful summer. He scaled his last of the Seven Summits, Alaska's Mt. McKinley, in July while his body was still accustomed to high-altitude from his Everest climb. Last on his list of summer activities was his Outdoor Action trip, when he finally arrived at Princeton after a two-year delay.
While Crane said he felt slightly apprehensive about the coming academic year, he said that he was excited to be in a University environment filled with engaging and accomplished people.
Although Crane has now completed the initial climbing goals of The Rainbow Summits Project, he explained there are two campus programs, Team U and Outdoor Action, that he might collaborate with to continue contributing to The Trevor Project and the well-being of the LGBTQ community in general.
Crane noted that the basic principle behind Team U of racing to raise funds for charities lends itself well to the possibility of continuing his support for The Trevor Project. He said he is currently working with Joe Benun ’15 and Shannon McGue ’15, student leaders of the Princeton chapter of Team U, to create a branch of the club for students who want to train for and compete in triathlons.
McGue is also a senior photographer for The Daily Princetonian.
Crane, who said he hopes to apply to lead future Outdoor Action trips, added that the University could use the program as a venue to discuss a wide range of issues, including those concerning LGBTQ community.
Aside from finding a few ways to integrate The Rainbow Summit Project into campus culture, Crane said he plans to keep a fairly light extracurricular load in order to focus on his studies. “After taking 27 months off from anything academic, I’m pretty out of shape in terms of school,” Crane, who is a prospective Wilson School concentrator, explained.
As for the prospect of continuing his mountaineering career while in school, Crane said, “It will be difficult, but I will be climbing, for sure.”