Off-the-clock: Bagging Colorado’s highest peaks

Endurance, perseverance propels Denver Water employee to summit all of state’s 14ers.

December 5, 2019 | By: Ann Baker
An older man and a younger man stand facing the camera, with their arms around each other, in the background looms a jagged peak under cloudy skies.
John Barksdale Jr. and his son, John Barksdale III, on the summit of their final Colorado 14er, the 14,083-foot Mount Eolus outside of Durango, in 2012. Photo credit: John Barksdale Jr.

 

When John Barksdale Jr. started climbing Colorado’s iconic collection of 14ers, it was just something fun to do, an interest piqued by cousins who had started hiking the state’s highest mountains.

But as he started bagging more and more of Colorado’s tallest peaks, and as his preteen son joined in the fun, climbing all 54 of Colorado’s mountains whose summits rise above 14,000 feet became a two-decade goal that strengthened his relationship with his son and toughened his perseverance.

“There are lots of lessons about endurance when you pick a goal that takes you 20 years to accomplish,” said Barksdale, a learning and organizational development specialist at Denver Water. “It’s hard to keep the motivation and excitement going for 20 years. But you find that you can do a lot more than you would ever imagine.”

Barksdale started hiking 14ers in his 30s, generally choosing the easier ones along the Front Range.

When his son turned 12 and asked to join him, Barksdale reclimbed his first 10 summits with his son at his side.

The duo set a goal of completing three or four 14ers each summer. Over the years, Barksdale has climbed beyond 14,000 feet more than 100 times.

“As you go further south and west (in Colorado), they get more technical and the commitment gets higher,” Barksdale said. “We had to turn around several times because we weren’t feeling well, or we got lost or the weather turned on us.”

The summits that stand out among his many memories are the difficult ones, the ones he and his son began hiking at 2 a.m. and wouldn’t finish for another 24 hours.

“As my son got older, instead of me having to push him, he was pushing me,” Barksdale said. “I was discouraged, and he would encourage me.”

A man raises his hands in the air in victory, straddling a knife-edge jagged chunk of rock.
John Barksdale Jr. straddles the knife edge of Capitol Peak, a hairy ledge with a 1,000-foot drop on each side, during his climb in 2012. The Pitkin County peak tops out at 14,130 feet above sea level. Photo credit: John Barksdale Jr.

 

Barksdale is a lifelong Colorado resident, and his ties to Denver Water extend back to the early 1960s, when his father worked on a construction crew building Dillon Reservoir and later Roberts Tunnel.

In the late 1970s, Barksdale got a job with Denver Water as a seasonal maintenance worker, mowing the grass at treatment plants and pump stations. In 1979, he worked as a “sand farmer” at Kassler, raking the filtration system’s sand beds after water was flushed through the beds on its way to the Marston Water Treatment Plant.

Three years ago, Barksdale joined Denver Water’s Learning and Organizational Development team.

He said his off-the-clock goal of summiting all of Colorado’s 14ers applies easily to the goal-setting attributes and ongoing skill development needed in a professional setting.

With his long-held goal now in the bag, what’s next?

Barksdale says he’s not done with mountaineering, and he’s considering climbing Mount Rainier in Washington state.

“It’s an endurance sport,” he said. “You’re constantly pushing the boundaries mentally. We did most of our climbing on Saturdays, and there were so many of those days that I said, ‘why am I wrecking this Saturday?’ But then you get to the top and you forget the bad. That reward overcomes any pain.”

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