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High Mountain Institute


The High Mountain Institute's (HMI) programs lie at the intersection of where nature and minds meet. With courses traveling through Patagonia and the American West, students embark on an incredible three-month journey to some of the world's wildest places. With options to choose a rock climbing or wilderness travel focus, students explore these rugged landscapes, investigate pressing environmental issues, and gain real-world experience doing service in the conservation field. By living and traveling with a small group of peers and instructors, students develop lifelong friendships, walk away with valuable leadership skills, and a broadened perspective on the world. They return with a greater sense of purpose and better prepared to succeed in college and beyond.




High Mountain Institute Award

If you’re looking at one of the four High Mountain Institute programs to Patagonia, consider applying for financial aid. Your application must include tax forms from the last two years and will be awarded based on SSS (school and student services calculator) used by National Association of Independent Schools, which HMI is apart of. In addition to tuition and other travel costs, High Mountain Institute also provides discounted gear rentals to financial aid recipients.

$1,000 - $15,000


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Yes, I recommend this program

Patagonia Gap semester

My time on this program has transformed me in the most incredible way. You gain outdoor skills, you challenge your perspectives on the environment, and you learn how to communicate better. I learned so much about myself through this program. The instructors very intentionally create a space we’re you can be yourself and grow without judgement. I highly recommend this program. You will meet the most incredible people and accomplish more than you ever thought possible. It is physically and emotionally challenging, but 100% worth it.

  • Community
  • Amazing hikes
  • Knowledgeable instructors
  • The food
  • Physically challenging
  • Not a lot of down time
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Yes, I recommend this program

Spring Trek Patagonia

The experience I had with HMI was absolutely amazing. I have never been backpacking before and it was daunting to come down to Patagonia with no experience but I quickly learned everything from the staff and students. My group was so supportive and the community we built together was nothing like I’ve ever been in before. I can’t wait to take my learning home and apply it to backpacking by myself and others. I’ve grown so much from this gap trip and will miss my instructors and peers so much and will hopefully keep in touch for a long time.

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Yes, I recommend this program

HMI Gap Patagonia 2/2022-4/2022

HMI gap was such an amazing experience. I have met my new lifelong friends and people who I love dearly. Every place we went was such an impactful experience. I learned so many new skills, and the instructors taught us so much. I improved my trekking, outdoor living, and community building skills so much over the past few months. I would highly recommend. Be prepared for cold, snow, rain, sun, and all the inbetweens! Learning to be flexible, patient, and “tranqilo” is very important, but we became closer as a community when we were in uncomfortable and harsh weather environments.

  • Trekking
  • Rafting
  • Map navigation
  • Limited free time
  • Long car rides
  • Harsh weather
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Yes, I recommend this program

HMI Gap Patagonia

This experience was exactly what I was looking for. It was the perfect combination of challenging and rewarding backpacking and formal educational experiences. I loved the intensity of the river expedition, getting to know local farmers in Futaleufu, practicing hard navigation off trail, and participating in field research near the solér glacier. I feel as if I made meaningful connections to the land and the people in a way that will stay with me as I begin college. I would definitely recommend this program to all gap year students invested in community and the outdoors. Thank you HMI!!

  • Challenging Treks
  • Intimate connections with nature
  • Community
  • Not too much down time
  • Not enough exploration time in transition days
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Yes, I recommend this program

Go HMI gap!!

This program was amazing. We spent a lot of our time in the wilderness of the Andes mountains backpacking. If you do this program, you will becoming a master at backpacking. There is a lot of focus on building an intention community, something I loved and felt like HMI fostered really well. We had cultural experiences like doing a traditional Patagonian Asado and visiting gauchos in the countryside. We summited mountains and saw amazing views. We spent so much time outside, and each person developed a much deeper connection to nature. Overall, it was an amazing adventure and I would highly recommend.

  • Explored the Andes in a personal way.
  • Built a strong community.
  • Challenged myself mentally and physically.
  • Not very much down time.
  • Don’t really get to explore Chilean towns.


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Alumni Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with verified alumni.

Emma Barker

Emma is from Burlington, Vermont and is a graduate of Burlington High School. She loves running, playing violin, singing, and any kind of outdoor adventure.

Why did you choose this program?

I'd always wanted to do some kind of wilderness expedition or trip - but it just never ended up happening when I was younger. When I realized I could take a gap year to go do something awesome in the backcountry I was pretty much hooked - HMI particularly appealed to me because of the environmental studies/conservation curriculum which appealed to my curious, academic side as well as my desire to go adventuring!

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

I had to figure out travel to and from the program myself, and get gear. HMI was incredibly supportive before and during this semester, though: There was a comprehensive gear list to work off of, there were lots of staff who were incredibly receptive to the (many) questions I had going in, and during the semester the instructors of my semester were always open to questions and provided support when I needed it.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

First: bring a wildlife book or guide of some kind! And generally bring your curious spirit. There's SO MUCH you can learn just by asking questions out there and looking for the answers, and it's totally worth making the extra effort to understand the landscapes around you.
Second: you're going to spend a lot of time with a small group of people. Be open to them all during the whole semester. It feels great to be given a clean slate during the semester, and even better when you can reciprocate that for everyone.
Last, and perhaps most important: This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience. Approach it every day with gratitude and wonder and an open heart.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

The wilderness and conservation semester (HMI's heaviest backpacking semester) is essentially a series of 2-week-long expeditions. In the backcountry, most days mean waking up, cooking breakfast on the WhisperLite and packing a lunch, and then packing up camp to leave for a hike to the next campsite. When you get there, you set up camp, hang out and explore depending on the length of the hiking day, cook dinner, and then turn in for a night under the stars, usually exhausted and incredibly glad for the warmth of your sleeping bag. There are usually some layover days where we do day hikes or play group games sprinkled into the expeditions. Then, between expeditions, we stay in a hostel, clean our gear and get it ready for the next expedition, reconnect with family and friends, and rest up.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

I was quite nervous about spending so much time with so small a group, and also about the climbing portion of our semester.
I shouldn't have worried about the group - the community is facilitated well by instructors, and I think HMI attracts interesting, kind people so we really got along. There were obviously some moments of conflict, but we worked through them, and if I needed time alone I could usually take a moment when we got into camp to journal or nap or whatever I needed.
In terms of the climbing, I felt like I was incredibly good hands - the HMI staff are really qualified and competent and great teachers, so the climbing portion ended up being for me a real chance to conquer some fears.

What should I bring with me?

You should bring small games and things like that. Playing cards was a huge icebreaker for us, and playing party games like Salad Bowl and others was a lot of fun.
Bring plenty of bandanas - you'd be amazed at the multitude of uses they have!
Bring books related to the places you'll be in - I thought it was totally worth the extra weight to be able to read about the landscapes we trekked through.
Bring a packable daypack - the bigger the better! We use them for all kinds of things, and being able to fit more stuff in them is very helpful...

Professional Associations

Gap Year Association Logo
USA Gap Year Fairs Logo