“Hiking was my refuge because it was something I was good at…I wasn’t made fun of,” she said. “I was just naturally gifted, and it was my release and my therapy from having to deal with the dyslexia.”
Then, in 2011, she shattered her femur severely while snowboarding the back bowls in Vail, Colorado. Doctors and physical therapists told her she should anticipate to either use a wheelchair or cane for the rest of her life.
“Here were more people telling me ‘You can’t,’ ‘You won’t,’” Buchanan said.
“I honestly glazed right over the diagnosis and went straight into solution mode,” she said. “The thought of not being able to climb again was just not acceptable. Before I could even get out of the hospital I was like, ‘All right. Here we go. Next challenge. I will overcome this and rise to climb again.’”
Buchanan took a medical leave of absence. But after returning, the pain was so severe she took a year off of work and moved to Vail to be closer to her doctors and therapist. After 18 months of surgeries, physical therapy, injections and sacrifice, she still couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs without her cane. Doctors could not figure out why her muscles weren’t strengthening or why there was still so much pain. Her physical therapist concluded the only thing left was an allergy to the 14-inch titanium rod holding her femur together. The only option to test that theory was remove it.
“Within a month after the surgery to remove, I could walk the stairs unassisted,” she said “Within six months of that, I returned to Everest Base Camp. I was stronger than ever. Not just physically, but mentally. My endurance and tolerance for pain and suffering increased significantly. So, next I climbed Kilimanjaro again – literally running across the top to reach the summit at sunrise. But I wanted to go higher.”
Buchanan has, indeed, set her sights higher, to conquer the Seven Summits – the highest mountains of each of the seven continents. And since she’s already halfway through that, she’s now aiming at the Explorer’s Grand Slam, which is the Seven Summits combined with the last-degree ski to the North Pole and South Pole, which is the last-degree latitude or about 60 nautical miles.
Less than 15 women have completed that feat, and she is well on her way to finishing it by next year.
1. Mount Kilimanjaro. Tanzania, Africa – 19,341 feet, 2005 and 2015
2. Aconcagua. Argentina, South America – 22, 838 feet, January 2017
3. Mount Elbrus. Russia, Europe – 18,510 feet, August 2018
4. Denali. Alaska. North America – 20,322 feet. July 2019
5. South Pole and Vinson Massif. Antarctica – 16,060 feet. December 2021 through-January 2022
6. Mount Everest. Nepal, Asia –First attempt, Camp 3, 25,000 feet. May 2021.
• Second attempt scheduled for Mount Everest Summit, 29,029 feet. April-May 2022,
7. Carstensz Pyramid. Oceana, Australia) – 16,024 feet. Scheduled for Fall 2022.
8. North Pole – Spring 2023