A Research Expedition to Everest Base Camp

Guest post by Breezy Beaudry

Breezy1I recently returned from the trip of a lifetime to do research on the highest mountain in the world.

Over the course of the past year I have been working on my kinesiology Honours project through Dr. Krigolson’s Neuroeconomics Lab, using a portable EEG system known as the MUSE.

Essentially, what this Star Trek-like headband allows us to do is easily read certain brainwaves with very little set-up. In late March I was beyond excited to find out I would be traveling with the lab to Everest Basecamp as a research assistant.

Arriving in Lukla

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Lukla airport

As I walked towards my fifth and final plane, which was coincidentally also the smallest plane I had ever seen, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up as I realized I was about to willingly fly to Lukla, the most dangerous airport in the world.

A combination of landing on a cliff face, frequent fog and lack of automatic controls or control towers were some of the reasons why this airport had gained its reputation. Suitcases were piled sky high onto a single scale as airport staff calculated each plane’s weight prior to boarding.

Such a small plane!

Such a small plane!

On the plane itself, a stewardess casually walked passed each row made up of only one seat on either side of the aisle, offering each of us cotton for our ears to block out the booming sound of the plane’s propellers. When finally all I could see from my window were mountains in every direction, the pilot announced we would be landing.

As I peered out through the cockpit window, sure enough a small runway appeared on the face of a fastly-approaching mountain. And thus marks the beginning of the 3-week research expedition I will not soon forget.

Trekking to Namche

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Collecting EEG Data at Namche Monastery. That’s me in the purple jacket. Photo by Dr. Olav Krigolson (in green).

On our second day of trekking we arrived in Namche, a satellite shaped village nestled onto the face of a mountain, where we would be fortunate enough to collect data from meditating monks.

I can’t really explain the experience of sitting in a room with so many holy men and woman but it was breath taking and made me feel overcome with emotion.

The colours were one of the first things I noticed: yellows, reds, oranges, greens and blues decorating every aspect of the room. There was excitement and nervousness in the prayer room as we waited for our first four senior monks to enter.

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Collecting EEG data of meditating monks at Tengboche Monastery. Photo: Olav Krigolson.

Using a translator, we explained the experimental protocol to our first group of monks. We were extremely fortunate to test a total of 15 senior and 10 junior monks total that day, providing us with a sample size that, to the best of my knowledge, greatly surpasses any previously conducted studies involving monks.

I am so thankful for such a hands-on opportunity to assist in the collection of research data, seeing that there is truly no end to education and the variety of settings in which it can be found.

Studying effects of altitude

Tents at Everest Basecamp

Tents at Everest Basecamp

In addition to our monk research, we were also studying the effects of altitude on cognitive function.

There were 23 of us total in our trekking group, made up of other researchers from primarily Canadian universities, trekkers volunteering to participate in our studies and other undergraduate research assistants like myself.

I thoroughly enjoyed my first experience of true fieldwork and the chances that arose to think on my feet. I will never forget my first glimpse of base camp and the tents scattered below the most immense field of ice I have ever seen.

As I entered base camp, I was once again overcome with emotion at the shear immensity of the mountains but also the realization that I was going to be able to assist in conducting research here.

Working on our rock table.

Working on our rock table. Photo by Olav Krigolson.

We found the perfect table made from rock and ice that served as our testing station and began running people through our experiment at an altitude of 5,364 meters.

As we were testing, one thing that shocked me the most were the sounds of ice cracking and snow falling that echoed throughout the valley.

A small river that divided the tents from the ice fields was also a testament to the evident presence of global warming on one of the mightiest of peaks in the world.

I am extremely thankful for having had such an amazing first field research experience and I will never forget how the experience made me feel! A quote by Benjamin Franklin says it best: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

Learn more about the trek in this SnapChat video produced by third-year UVic biology student Emily Vanden Berg, on a co-op work term as part of Dr. Trevor Day’s team through Calgary’s Mount Royal University:

 

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