For part-time Vail Valley resident Meghan Buchanan, the North Pole will have to wait
VAIL — There are a lot of highs that go along with climbing the tallest peaks and reaching the farthest ends of the Earth, but there are also some lows, especially when things don’t go as planned.
Part-time Edwards resident Meghan Buchanan was supposed to leave the United States and head to Longyearbyen, Norway, on March 31 to trek from the 89th degree to the 90th degree of the North Pole. The feat would complete what is called the Explorer’s Grand Slam, which is climbing the highest peaks on each of the seven continents, known as the Seven Summits, and then adding the treks to the North and South Pole.
She completed the trek to the South Pole in December2021 and finished the Seven Summits, climbing the last of the seven peaks, Mount Kosciuszko in Australia, in December 2022.
Buchanan’s team, led by world-renowned polar adventure guide Eric Larsen, was going to be one of the first teams to get to trek out of the temporary Barneo Camp, which has been closed since the last expedition in 2018. Expeditions out of Barneo Camp were canceled in 2019 because of Russian/Ukraine tension. Then, they were canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19 and stayed closed in 2022 due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
With only two weeks out from the teams leaving the U.S. for Norway to start the trek, Buchanan and her team heard that the Civil Aviation Authority of Norway did not approve flight permits between Barneo Camp and Longyearbyen, which is the highest latitude airport in the world. This news was unexpected and did not give the team time to reroute or find alternative solutions before the 2023 season ended.
Buchanan was excited to schedule this trip as soon as the Barneo Camp opened because once she completes the approximately 70-mile trek to the North Pole, she will be one of the first women to complete the Explorer’s Grand Slam after things opened back up. Only 12 women have ever completed this feat internationally.
But Buchanan is no stranger to setbacks. Weather, equipment and other factors can always delay an ascent or other goals in climbing or trekking, but she’s also had personal setbacks throughout her life as well. She was diagnosed with dyslexia when she was a kid and has always had to work harder to overcome obstacles. That didn’t stop her from reaching her potential as an aerospace engineer today.
She also suffered a horrific snowboarding accident in 2011 in Vail’s Sun Up Bowl that broke the head off of her left femur. She was told she may never walk normally again.
Through it all, Buchanan has always dug deep to find what she calls GGRIT: Gratitude, Growth, Resilience, Integrity and Tenacity.
“We’ve been here before; this is not over,” Buchanan said after hearing the news of Norway not approving the flight permits. “I let myself be bummed for one night and enjoyed a really nice wine, but then it is time to move forward.”
Buchanan won’t be stationary long, she has already been invited to climb in South America.
“I already pivoted and I’m joining a friend’s climb in Bolivia from April 20 to 28 to keep training. Then, I’m working on taking a couple of people up Aconcagua in Argentina in January and then I’ll complete the Explorer’s Grand Slam by doing the North Pole in April of 2024,” Buchanan said.
This time away from these athletic endeavors will also give Buchanan more time to focus on completing her first book and schedule more speaking engagements to help inspire others to live GGRIT and reach their full potential, whatever they perceive their challenges to be.
“GGRIT is about dealing with challenges and obstacles, not letting roadblocks get you down,” Buchanan said. “GGRIT always about choosing to rise, no matter what the situation.”
Follow Buchanan on her @GGRIT social media channels to see how her treks around the world go before she heads to the North Pole next spring.