I wouldn’t say I have a heights problem, but when my wife and I hiked Half Dome at Yosemite National Park several years ago, all bets were off. The last 400 feet of the hike is up these rickety metal cables and well, I went up a few of them and then quickly turned around. It was just too much for me. I figured I was already 4000 some-odd feet in the air; that was good enough.
For Saratoga Springs native Sean Cogan, Half Dome’s final push is child’s play. After Sean and I graduated from Saratoga Springs High School in 1998, he jetted off to college, then back to Saratoga, feeling the entire time like he had more to offer the world. Then, he and his wife, Marney, jumped at the chance to work in Brevard, NC, and ended up moving there permanently. Brevard, situated in the southern highlands of Western North Carolina, afforded the Cogans countless opportunities to hike, and Sean took up climbing in his free time. After a chance meeting with a rope access technician—someone who, through the use of mountaineering-type skills, gets to difficult-to-reach locations, such as bridges for inspections—Sean knew he’d found his calling.
Cogan’s newfound vocation landed him, concurrently, at Harken Industrial, a wing of the international sailing hardware company (clients include America’s Cup), and Elevated Safety, which offers rope access and confined space training. (Harken later acquired Elevated Safety.) When I ask him what a normal “day at the office” is like, he says it’s anything but. “I’ve done everything from scale antique trestle bridges in the Yukon territory, where you’re only 30 feet off the ground, to doing the Hoover Dam bypass bridge, which is roughly 900 feet above the Colorado River.” He’s been on a team that helped clean the glass-bottomed skywalk at the Grand Canyon, 4000 feet in the air, as well as one that swapped out advertisements high above MetLife Stadium prior to Super Bowl XLVIII. Each job is a new puzzle to work out.
Last September, though, Cogan, who grew up in a family of first-responders, was offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be on an international rescue mission. When a behemoth South Korean cargo ship capsized off the coast of Georgia, he and a skilled crew of techs rappelled down the side of the upturned ship bored into its side and helped free four sailors trapped inside its hull. “It was obviously a hard day,” says Cogan, who celebrated with his compatriots over a few beers before returning to his hotel. They had no idea that the four men they’d just rescued would be hanging out in the lobby. “To have the four of them standing there, alive and well and rested and hydrated…that’s when it all hit us,” says Cogan. “It was heavy.” As I write these words, I’m in awe of what my classmate did. Makes my momentary vertigo atop Half Dome seem pretty silly.