Rancho Santa Fe attorney reaches top of Mount Rainier on second try

Author Barry Finlay once said that “every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing.” That’s true for Rancho Santa Fe’s Steve Cologne and Mount Rainier.

After a failed attempt to reach the peak of the highest mountain in the state of Washington four years ago, Cologne successfully completed the climb last month.

“It was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done in the outdoors, and it was also the most rewarding,” Cologne said. “I was completely overwhelmed when I got to the top.”

An attorney with more than 30 years of experience, Cologne, 57, has lived in Rancho Santa Fe since 1974. He is an owner and partner with Higgs Fletcher & Mack, specializing in complex tort and business litigation.

In his free time, Cologne enjoys wilderness backpacking, often in Alaska, and rim-to-rim hiking of the Grand Canyon.

“It’s fantastic,” he said.

Four years ago Cologne decided he would next try to summit Mount Rainier, having seen the mountain on his many trips to Alaska. He first attempted the climb in 2012.

Despite having completed a half marathon and multiple hikes of the Grand Canyon that year, Cologne was unable to complete the climb.

“I didn’t make it,” he said. “I never really was obsessed with it, but I felt it was a piece of unfinished business.”

Determined to finish business, in January, Cologne booked another trip to Mount Rainier, the highest mountain of the Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest.

“It’s been in the planning for months,” he said.

Though Cologne had already been with a trainer for over a year, once he set his sights back on the mountain, he started specifically preparing for the climb. In April, he began a more structured training program, which included a hike up Mount San Gorgonio, the highest peak in Southern California.

Located just east of the city of San Bernardino, the highest peak of the mountain is 11,503 feet, whereas Mount Rainier’s highest peak reach 14,411 feet.

“I followed their guidelines and program as much as I could, instead of just trying to think I could do it on my own,” Cologne said about working with mountain guide company RMI Expeditions. “As a result, I thought that I was better prepared for the climb in 2016 than I was in 2012.”

Cologne set out on his trip from Aug. 11-15. He started the two-day climb on Aug. 14, reaching the top of Mount Rainier at sunrise on Aug. 15.

He and the small group remained at the top of the mountain for an hour before heading down at 7:30 a.m.

“People come from all over the world to climb this mountain,” said Cologne, noting that Mount Rainier is a training ground for Mount Everest and the Himalayas because it is the only mountain in the continental U.S. that has glaciers and it is a near a major airport. “It’s really a great blessing that we have it this close.”

Although Cologne insisted he’s not planning to climb Mount Everest anytime soon, he is seeking another mountain to climb, hoping to test his limits once more.

“I told everybody this would be my last mountain to climb, whether I made it or not, and I’m kind of breaking my own promise,” Cologne said. “I’m now looking around for another mountain to climb.”

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