Macon Dunnagan's story


The Expedition of Hope a hike to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro – the world’s fourth highest peak – will take place in September 2013! A teal flag will be raised at 19,341 feet above sea level while raising awareness and funds for the work of Ovarian Cancer Canada.

In September of 2012, Macon, 51, of Charlotte, North Carolina, set a record four summits of Mount Kilimanjaro within 28 days – for a total of 25 summits on Africa’s highest peak.

Macon made his first ascent in 1999 with the loving encouragement of wife Michelle Phillips Dunnagan, who was originally from Gibsons, BC. Michelle was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2005 and died in 2007.

“I’ve always wanted to give back to Canada because Michelle was Canadian,” says Macon. “I came up to Ovarian Cancer Canada’s LOVE HER event in Toronto earlier this year. There was massive enthusiasm to do something like the Expedition of Hope, so that was it!”

Macon is looking for new and experienced climbers, ovarian cancer survivors, family members and friends from across the country. “Climbing Kilimanjaro is like going from the equator to the North Pole in four days through jungle, tundra and ice cap. Most people never get to see stars and the Milky Way so clearly – it’s truly beautiful up there.”

While he admits that it is “the hardest mental and physical challenge you will ever face,” he is quick to point out that climbing the mountain “is a walk, not a race. It’s a doable thing. I recently took a 77-year-old lady and a 12-year-old up Kilimanjaro. Once you climb Kili, you can use that momentum to tackle any other challenge in your life.”

The Expedition of Hope offers two routes. The Marangu Route is the simplest and involves walking with less steep ascents. Hikers sleep in huts. The Rongai Route is a more difficult hike with less walking each day but higher ascents. Hikers sleep in tents.

The goal is to raise $150,000 for Ovarian Cancer Canada. All climbers are committed to fundraising a minimum of $2,500, and associated travel and tour fees are paid directly by the climber. Information sessions will be held during the year to help expedition participants train and prepare for the Expedition of Hope.

People from several regions across the country have already signed up and space is limited. An Expedition of HopeFacebook page has been launched so that climbers can communicate with one another and share information in advance of the event.


Macon and Michelle: a love story

The story behind the Expedition of Hope began with the love story of Macon Dunnagan and Michelle Phillips.

Photo: Michelle Dunnagan

A long-time employee of US Airways, Macon was on a multi-country trip in 1997, when he met Michelle in Fiji. It was his last night there and her first night – but Macon knew instantly that his bachelor days were over. The pair decided to pursue a long distance relationship between South Carolina and British Columbia.

Six months later, Macon proposed to Michelle at the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris; the couple was married in January 1998 and settled in North Carolina. For their first anniversary, they travelled to South Africa. When Michelle returned to South Carolina for work, Macon went to Tanzania for his first attempt at climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

“I found the name Zara Tours in the back of a book. I sent them a cheque and told them I was coming. That’s how it all started,” recalls Macon. “I trained a little but that was all. Michelle just laughed so hard because I’d never been in a sleeping bag before and there I was planning on climbing Kilimanjaro.”

But Macon succeeded and he was hooked by the experience. Not only has he climbed Kilimanjaro 25 times as of the end of September 2012 but he has bookings as far as 2017!

In 2001, Macon wrote Sons of Kilimanjaro, a novel about four men who face the challenges of a climb. One of the men is taking his wife’s ashes up the mountain.

“I wrote that book years before Michelle got ovarian cancer,” says Macon.

In a twist that proves truth can be stranger than fiction, what Macon wrote came true several years later.

“Michelle always wanted to climb Kili with me but we thought she had all the time in world. Her dream to climb Kilimanjaro became her dying wish that her ashes be spread up there. So two weeks after she died, I took her ashes up Kilimanjaro.”

Each year since then, Macon has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro during September’s Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month in memory of Michelle and to raise funds and awareness of ovarian cancer.

“I’m really excited about 2013 for Ovarian Cancer Canada,” says Macon. “Kilimanjaro is such a positive experience for people. I really want the Expedition of Hope to be a tremendous success and I want to help out in any way possible to make sure it is.”

For media enquiries please contact: cmackay@worldovariancancercoalition.