Some thought her journey was impossible, but 81-year-old Fran Anderson isn’t one to back down from a challenge. “Don’t tell me I can’t do something,” she warns her doubters. The Latter-day Saint mother of four and grandmother of nine doesn’t let anything get in the way of her goals, and certainly hasn’t let assumptions about what a woman her age is capable of doing stop her, declaring that “age is just a number!”
She put this mindset to the test when she set out to hike the Grand Canyon from Rim to Rim. Fran would have to rely not only on her fierce determination but also on her faith in God to accomplish this challenge.
Preparing with Prayer
After watching her daughter Lynette Opp complete the 24-mile hike, Fran was inspired, but unsure that she could hike it herself. “No way I’m gonna be hiking across that terrain,” she thought.
Previous medical issues such as double pneumonia, non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, a compromised immune system, and lingering issues from breaking her knee and shoulder in 2018 plagued Fran.
Still, the idea of trekking through the world-famous canyon, viewing the incredible red rock landscape, and coming out again triumphant, wouldn’t leave her mind. So she asked her daughter Brenda Sibley (who works as a professional life coach and has experience helping people stretch to reach their goals) to create a nutritional and workout schedule, which Fran began following earnestly.
In addition to cutting unnecessary sugar, increasing her protein intake, and hiking regularly, Fran began to pray every night that she would be able to accomplish her goal. The long months of preparation tried her self-control. She prayed for strength to stick with her dietary goals even when chocolate or other sweets tempted her. She also prayed for help to complete her daily hikes despite soreness and fear of failure.
Day by day, Fran rejoiced in being able to regularly complete her workout schedule, and she could feel herself getting stronger.
“The gradual wins became so empowering,” she says. With the Spirit’s guidance and five months of training under her belt, she felt confident she could accomplish what she set out to do. She was ready to take on the Grand Canyon.
Entering the Canyon
Fran’s original plan was to complete the hike in two days, with an overnight stay at Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. But just days before the hike, the Phantom Ranch canceled all reservations due to a water main break and informed them that the nearby campground was fully booked. The only options now were to hike the entire trail in one day, or to give up altogether.
After putting five months of training into this goal, Fran wasn’t about to quit so easily, so she chose to give the one-day hike her all.
During the drive to the Grand Canyon, the group spotted a double rainbow. “[To me it] was a sign that it would all be well and would work out,” Fran says.
Fran wasn’t alone in her journey. Nine family members, all wearing matching “Fran-Canyon” T-shirts, accompanied her to the drop-off point, though only seven would be joining her on the hike. The other two would drive around to the other side to pick them up at the end.
The group set out from the North Rim’s North Kaibab Trail at 5:45 a.m. just as the sun was coming up. They split up into smaller groups based on hiking pace; Fran walking with her daughters, Lynette and Brenda, and her cousin Laurie Usinger.
The weather conditions were ideal for the area, with temperatures around forty degrees Fahrenheit at the top and ninety degrees down in the valley. The hikers also enjoyed intermittent cloud cover as they made their way down the beautiful canyon.
“The rocks went from white to red in the north rim. The formations and striations were incredible,” Lynette says.
But the ideal conditions and stunning views couldn’t help with the pressure the steep decline was putting on Fran’s knees. After only a few miles, she worried that she might have to turn around. Her family noticed the strain Fran was under and together lent a hand to support her. They each took part of her pack into their own so that Fran wouldn’t have to carry anything.
“It’s a great analogy for life,” Lynette says. “We need each other to get through the hard parts of life, and we needed each other to get through the difficult hike.”
The group jokingly called themselves the “Pit Crew” as they also worked to remove rocks from Fran’s shoes, doctor hot spots on her feet, and ensure she had plenty of calories and electrolytes in her system.
Fran kept a steady pace and looked to the spectacular views for strength as the group descended.
“It’s majestic. I felt so small down there,” she says, remembering how she marveled that all of it existed within the canon: towering cliffs on either side, waterfalls along the way, and so many varieties of trees: aspen, fir, spruce, and ash. “Every time I hike, I think that God created this beautiful earth for us to enjoy and if you don’t explore it, you’re missing out.”
The group arrived outside Phantom Ranch at about 4 p.m. and stopped to evaluate everyone’s health and take a much-needed rest. Although Fran had successfully made it to the halfway point, it had taken almost all her energy to get there. The second half of the hike promised to be just as grueling as the first, only now Fran’s energy was running dangerously low.
At this point, they had to consider the very real possibility that they might need to camp for the night after all to ensure Fran had enough energy to safely complete the hike.
Talking with God at Phantom Ranch
But camping overnight wasn’t a very viable option—having only packed supplies for a day hike, the group didn’t have tents, sleeping bags, or any of the other necessities for an overnight stay. And to Fran, agreeing to delay the hike by a day felt like giving up on her goal.
With evening approaching and her physical energy spent, Fran sat down and offered a prayer for strength. She had done everything within her control to prepare for this hike and now asked for God’s help to reach the finish line. In her prayer, she humbly said, “I need you and I need angels to help me out here.”
Following her prayer, Fran took an hour-long nap and woke up feeling revitalized and ready to conquer the rest of the hike. Her daughter Lynette noted that the change in energy was astonishing. “I called out ‘Oh my gosh, look at mom go!’ She was completely reenergized and walking with a zip in her step that she hadn’t had before,” Lynette says.
With the sunset lighting up the Colorado River in a stunning display of orange and gold, the group felt ready to soldier on.
After trekking past the river, Fran had reached the home stretch: four and a half miles of uphill switchbacks named the Bright Angel Trail. Cool night air refreshed the group, and a spectacular display of stars felt like a gift to help them keep their spirits up. With her knees still giving her trouble, Fran had to rely on the family around her to help give her a little boost during the steeper stairs.
When Fran sat down to take breaks, she was showered with love from the people in her life who couldn’t be there with her: Fran’s daughter had collected dozens of videos from friends and family cheering Fran on. One after another, the videos gave her hope during what was arguably the hardest part of the hike. “Fran, keep going,” “We are with you, Fran,” “You are my hero,” “Just one step after another, Fran.”
Fran did just that, taking slow, steady steps toward the goal. Exhausted but determined, she kept moving forward, holding the words of these angels with her. At 2:45 a.m., 21 hours after starting, the group arrived at the top of Bright Angel Trail. The family members who had hiked ahead and those who had driven around the canyon were all there, waiting to celebrate Fran’s victory with her.
“Getting to the top, I was overwhelmed that I had actually completed the hike,” Fran says, “I thought ‘Yes! I did it! I persevered and made it through.’ It was very emotional to see my family waiting for me at the end, and I cried happy tears.”
Looking Forward to New Goals
Contemplating what she had accomplished, and why she felt the need to push herself in this way, Fran says, “My calling came. I [want] to be an example so I can inspire other people. I want to inspire my generation and the generations to come after.”
She knows how easy it is to psych yourself out, give in to perceived boundaries, or listen to naysayers who don’t believe you can accomplish what you set your mind to because of your circumstances.
Fran scoffs at this way of thinking, already on her way to preparing for her next goal of hiking the Yosemite half dome with her family. She says, “Always set goals to look forward to that are challenging. Have something to reach for. You’re never too old to set and achieve your goals! Especially not when you have God on your side.”