Student Spotlight

Trekking to Annapurna

An Interview with Matt Gaidica

Matt recently had the opportunity to trek to Annapurna Base Camp, home to the tenth highest and most deadly mountain in the world. His amazing adventure is documented in a travelogue that boasts incredible photos and details about his excursion. This two week expedition aimed to establish a method of measuring and characterizing task-related neuronal activity that might be relevant to altitude-induced neurological dysfunction and ground-based neurological disease. We were able to tease out answers to a few questions, but are leaving the details to his beautifully documented, and very personal account. Enjoy!

How did this trip change you, personally?

Out of the two week trip, about six were spent traveling, the rest in the mountains. It didn’t leave much time to integrate anywhere. There was a bigger purpose to the trip, but I left feeling like I owed the land and the people something, just as you do when you leave a good friend who has hosted you for dinner. 

You have traveled extensively. What did you find challenging about this trip?

The logistics were pretty extensive, and we were lucky that nothing imploded. I guess I’m always saying, THIS WILL FAIL… how? And once you answer that a hundred times, you’re left being able to focus on the unforeseen challenges. I mean, the night before I was driving out to meet our sponsor at a Panera to swap out some failing hardware. The software expired literally the day that we were set to collect data at Annapurna Base Camp, but thankfully we had a backup key tucked away. We just solved problems as they came up; clothes got wet and we dried them, our feet got blisters and we patched them, we fell and got back up.

What recommendations would you have for anyone traveling to this part of the world?

It’s not going to be a short trip, so being a bit generous with your planning pays off. We took a long layover in Abu Dhabi, so instead of getting to Nepal a few hours earlier (which would have done us nothing) we took a car into the city and watched the sunrise over the Grand Mosque. We also had a funny airport experience west of Kathmandu, in Pokhara. It would have been completely unsurprising to get stuck in that city for an extra day, but we actually planned for that too, so it was completely stress free and we took everything with a laugh.

How do you think this trip will change your research or scientific approach in your current work, or going forward?

The main sponsor, Brain Vision, really took a chance on us, waiving our entire invoice of equipment that was knowingly being crammed into backpacks and sent halfway around the world. But they absolutely loved the outcome. I have their support for anything I need moving forward and their whole team has become good friends. More importantly, I think the hypothesis that we are testing is really significant. It equally serves a neurological disease at sea-level and failing brains at high altitude. The fact is, we see motor impairments in both places. If we can use decades of knowledge from the lab to better inform therapies for slow moving people on Everest, great. If we can use altitude as a way of reversibly modeling a movement disorder, great. And finally, if I can be someone helping to push these ideas forward by spending time in a lab and the outdoors, that keeps me excited about this field. The trip will garner a poster, that poster will go with me to a conference, and that conference will put me in front of my peers. Maybe that helps with my career, but most importantly, it just starts a conversation.