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Local women take on Grand Canyon challenge

10/25/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Carol Fondran, Cynthia Chagin, Anu Ramakrishnan, Kathie Jackson-Holland, Kelly Fried and Susan Voth are shown from left as they take a break during their hike down the Kaibab Trail into the Grand Canyon.
The friends gave each other “trail massages” during their trek. Shown from left are Anu Ramakrishnan, Kelly Fried and Cynthia Chagin.
Photo courtesy of Cynthia Chagin
BATH/RICHFIELD — For six local mothers, a recent ladies-only getaway didn’t have anything to do with pampering.

Kathie Jackson-Holland hikes down a path with Susan Voth close behind.
Instead, the women took a trip to the Grand Canyon and over two days hiked down into the natural wonder and then up for an experience that they said was rewarding and life-changing.

Carol Fondran and Kathie Jackson-Holland, of Bath; Anu Ramakrishnan and Susan Voth, of Richfield; and Kelly Fried, of Boston Heights, took the trip that was organized by Cynthia Chagin, of Richfield.

Chagin said the women, who are all parents of students at Old Trail School in Bath, asked her to get some kind of a trip together.

“I am the one who is always planning things like girls’ outings and girls’ night out,” Chagin said. “I had considered New York City, and then I thought, if I’m planning this, it needs to be a physical adventure, so what do I want to do? Luckily, they thought it was a good idea.”

Chagin had been to the Grand Canyon herself twice and had hiked the Havasu Canyon in the Havasupai Tribe Reservation in that area. On her last visit, she took an hour-long hike into the Grand Canyon and heard about its wonders from a friend that had done the entire hike. After that, she decided she would like to do it someday.

Plans for the trip were in the works for more than a year, Chagin said. To reserve lodging for the September trip at Phantom Ranch — the only lodging at the bottom of the canyon — the women had to call starting Sept. 1 a year ago. With all six using landline and cell phones to call in, it took 17 minutes until Ramakrishnan was successful at getting through to the switchboard, Chagin said.

For the next 12 months, the women worked to get into the condition necessary to hike down the 7.4-mile South Kaibab Trail and up the 10-mile Bright Angel Trail. Since all but one of the group were active runners to begin with, they were in good shape to start, Chagin said.

“We trained in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park since the school is right there,” she said. “And we ran the Buckeye Trail, which is very hilly.”

About four months before the trip, the women began doing training hikes together.

“It was more for the camaraderie, getting everyone together, including the nonrunner,” she said.

During that time they also experimented with different types of gear to make sure they would be as comfortable as possible on the trip.

“We trained for about three months with weighted backpacks,” Jackson-Holland said. “I started wearing mine whenever I could: in the gym, at Target.”

The training must have helped.

“During the trip I didn’t even notice the backpack,” she added.

The women left the Akron area Sept. 5 and flew to Las Vegas. Two days later, they started their trek down into the canyon.

Chagin said the six-hour hike was spectacular.

“At one point you turn the corner and there was a cliff and you could see the trail ahead of you,” she said. “It was so beautiful, a red, powdery silt that you could see ahead of you. I loved how every few steps, the scenery would change completely. Everything looked so different.”

They enjoyed the hike but were relieved to arrive at Phantom Ranch to rest and refuel, Chagin said. For dinner, they were treated to steak, stew and vegetarian chili. Their fatigued bodies also enjoyed a soak in Bright Angel Creek.

The next morning, the group arose at 4:30 a.m. and ate a hearty breakfast before starting their way up the ascent.

“The last five miles of the hike is straight up with steep inclines,” Chagin said of the Bright Angel Trail.

That route was also shaded for about half the hike, and there were also more water stations, she added. Going up took about seven hours. All six women finished tired but in good shape.

“There were no injuries at all,” Chagin said. “Everyone was so well-prepared.”

Jackson-Holland said she found the experience to be an emotional and spiritual one.

“At the bottom, an observation I had that is dear to me is that millions of people come to peer over the edge and I was at the bottom touching the petals of a flower,” Holland said. “That makes me feel so much gratitude. When I came back up and looked over the edge, I didn’t think I could do it without tearing up.”

Chagin said she loved the trip.

“I’m so anxious to go back,” she said. “The parks system says people either can’t wait to come back or they never want to come back. I think the determination is your preparedness. I had such an amazing experience, I am hoping to do again.”

Jackson-Holland said the trip was her first to the Grand Canyon, but it may not have been the last.

“I think I feel ready for another adventure,” she said. “It was a life-changing experience.”

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