Vail’s Meghan Buchanan climbs Seven Summits, sets sights on North Pole
February 24, 2023
Adventurer has already trekked to the South Pole in attempts to complete Explorer’s Grand Slam
Some people might stop at climbing the seven highest peaks on the seven continents, but not Meghan Buchanan.
After climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Aconcagua in Argentina, Mount Elbrus in Russia, Denali in Alaska, Mount Vinson (with a trek to the South Pole added to the trip) in Antarctica, Mount Everest in Nepal and Mount Kosciuszko in Australia — known as the Seven Summits — Buchanan aims to complete the Explorer’s Grand Slam this spring when she will travel the last degree to the North Pole.
This lofty goal is something Buchanan, a part-time resident of Edwards, wanted to do after recovering from a horrible snowboarding accident on Vail Mountain on Feb. 6, 2011. She was enjoying a powder day with friends on Windows run in Sun Up Bowl when she hit a tree buried under the snow and broke the head off her left femur, twisting it so badly that the muscle and everything attached to it tore off the bone.
Doctors put a titanium rod into Buchanan’s leg and there it stayed for 19 painful months. The prognosis was that Buchanan would likely walk with a cane and have a limp for the rest of her life. Once the rod was removed, healing quickly began and hope filled her thoughts of conquering the highest peaks. And, Buchanan’s grit set in.
Grit has been a word Buchanan has lived by since she was a young girl. The adventurer and aerospace engineer was diagnosed with dyslexia and had to work extra hard to overcome obstacles, but that didn’t stop her. When she struggled and was told over and over again to give up, she learned to believe in her skills and told herself, “you can and you will.”
“That really is what I’ve created in myself but I added another “G.” GGRIT stands for gratitude, growth, resilience, integrity and tenacity and it is a lifetime of practice, it doesn’t happen overnight and it is starting very small and the moment you have those negative voices, it’s almost talking back to yourself and saying, ‘No, I’m not going to listen to you today, I’m going to do this one step anyway,’ and building upon itself until you do build that confidence within yourself,” Buchanan said.
That mental fortitude along with the physicality is what keeps Buchanan going. One foot in front of the other, be it ascending the 29,029 feet of Mount Everest or the 7,310 feet to the top of Mount Kosciuszko, the two peaks she has climbed in the last year to complete the Seven Summits.
“It is really funny to go from the highest peak, Everest, to the lowest peak, which is Kosciuszko, but it was a great way to wrap all of this up,” Buchanan said. “You’re hiking up Thredbo, which is a ski resort in Australia, and it is kind of like if you are on Vail Mountain and starting from the village and hiking the Berry Picker trail to the top.”
Buchanan had the choice of climbing Mount Kosciuszko in Australia or Puncak Jaya, also known as Carstensz Pyramid, in Indonesia on the continent of Oceania.
“It is the same platonic plate and it’s a peak that is over 16,000 feet above sea level and a more technical climb,” Buchanan said. “Most people go and do that, they do both. However, that mountain has not opened because there is major civil uprising and unrest on that island, and it is actually extremely dangerous and we don’t know when it will open up. So, luckily, I had my choice, and when it is safer again, then I will go and do that one, but in the meantime, Kosciuszko counts!”
Although Mount Everest is a much tougher and technical climb, Buchanan said that she finally felt like she had accomplished something after the Mount Kosciuszko summit.
“This is so strange, and it is hard to explain, but it felt more rewarding than when I summited Everest and the reason for that is you’re in shock a little bit from Everest. It takes a while to process what happened and then you have another goal right away. I think I summited Everest on May 12 and then I summited Kozi on Dec. 15. So, I think I had had enough time after Everest to finally settle in so when I finished the Seven Summits, I was actually able to celebrate everything and celebrate the Everest climb then.”
But Buchanan is not finished yet. She still has the 70-mile trek to the North Pole, which will complete her quest for the Explorer’s Grand Slam.
“I already completed the South Pole a year ago December and so what I have left is the North Pole. That has actually been closed down, the last exhibition was in 2018 and there’s many different reasons why. The logistics have been closed down due to COVID-19, due to the Russian War in the Ukraine and a Swiss billionaire took over the logistics. Now, the logistics, the planes, the infrastructure for the temporary Barneo Ice Camps are all ready, so we are a go. We have been ready for this trek since 2019 and I got my butt on the first wave of planes somehow into Barneo Camps so that sets me up to definitely be one of the first women since it opened again to complete the Explorer’s Grand Slam, which only 12 women have ever completed internationally. So, this is a big deal.”
Buchanan just spent time in northern Minnesota training in the Northwest Angle, which borders Canada and is surrounded by the water of the Lake of the Woods. Leading Buchanan to the North Pole will be world renowned polar explorer Eric Larsen of Crested Butte.
“There is an amazing documentary about him and his partner Ryan Waters of Boulder. They did a 500-mile expedition in the North Pole, one of the last of its kind, and they did an amazing documentary produced by Animal Planet called “Melting: Last Race to the Pole,” so I’m so honored to be accepted onto his team and be able to do this with him, it is amazing.”
The team did a five-day ski and hike training to test equipment and make sure everyone’s systems are all ready.
“Some people think, ‘Oh, you’ve done the South Pole so the North Pole will be a piece of cake,’ when no, it’s actually really different. Not only the terrain you have to go over, but also the humidity level is much different. It is much more humid on the North Pole, so you need to have different sorts of layers.”
Due to her injury, Buchanan is always trying to dial in her equipment for each trek.
“That’s where the Vail Valley comes in because it takes a team to get me and my equipment ready to go, so I am back here training and I’ve already got appointments with Dr. Cunningham at Vail Summit Orthopaedics and Neurosurgery, I’m going to Howard Head Sports Medicine to work on my orthotics and I’m working with the Vail Nordic Center to see about a new binding system that is for polar exploring, so it’s like the whole Vail Valley is pulling together again to help get me and my leg and my equipment ready to go for this,” Buchanan said.
Buchanan leaves for Longyearbyen, Norway, on March 31 but trekking from the 89th degree to the 90th degree latitude of the North Pole will actually start on April 5, weather dependent, and then seven to 10 days after that the group expects to reach the North Pole.
After Buchanan reaches that goal, she has more goals she wants to accomplish, but these summits won’t include hiking boots, down parkas and high altitude. She wants to translate her accomplishments into her GGRIT training and motivational speaking to help others.
“That is the biggest part of this. Climbing these mountains and the Explorer’s Grand Slam was just a symptom of GGRIT, but it goes so much further. I really love to help and give people those tools of GGRIT to overcome anything in their own lives, and it does not have to be Everest, it could be getting in shape, or running a 5K, getting your kid through high school or wanting to speak up for yourself at work, so it is the tiniest little thing that can affect your everyday life and you can apply it to all areas of your life.”
If you are interested in being a sponsor and help Buchanan make it to the North Pole check out her Go Fund Me page. Follow Buchanan on her GGRIT social media accounts on Facebook and Instagram to see how the trek to the North Pole goes and her next endeavors. She is also available for public speaking engagements via GGRIT.com.