Matt Walker discovered climbing at age 18 after moving to Washington State for college. There, he joined a group that led expeditions well beyond American soil. But following a serious accident on Ama Dablam—a 22,000-foot mountain in eastern Nepal—he used the long recovery to pursue a master’s degree in psychology and distilled his passions into a unique profession; coaching groups of men by guiding them up the world’s highest mountains but also towards themselves. He developed a teaching philosophy focused on the importance of interdependence, how to exist in a state of uncertainty, and how to foster tolerance for the challenging moments that are part of a deeply lived life.
Climbing the mountain running on empty
Ironically, applying those hard lessons to himself proved especially difficult for Walker. For the majority of his adult years, any sense of fulfillment was eclipsed by his struggle to focus and a pattern of deep weariness. At various times, he attributed his problems to everything from anxiety and ADHD to depression. Walker wondered why he felt so bad so often. Not once did he get tested for, or even think he had sleep apnea, “I went to all kinds of doctors to work out what was going on, and not one of them caught the underlying problem.”
As a full-time mountain guide, Walker maintains the highest fitness level possible year-round. “If I am not working in the field, I focus on cardio workouts, lifting weights, and yoga. Sleep apnea was the last thing I thought was behind my exhaustion,” said Walker. “I had no idea that sleep apnea can affect anyone. I thought it was only found in people who are overweight, with a deviated septum, who snore a lot.”
Matt Walker carried that belief for years.
What’s wrong with me?
Before his sleep apnea diagnosis, Walker internalized his exhaustion and inability to focus as a character defect. Paid to climb mountains, the impact of undiagnosed sleep apnea proved substantial.
“I struggled over and over to motivate myself to exercise and follow training routines. I was cranky, had trouble with my memory, and drank way too much coffee,” he said.
The lack of sleep also impacted how he showed up as a father, “I don’t think it’s overreaching to say sleep apnea has had a significantly detrimental impact on my whole life.”
A previous partner, whose mother was dying, was the first to call attention to his disordered breathing. One morning she told Walker, “You’re not breathing at night. You’re snoring, and you stop breathing—a lot. Actually, your breathing sounds like my dying mother’s. You sound the same.”
That’s when Walker got a sleep study done. Results showed his breathing paused, slowed, or stopped entirely up to 12 times per hour. The diagnosis? Obstructive sleep apnea.
The first sleep apnea diagnosis occurred before Walker learned about Lofta’s streamlined approach of in-house diagnosis, treatment, and ongoing support. He was disheartened when the traditional diagnosis process took more than nine months. An initial at-home sleep study led to an overnight inpatient sleep study and more doctor visits that took months to be scheduled.
“Before Lofta, just one of the challenges I faced was navigating the medical system, and regarding getting help for sleep apnea, it absolutely sucked. I’m motivated and well-educated, so I was able to navigate through the system, but it was still incredibly time-consuming and shockingly expensive.”
A life-changing nap
The first time Walker tried a CPAP machine, he used it to take a nap. That four-hour nap refreshed him like an entire nine-hour sleep, “Immediately that day—I mean within 15 minutes of waking after using the machine— I was like, oh, this is a magical drug! I’m actually rested.”
Travel CPAP is the size of two smartphones
The full-size CPAP was suitable for home use, but Walker sought a smaller device for use when traveling in his RV or climbing and guiding in the mountains. He turned to Lofta. “Getting help this time was fast and easy,” Walker explained, “If I had stayed using the traditional medical model that I was working through, I literally don’t know how I would have made all those calls and navigated the system to get the CPAP I need to travel. There would have been so many barriers that I probably wouldn’t have done it,” he said.
The travel CPAP machine from Lofta proved compact and easier to use than a regular CPAP machine, “It’s the size of two smartphones together and sits in my hand.” On the road, Walker charges the small battery with a solar panel or plugs it into his RV.
“The AirMini is so easy and small, compared to other options, which I found so cumbersome and challenging for travel. Until I got a mobile machine, I was one of those travelers carrying my CPAP machine into the airport, and I would see other people with the same kind of bag and think, ‘Oh, I know that bag.’ With Lofta’s ResMed system, it is so much easier to travel—a total game changer.”
Breathing support at altitude
Emerging from the pandemic lockdown, Walker felt compelled to challenge himself. He also wanted to show his kids how to push through difficult times and still have a focal point, how to take care of one’s health and, in his words, “Go do something big.”
Nepal’s Mt. Manaslu is big. At 26,781 feet, it is the eighth-highest mountain in the world. And with Lofta’s help, Walker was able to summit within ten days of leaving Seattle.
And like all expeditions, coming home is the most important thing. Walker works hard to stack the odds in his favor to make it home safely. And true to what he teaches, Walker profoundly values the role others play in his success, “My sleep tech at Lofta has helped me a lot. It’s funny, she’s not a climber, but her role in my expedition is significant. The passion and effort she puts into her job, unbeknownst to her, is inputting directly into my success.”
“I’ve been impressed with her depth of knowledge. For example, she’ll say, “You’re using a size medium at home, but you’ll need a small for this type of travel mask. Without her expertise, I would have just ordered another medium. She took time to explain how the cut of each mask is slightly different. So it’s been very customized, very personalized, which is super helpful, versus me navigating Amazon and just guessing.”
“Life doesn’t work without support, and that is especially true at 18,000 feet where the only reason I breathe easily is equipment pushing oxygen into my lungs—and that equipment is working because of my Lofta sleep tech.”
When you know, you know
Walker is very clear about the value of treating his sleep apnea. “The deep relaxation keeps me using the CPAP. And the more I talk about my sleep apnea with others, the less I feel that stigma around it. Especially now I know sleep apnea isn’t the affliction of someone who has diabetes or is overweight.”
“I’m really fit, and I have sleep apnea. But so many people I know experience sleep apnea and are resistant to getting a sleep test and to the idea of machines because there’s a stigma; how unsexy is it to sleep with a mask on? Somehow you think you’re less healthy, less attractive. But trust me, that shame means nothing once results are in.”
“That lack of discussion, the cultural stigma kept me from even being aware of the problem. But once I received the diagnosis, began the treatment, and saw the results, the stigma became nothing to me. It’s so insignificant compared to how I feel now that I’m being treated. Worrying about what people think doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t even care.”
“If I can help other men become aware of their sleep apnea sooner and be less self-conscious about getting on a CPAP, that’s a gift. A real win.”
On the Horizon
Next year, Walker has his sights set again on the biggest mountain of them all—Everest. This time with help from Lofta, a travel-size CPAP machine, and energy levels he only dreamed of at 25, “Expedition safety is a big deal, but it’s just as important that I show up for my kids—be present and up for the play they need—as it is to show up when it’s just me, my equipment, and an endless expanse of snow, ice, and rock. Treating my sleep apnea makes it all possible.”
“The critical support from Lofta and the team’s top-notch technology directly and indirectly improved my odds of coming home safe. And that’s exactly what I want.”
Matt Walker lives a self-described rewarding existence. Father of two, 46-year-old Walker has climbed the highest peaks on every continent and loves his job as a mountain guide and life coach. But for three decades, he struggled with near-constant fatigue and an inability to appreciate his life.