A Thorn In My Side for 39 Years (Part Two)

Posted by: NOLS on Jul 21, 2014

This article appeared in the Spring 2014 edition of The Leader

"PUTTING HIS NOLS EDUCATION TO WORK" -- When asked how the course impacted his life, Jay responded, “It made me realize how great the wilderness is and that it needs to be protected for other people to enjoy. [I came to understand] the importance of … taking other young people out in the woods so they learn to love it and appreciate it.”

Jay and tent mate Jim Acee with the Grand in the background. Taken at the NOLS base in Driggs after their attempt. Jay and tent mate Jim Acee with the Grand in the background. Taken at the NOLS base in Driggs after their attempt.

After his NOLS course, Jay became a teacher in Lime, N.H.

“I taught the fourth grade,” he said. “We took three hikes in the fall. We worked on map reading, using the compass, staying together. We learned about the different trees and the leaves. I tried to mix in elementary school science with our hikes.”

"A RETURN TO THE GRAND TETON AND LANDER" -- I followed in my father’s footsteps and took a Summer Semester in the Rockies in 2003. I started as an instructor for NOLS in the summer of 2010. I found endless entertainment in my father’s memories about NOLS, especially after becoming an instructor. I could also tell that he wasn’t totally satisfied with his 1974 attempt on the Grand Teton.

It was time for another try.

In 2011, Jay, my brother David (Rock Climbing ‘06), my sister Jessica, and I climbed the Old Man’s Route (5.2) and the Old Ladies’ Route (5.2) on Seneca Rocks in our home state of West Virginia. This served as a perfect training climb. Jay had no problems with the climbing, and his legs never shook once.

On Aug. 31, 2013, Jay flew to Riverton. After seeing the Noble Hotel again, he said, “The restoration was fantastic. Thank goodness there was no longer a bar and a Chinese restaurant. The moose head was still there.”

1 2013 Trip
Jim, Angie, and Jay (left to right) at Lupine Meadows Trailhead

The weather forecast was for 50-percent chance of thunderstorms all week, so he, my girlfriend and fellow NOLS instructor Angie Bates, and I spent another day hiking at low elevation, hoping the forecast would improve. It didn’t, but we hiked up to the Lower Saddle anyway. At 5 a.m. the next morning, the sky was clear, so we decided to go for it. At around 7:30 a.m., light rain began to fall.

3 2013 Trip
Jay on the Briggs Slab, the first roped section of the climb.

The storm appeared to be passing us to the north, so we continued with a watchful eye on the weather. We reached the Belly Roll just before 9 a.m. This time, Jay said he “just had to do it and wasn’t going down.” He climbed across without a problem. The obstacles after the Belly Roll fell away easily and Jay, Angie, and I reached the summit at 10:20 a.m.

5 2013 Trip
Jay on The Crawl

“This has been a thorn in my side for 39 years!” he said, elated to be standing on top of the peak that had eluded him in 1974.

“When I came out [to Wyoming], I didn’t want to say anything to anybody about climbing the Grand because I didn’t know if I would make it,” Jay conceded. “After I climbed it, I was anxious to reconnect with people [from my course].”

7 - 2013 Trip
Angie, Jay, and Jim (left to right) on the summit

After the climb, Jay met with Peter Simer, former executive director of NOLS and the course leader for Jay’s winter section. Peter instantly remembered Jay and his course. Two hours passed quickly as they reminisced on the porch of Peter’s house in Lander.

“[NOLS] was one of the highlights of my 65 years,” Jay said afterward. “I learned a lot and had a lot of fun. I will always have that love for the school and the great people who have been instructors and students there. I am thrilled that the school has grown.”

Regarding the failed attempt in 1974, Jay remarked, “I have to apologize to the people I kept from making it to the top. I hope they have had another chance and if they haven’t they should really try. The Belly Roll was really a piece of cake.”

He went on to quote Yogi Berra: “90 percent of it is half mental.’”

“[My son Jim] became a NOLS climbing instructor. He is the son of a dad with sewing machine leg. I guess that shows that evolution must be occurring.”

Planning the climb on the Grand inspired Jay to reach out to his former coursemates.

“I connected again with Jim Acee, my tent mate. I had not spoken to him in 39 years. I called him [twice and talked] about the instructors and students on our course. He was a long-time NOLS instructor. [It] seems like we haven't missed a beat. [We shared] very fond memories.”

In the spirit of rekindling friendships and sharing stories, Jay would love to hear from his coursemates and former instructors. Feel free to contact him at jjmargoli@gmail.com.

By Jim Margolis, NOLS Field Instructor and Rocky Mountain Program Supervisor

NOLS is a nonprofit global wilderness school that seeks to help you step forward boldly as a leader.