Going the Distance: An Epic Women’s Adventure
Writer // Janelle Morrison Photography // Submitted and Theresa Skutt
Have you ever dreamt about ditching your responsibilities and material possessions for just a bit and challenging your mind, body and spirit to experience things outside of your norm?
There is a place in America that will set you free, and that place is the Grand Canyon. The challenge is the hike down and back up. The prize is the sense of accomplishment, reconnecting with yourself and the awareness that life is more than the daily grind.
A group of women, mostly local, recently embarked on a journey to the Grand Canyon. Some had never been, and some had never met one another until the excursion. Each of the ladies shared the impact that this trip has had on their lives and what they will carry with them in their hearts rather than in backpacks on their shoulders.
Zionsville resident Wendy Schrepferman was the group’s organizer and mutual contact between the ladies. Schrepferman shared the backstory of organizing the trip in part to celebrate her 50th birthday. She texted a group of eight ladies, many of which committed with a check that same day before discussing the trip with their own husbands!
“Five years ago, my mom, who is an avid outdoorswoman, put together a family trip to the Grand Canyon,” Schrepferman said. “It [the idea to hike all the way down] just clicked. I saw two gentlemen hiking back up who had made the hike in one day, and I thought if they can do it, so can I.”
The group of eight consisted of Schrepferman’s friends and Zionsville residents Anne Caughlan, Molly Mounce, Carrie Steffen, Misty Byers, Kathy BeMiller, Kris Skaff and Jill Mairn, who is a friend of Schrepferman’s from Cincinnati, Ohio. As a special surprise for Schrepferman, her mother, Linda Gerdenich, drove down from Aspen, Colorado, to join the ladies.
“I knew Wendy from Girl Scouts, and she knows that I never say no,” Caughlan said. “I was the first one who had my check in to her. I knew that I’d never get this chance again because I know how hard it is to get a reservation at the Phantom Ranch.”
Schrepferman compared trying to get a reservation at the Phantom Ranch, located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, like trying to call Casey Kasem’s show to make a song request back in the day.
“I called 89 times on November 1, 2017, before I was able to make our reservation,” Schrepferman said. “The system has changed since our trip, and now you have to call just to get in a lottery and wait to be picked from the lottery.”
She took the first available opportunity that was available for the following fall.
“We knew we wanted to go in the fall because it is more temperate and better weather for pre-menopausal and menopausal women,” she quipped. “I asked what dates were available then and immediately booked it.”
Skaff added, “Approximately 6.5 million people visit the Grand Canyon every year, and less than one percent go all the way down to the bottom.”
The group left for Las Vegas on Thursday, November 8, 2018, picked up a car and headed down to the Grand Canyon. They spent the night at The Rim and headed down the canyon the following morning. After an arduous but exhilarating hike, the group spent Friday night at Phantom Ranch and then headed back up Saturday morning. They returned to Las Vegas and headed home happier, wiser and ready to share their new experiences.
Byers shared, “I didn’t know half of the group at all, but Wendy invited me because she knows that I love nature, exploring and adventure. I love connecting with women, natural beauty and a challenge. I loved everything about the trip and met new people along the way.”
The trip was impactful for each of the women in ways that they had not imagined but expressed their gratitude for.
“I’d never been on a women’s trip before,” BeMiller said. “I’d had been looking for one, and for me, when Wendy invited me, it was an immediate ‘yes!’ I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is my shot! Whatever I have to do, I will do it. I am in!’ It [the trip] was everything I wanted it to be.”
Schrepferman’s neighbor, Mounce, admitted she’s ready to go back and take her family to the bottom of the canyon.
“The canyon itself is amazing,” she said. “I’ve done a lot of things in my life that I’m proud of, but none more than this. The conversations that we had while we were hiking and the friendships that began and became stronger made this trip awesome. I would tell anyone to go do this trip.”
Gaff, who is originally from Colorado, admitted that she is “that person” who likes to ask the deep questions as a way to learn more about people.
“It was fun getting to know the other people through the adventure,” Gaff said. “I’m always one to ask the deep philosophical questions. That’s the best way to get to know people. This [trip] was difficult, breathtaking and amazing. I would love to do it again.”
Steffen, another one of Schrepferman’s neighbors, added, “I knew that Wendy wanted to do this for her 50th, so when she asked me, I didn’t even hesitate. I realized afterward that I had to get boots and gear and train for it. It was way more involved than I had expected, but it was 100 percent worth it!”
The group trained independently and as a group, walking with their backpacks filled with food, water and weights up and down the hill at Mulberry Park and walking the challenging trails at various state parks over the course of a year. The training paid off as all eight successfully completed the hike down and up without any major injuries – just sore bodies.
Collectively, the group expressed that everyone should experience the hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, the night under a crystal-clear sky filled with stars, the camaraderie and the personal sense of achievement that each woman experienced during the trip.
“See more, do more and be open to meeting new people,” Skaff offered. Followed by Byers who said, “Unplug, explore and get out of your comfort zone.”
Following Byers’ sentiment of taking a break from technology, Steffen shared, “It was empowering and exhilarating to be unplugged. I didn’t even turn on my phone until we made it out.”
Speaking about how people, women in particular, need to practice “self-care” more and take time for themselves, Mounce stated, “You just need to take the time to do something like this. Just say ‘Yes’ and go! By taking time for ourselves, we are better moms, wives and people.”
Caughlan and BeMiller added that this experience allowed them to communicate on deeper levels with their fellow hikers.
“I connected so deeply in our chats going down,” Caughlan said. “You don’t always get to do that in everyday conversation and just really open yourself up.”
BeMiller added, “I think women offer so much in the way of support and compassion to each other. We took turns encouraging one another. We had our moments where we were in the lead, in the middle and were the caboose of the ‘train.’ I thought it was really cool to exchange those roles.”
“Being in the company of and encouraged by seven strong, funny, positive, determined women was an equally beautiful and unforgettable experience,” Mairn shared.
As she gazed around her circle of friends, Schrepferman concluded, “My advice: Spend time with people you care about. Just do it and make it happen.”
South Kaibab Trail
7.5 miles (books say 7, but the group hiked all the way to Phantom Ranch beyond BA campground)
The lead group made it down in 5.5 hours
Bright Angel Trail
10 miles (books say 9.5, but again, went from Phantom)
The lead group made it up in 6 hours. Their goal was to complete the hike out in 7.5 hours, and they crushed it!
Elevation change = approx. 3,800 feet