High Mountain Institute

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

Best semester

I’m so happy I chose HMI for my gap semester. It was such an amazing experience and I got to visit beautiful places with a great group of people. My group got to backpack through Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. We went through mountains, canyons, and deserts. I had never backpacked before coming to HMI and I did not feel held back at all. I now have the skills to go on personal backpacking trips because of everything I’ve learned at HMI. The instructors are very supportive and the people make the trip what it is.

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Yes, I recommend this program

A truly life-changing experience!!

Coming to HMI Gap was the best decision I have ever made! Specifically, I was a part of the Fall Traverse section. During those two and a half months, I got the opportunity to travel all throughout the Southwestern United States and hone my backpacking, rock climbing, and leadership skills. Being in the backcountry allowed me to push myself, both physically and mentally. I also met the people who became my best friends on this program. Overall, I would highly recommend the HMI Gap program to anyone who loves the outdoors, community building, and becoming the best version of themself.

What was the most surprising thing you saw or did?
The most surprising thing I saw was a family of three mountain goats that followed us on our summit of Mount Massive!
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Yes, I recommend this program

HMI Gap F-Traverse 2021

Truly amazing program! I really enjoyed the backpacking, climbing and rafting trips. The community is very inclusive and the instructors are super supportive. I loved how anyone can come from anywhere and get a great education in outdoor skills and learn from the leadership, community, and environmental studies curriculums. One of the most impactful times of my life. If you're someone who isn't sure what you want to do, this program really opens up a ton of opportunities and interests. Would return for a second semester.

What was the most surprising thing you saw or did?
Sport wading through slot canyons in Bears Ears National Monument.
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Yes, I recommend this program

Best 2 Months Ever

The places we got to see were incredible, but more important than that was the community we built. Every single person I met here taught me so much. HMI gave me the opportunity to refine my leadership skills and develop technical skills such as navigation and backcountry cooking. Some days were certainly more challenging than others, but I never felt SO challenged to the point where I could no longer continue. There was an impressive variety of landscapes, including the Sawatch mountain range in Colorado, Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, and the Grand Canyon and KOFA Wildlife Refuge in Arizona. I would enthusiastically recommend this program to anyone looking for adventure on their gap semester.

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Yes, I recommend this program

A life changing and amazing experience

I loved this program, the people here, and the memories that I’ve made over the last 80 days. I liked how we started off in the Sawatch Mountain Range and were quickly introduced to the new lifestyle in the backcountry that we were all nervous to adapt to. With the support of our instructors and our new peers, we were able to learn and quickly master backpacking, cooking on whisper light stoves, and how to care for ourselves in the best way. The environmental studies curriculum throughout this course was informative, educational, and
extremely thought provoking. I enjoyed every lesson and hearing how my peers’ own environmental ethic developed throughout the trip. I also really enjoyed the leadership and community building lessons and learned a lot about my own leadership style and what I can do better to be a better role model for others in the future. I loved backpacking, rock climbing, canyoneering, and rafting with the 9 other people on my trip and getting to share those new experiences for me with other people who were just as excited as I was to be doing them. The bond and lasting memories that I’ve created with people at HMI are ones that I’m without a doubt going to take with me after this program is over. I learned so much about myself and am so thankful that I got to have this life changing experience that I can always look back on.

What was your funniest moment?
Playing the most intense game of whiffle ball I’ve ever played in my entire life during base camping in St. George, Utah


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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...

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