We caught up with Ambassador Meganne Radway after her fourth trip to Kilimanjaro to talk about her experiences climbing, guiding, and the silver lining of foregoing the summit. Meganne is a volunteer Ambassador for The Cairn Project. She dedicated her Kilimanjaro adventure to getting more girls+ outside.
As a guide with WHOA Travel, an adventure travel company for women-by-women, Ambassador Meganne Radway has led treks around the world. In June of 2022, she traveled to Tanzania with a group of women for her fourth expedition to Kilimanjaro. We caught up with Meganne to talk about how she got started guiding and what it is about Kilimanjaro that keeps her coming back.
Meganne shares, “As a group adventure leader, I’m able to pick where I want to go. I intentionally keep choosing Tanzania and Kilimanjaro because of how impactful it was the first time I climbed. It’s the community that’s formed on the mountain – those relationships within the group that you’re hiking with, the guides, and all the staff it takes to get everyone up the mountain. They’re all just so special.”
A unique tradition on Kilimanjaro is that climbers are greeted with song as they trek into camp each day. In Meganne’s words, the experience of “being serenaded and cheered into camp [by your support team] is such a cool feeling, and there’s something really magical about it. It builds community quickly because people get in the circle and start dancing and get silly. That celebration happens the whole entire trip. Not just the final day, but on day one and day two, and those small celebrations help the people who don’t summit feel that they’ve accomplished a really huge goal. Because they did!” However, during the Covid-19 pandemic, singing was banned due to the fear of spread from aerosols, and those little daily celebrations went away.
Her most recent time up the mountain, Meganne found herself guiding a great group of women. The group was coalescing well – many of the women became close friends – and yet things were not going quite as planned. She was dealing with emotional and physical challenges, which ultimately led to her decision to stay back on summit day.
Meganne says, “The night I decided not to summit I was experiencing some pretty tough altitude sickness symptoms. I felt like my head was going to explode. I was questioning what it would feel like if I went a single foot higher. I had never felt like that before, so I made the call and decided to stay at high camp.”
Making the hard decision to stay back had a silver lining. It meant that Meganne was able to celebrate every person who summited as they returned to camp. As an added bonus, a polaroid camera she’d been carting along during the trip allowed her to snap a photo of every person who summited as they returned to camp with their summit porter – a local Tanzanian guide who provides one-on-one help and guidance for each climber. “You make this special bond with this person who’s guiding you up the mountain. Everyone that summited has this little memento photo of them and their guide, which just makes me so happy.”
How was it choosing to forego the summit? Meganne shared, “I think I initially felt a lot of shame about it. ‘Oh who is Meganne? She’s guides all these trips and now she can’t even get to the summit with her group.’ That was the saboteur in my head just beating me down. If I think about the trip as a whole and find those pieces… I know that trip was meaningful for not just me but the people whom I was leading. I realized I don’t have to be up on the summit with them to feel that special summit moment.”
I know that trip was meaningful for not just me but the people whom I was leading. I realized I don’t have to be up on the summit with them to feel that special summit moment.
How did Meganne reframe the situation for herself? She shared, “I think a lot of it was I kept telling myself that I was still successful even though I didn’t really believe it at first. I kept saying ‘What you did was meaningful! You hiked a really long distance with all these people and that hike meant something. You still accomplished it even though you didn’t summit.’ I think the more I thought about it and the more I talked to people about it, the clearer it became that, ‘OK, yes this is true. I do believe wholeheartedly that even though I didn’t get to the summit, this was a meaningful experience.’”
A piece of inspiration for all of us to consider? Meganne closed with these thoughts, “Someone recently told me that she used to feel like she had to explain herself and prove herself to people. Now she just shows her worth and her skill through the work she does.” Meganne understands that not summiting on her fourth attempt didn’t detract from her or her group’s experience, and it won’t stop her from traveling back to Kilimanjaro to lead her fifth expedition.