JBL details his experience climbing Mt. Elbrus

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June 28, 2012

We left the valley for base camp at 12,000-plus feet – “The Barrels.” I split my barrel with some real veteran climbers in Dr. Schwab and his mate he had been to medical school with in West Virginia, Dr. Ched Lohr, along with Chris Zahn, owner of a real estate management company in Long Beach, Calif.

Our guide was Mark Ryman of Mountain Madness, who had guided on all seven continents and this was his sixth trip to Mt. Elbrus. The one thing I miss about being in WWE was the banter and camaraderie; it was very welcome to have such a great crew to climb with.

The Barrels had electricity only a couple of hours a day, but did have cell reception. We would sleep in heavy sleeping bags and in our mountain gear, as we had no heat. The outhouse is renowned as the world’s worst, and I am not sure that even that moniker is enough.

I have been to some very nasty places from Kabul, Afghanistan, to islands in Antarctica that were covered with penguins and their waste that made you want to vomit when you smelled it. I grew up near cattle ranches and a few pig farms. I have dressed in locker rooms by some professional wrestlers who have taken too much protein and tried to ruin my nostrils with their emissions. Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, is close to this outhouse.

It is a building that you walk onto and a hole was just cut in the roof and a tin shed put on top of the hole. So for decades, people have been filling up this building with human waste, year after year folks doing their business on top of last year’s and last week’s and yesterday’s business. To say it is despicable is like saying Kim Kardashian kind of likes being in the media, a severe understatement.

I could even go into more graphic details, but it would make you sick. I had the constant fear of the “Slumdog Millionaire” scene with me somehow falling through the roof. By this year, the building (a whole building) was more than half full.

There were no showers and no running water; we got water from melting snow.

I had used my hotel points to stay in the Ritz Carlton in Moscow right by Red Square, going from that to this was a bit of an adjustment.

We took two climbs from base camp, and the second took more than 15,000 feet to finish our acclimatization. The second climb was about eight hours and, though hurting, I made the climbs in good form. I felt great about summit day.

Summit day started at 1 a.m. with breakfast and a 2 a.m. start on the mountain to catch the snow while it was still hard and easier for our boots and crampons to travel over. We only had a headlamp for vision.

Zahn and I were climbing partners and my guide was Vladimir, a very funny guy who was also part of the mountain rescue squad. Vladimir spoke little English but spoke German well, so we communicated in German (which I had learned while wrestling and living in Europe for two years before I made it to WWE).

There were storms in the area, but they were lower than us so we got off on-time and things went badly almost right away. I had little problem on my acclimatization climbs, but for some reason this morning, my right hand had gone completely numb due to the cold and the only way I could get it warm was to stick it down my pants, which made my hand feel much better but was not so great on my private parts.

I was hoping to be able to make it to the sun coming up so the air would get warmer and I wouldn’t get frostbit and lose my fingers. Vladimir looked at me and warned me I also had hypoxia. I don’t think I did, but he was a better judge than me.

The sun came up and gave us one of the most wonderful views I have ever seen, looking down at the Caucasus Mountain range. I had regained feeling in my hand for the most part as the temperature rose with the sun.

We carried Water next to us, as it would have frozen in our backpack.

After climbing for 7 1/2 hours, we were at the beginning on the “saddle” between the mountain’s two peaks.

I can’t describe the effort these 7 1/2 hours took to climb. I have had somewhere around 4,000 wrestling matches and played two games in college on a broken leg, but the mindset of trying to keep putting one foot in front of the other, in those conditions, was the greatest test I have ever taken. I understand why climbers climb. There is no greater test to see how far your body can go-it’s beyond pain that I know of, but it’s also wonderful in a weird kind of way.

We stopped for lunch, and I discovered that my lunch had somehow been squished and ruined. We were only about 1,000 feet from the summit, though that 1,000 feet would take four to five hours. It looked so close.

Vladimir had gotten concerned by the weather and was warning us we might have to turn back, but now he was adamant. He told us, correctly, that if we continued, we would be caught up by what turned out to be a huge storm. I did not want to turn back, at all.

We were so close and I had worked so hard, to turn back now was something that didn’t even seem realistic. The summit was so close you could almost touch it.

Chris reluctantly had agreed with Vladimir. Chris is a mountain veteran who hated to give up on the summit. I was climbing for my kids, and the thought of turning back was so hard to digest. However, we finally all agreed that we ran the risk of being stuck on the mountain if we continued. And, my third goal of not dying would have been put in jeopardy.

I just sat there for some time looking at the summit, thinking of the support WWE had given me and the greater goal of helping kids that need it. It was one of the saddest moments of my life.

We turned back. Chris and I both were totally out of gas. Climbing down is almost as hard as climbing up; the snow had softened, so we sank into the snow on most steps. At one point, we sat down and slid down part of the mountain. Vladimir was helping me so much; Chris’ guide Albert was helping him as well. I don’t ever remember being that spent.

At another point, Vladimir had me take off my crampons and harness, and we slid roped together down the mountain with Vladimir behind me to help put on the brakes as we got too fast.

We made it down at 2 p.m., half a day after we started. The storm was now setting in, and Vladimir was right in his warning and advice. There is a good chance that we could have been in dire trouble if we had continued; we could have easily been stuck on the mountain.

The storm has closed the mountain and so there is no hope of another summit attempt – I will have to return next summer. My lips bled badly this morning (from exposure) as I tried to brush my teeth and my blisters are so bad I can’t wear shoes, but everything I have wrong is temporary. I just had the wildest week of my life and loved every second of it.

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