John Stenderup was on a hiking trip in the summer of 2012 in Wyoming when he did something that changed his life.
He signed up to climb Grand Teton along with his dad, Kent.
The two had been hiking extensively for the past few years and this was a new challenge. Stenderup’s dad reached the shoulder and Stenderup went the remaining 1,500 feet with the guide, reaching the peak of the 13,766-foot tall mountain via the most difficult route.
“(The guide) told me he had never climbed that route so quickly with a client,” Stenderup said. “I knew I had something there.”
A year later, Stenderup climbed Washington’s Mount Hood and Mount Rainer and the hook was set.
Last July he became just the 21st American to reach the top of the treacherous K2, the world’s second-highest mountain at 28,251 feet.
A year earlier, he climbed the world’s tallest peak, Mount Everest (29,035) and then less than 48 hours later, he reached the top of the fourth-highest, Lhotse (27,940).
But Stenderup has yet to summit mighty Bear Mountain (6,916 feet), which casts a morning shadow above the farming community where Stenderup was born raised.
Stenderup, a supply chain consultant for Monterey-based C.H. Robinson, is among the elite mountain climbers in the world and will be inducted into the Bob Elias Kern County Sports Hall of Fame on Feb. 19.
“I’ve actually never been up Bear Mountain, it’s on my bucket list,” Stenderup said with a chuckle. “My dad hikes it for training, you can actually hike up 25 miles to the top from my house. There’s a spot where you can paraglide off and I think I’ll do that this summer.”
Stenderup, who will turn 33 a few days before his induction, said he’s always had an appreciation of the outdoors — “my mom (Patty) is very adventurous and was always taking us to national parks and my dad is competitive,” he said — but never took life in his early years to the extreme.
Stenderup started hiking after graduating from Cal Poly SLO (he holds a Cal Poly pennant for photos on his summits) basically to spend more time with his dad.
“He got into hiking, and when I was 23, I started going him,” Stenderup said. “They weren’t little camping trips, it was like rim-to-rim on the Grand Canyon, 24 miles, then a big steak afterward."
It was those hikes that eventually led to Grand Teton, which led to the Washington peaks, where his guide on the Rainier climb was Geoff Schellens.
“Mountain climbing is a tribal community. So much of what your learn is from others,” Stenderup said. “You have to learn by doing and I was blessed to become great friends with Geoff.
“The following summer we climbed Denali together. Then we climbed Everest, Lhotse and K2.”
Stenderup believes that growing up on the family farm in the lowlands helped mold him into the type of of person who could conquer mountains.
“I realize that so much of my success is because of my background in agriculture and the community I have here,” he said. “My family has been in agriculture for about 95 years now in the Arvin area. It just means a lot to me to see them overcome challenges year after year and problem solve, deal with the ups and downs and roll with the punches.”
And he said the basics of farming and mountain climbing are similar.
“It’s grit and perseverance,” he said. “You plan for the unexpected and hope for the best. You’re problem solving all the time.”
As for his toughest climb, it was K2.
“Not even close,’’ he said, noting that only around 400 people have ever scaled the peak and the mortality rate is about 25 percent.
“Everybody is enamored with Everest and Lhotse, the sister peak to Everest but the hardest part of Everest is equal to the easiest part of K2,” he said. “K2 was a career-defining moment for me. I don’t give a damn if nobody knows what K2 is, I wanted to climb it.”
And he would have liked to have been the 20th American to do that. That honor, instead went to his buddy, Schellens.
“He beat me by about a minute,” Stenderup said. “I became the seventh American to climb the first, second and fourth tallest mountains. My buddy was the sixth. We all know the numbers. The difference between 20 and 21, it’s everything.”
But 20th or 21st, it’s the adventure and the memories that hold true meaning, and Stenderup knows that.
“What we’ve done is something special,” he said. “It’s a good feeling.”