It’s an elite club of mountaineers – those who make the climb up the world’s second highest peak, K2 in Pakistan – “the holy grail of mountaineering.” More elite still is the group of climbers who actually make it to the top.
John Stenderup is a local guy – from Arvin – who is now part of that club as the twenty first American to summit K2.
It’s been 15 months since John Stenderup returned to Kern County after climbing Mt. Everest.
“K2 has been a dream of mine and I would be remiss if I had that opportunity and didn’t take it,” said Stenderup.
Even before he finished summiting the tallest mountain in the world – Stenderup was already planning his next climb. This time, to the world’s second highest peak – K2.
“It’s called the mountain of mountains, the savage mountain, and the holy grail of mountaineering,” he said, explaining the 28,000 foot mountain.
The mortality rate on K2 is a whopping 29 percent, compared to Everest’s 6.
Everest has been climbed by about 5,000 people, while K2 has been climbed by about 400 people
And even knowing all this, Stenderup says, nothing could have prepared him for “the savage mountain.”
“The mountain was so hard. So relentless. At no point was there an easy part to the mountain. The easiest part of K2 was harder than the most difficult part of Everest,” Stenderup said, just days after returning from his intense climb.
So challenging is K2, that stretches of years will go by where no one reaches the top.
“My goal,” Stenderup said, “was to give it my best effort and come back alive.”
Fighting the odds, Stenderup and his team started up the mountain on July 4.
“We saw one death. A Canadian climber on our first rotation who fell from Camp 2 all the way to the base of the mountain. And it was just awful…”
The climber had fallen 4,500 feet down the mountain to his death, right before their eyes.
“I thought to myself, of course I don’t want to die. This is scary. This is real. And then you think, what am I doing to my family?”
An internal struggle, he said, questioning whether to continue or turn back…
“Number one, I’m crazy. So that makes it’s pretty easy to make these bad decisions,” Stenderup joked. Truthfully, he said, his mother’s sense of adventure and his father’s competitive edge make him the mountain climber you see today.
“For me, climbing the mountain itself was an honor enough. So few people have had the opportunity to climb K2. Far fewer have had the opportunity to summit k2.”
And it’s those traits that pushed him – not just to climb it. But to become the 21st American to ever set foot, 28,000 feet up, atop “the mountain of mountains.”
You can read about Stenderup’s journey in more detail through his journal at JohnStenderup.com.