After many years of living and travelling out west, then moving back here to North Conway to guide, I finally made it out to the Tetons last summer. My friends out there had essentially required it, for several years, and were incredulous that I had not yet visited. It took the generosity of a client who happens to be a pilot for American Airlines to schlep me out there in August, which would otherwise be peak season for guiding. I flew into Jackson in a first class seat (!), and had been advised to try to get on a certain side of the plane, right side I think, for the N-S approach into the Jackson airfield. Sick. I like planes anyway, so I'm always pasted to the window checking out the landscape... I knew we were close when I could recognize the Wind Rivers and Pingora. The airfield in basically right underneath the Grand, so you're in the plane as its rapidly descending, in full sun, with an inimitable view of damn near everything. Then wham, you're there.
I was lucky, as a good friend from college is a climbing ranger in the Park, and so she's got her own cabin in Lupine Meadows. Big, big smiles there. The climbers ranch is right down the road and seems a pretty sweet place. You can even hitchhike fairly easily from town (Jackson) into the park, and from in the park pretty much anywhere you need to go.
The Tetons are big scrabbly mountains, lots of talus, lots of sun when it's sunny and frightening and/or cold when otherwise. My first day there my hostess had to work so she gave me vague directions to the trailhead for Teewinot, which I missed and bushwhacked several miles like an idiot. Slogged up to the business in very hot weather, and I was getting a little worried (just a little, mind you) b/c I hadn't seen a soul all day and though I'd finally joined the 'trail' I wasn't in familiar terrain. Did I mention it was hot? Like 95 degrees, ten percent humidity, and my NH body was losing fluid like no other. The camelback ran dry, as did my meager rations, perfetcly suitable for a day around the Whites but up at altitude my appetite skyrockets.
Oh did I also mention that I'd got off the plane the afternoon before, and was in no way acclimated? So my head's spinning a little, and I've got an annoying headache, but I found the faint climbers trail -cum- path of least resistance up the slabs and corners, negotiated the snowfield without incident, even crossing a minor 'schrund. I aimed for the wrond gunsight notch and discovered firsthand the steepness of anything in the Tetons that faces north. Yikes. Got down to my friend's cabin without a problem and quickly ate all the food she had.
Another friend, from Bozeman, showed up and the 3 of us slogged into Death Canyon to see what's what. Big place, nice long hike, big hunka steep rock. Excellent rock. We climbed Caveat Emptor, swapping leads between the 3 of us, and I of course picked some heinous 'variation' higher up that was somewhat scary and definitely not 5.10. There are several excellent routes in the vicinity, none very easy, and all have quite a bit of character.
The Grand was a fun time. I was 'auditing' with Exum, basically shadowing their guides to learn the terrain and to give them the opportunity to see if I was a schmuck or not, and thus worthy of hiring. NB I'm still guiding in North Conway, so if you like schmucks... anyway the hike in is nice and long, and it's worth planning a whole day for it, as it's just very scenic. Mid-summer you can get wicked hot, the sun just beats on you, so taking one's time seemed to make sense. I brought an umbrella, intending to use it as a parasol, but was pscyhed to have it when it started raining mid-afternoon. We stayed at the Exum shack-thing up at the lower saddle, and if you're not short on cash and want to have a fairly easy time, hire a guide and just stay there. Otherwise you've got a few options, sleeping a little bit lower, in a tent, or bivying somewhere in the lower saddle, for which I'm fairly sure you need a permit.
Get up early on summit day. The day before I got to Jackson they had their biggest rescue ever, due to a direct lightning strike on the friction pitch of the Exum Ridge. A good strategy is to get an alpine start and then just move at a nice even pace. We left at four AM and were on the summit by about 9:30 AM, in the rain, zero visibility, 35 degrees or so, and with noone else even remotely nearby. It was sweet. Though I'd like to get abck and see for myself the exposure over which I was free-soloing...
Bring your approach shoes. Bring gatorade mix or something to allow you to drink a crapload of water. Bring lots of yummy food. Don't bring a big rack for mountain routes... they're mostly fourth class anyway. You can get up the OS with one pink tricam if you're crafty. Oh and can you say 'hip belay?' Big ledges.