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High Mountain Institute

Why choose 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

Spring traverse

HMI was an amazing experience that I grew a lot from. The friendships I made well on the expeditions were beautiful and intentional. I grew a lot from this experience and feel like a new person walking out. I learned how to support the community I was living with over the few months, and how to support myself. There are great leaders that teach you how to be even greater leaders. It teaches you how to come up with your own environmental ethic. The instructions we had on this trip could not and been better.

  • Great community
  • Great friendships
  • Grow a lot as a person
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Yes, I recommend this program

Traverse 2023

This was my second semester with the High Mountain Institute. Last semester I was with Trek. This semester I was with Traverse and this time around we explored a variety of outdoor activities. These activities included skiing, backpacking, rock climbing, and rafting. Along with a few exciting service projects. We travelled to Arizona, Utah, and Colorado this time and it was truly a blast. I would highly recommend to anyone with an interest in outdoor activities to participate in an HMI semester!

  • Great places visited
  • Many new skills learned
  • Weather may be unlikable
  • Shelter in the field isn’t great
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Yes, I recommend this program

Spring Traverse

Spring Traverse was pretty packed with a lot of different things to do and places to go. The beginning backpacking expedition in the Kofa in Arizona was a fun introduction to getting to know what a lot of course would look like and getting to know the people I’d spend the next three months with. It’s nostalgic to look back on it now, as it was so tough in the moment yet now after the crazy yet fun things we did later—like ski expedition especially—it’s probably one of the breeziest times we had.

  • Lots of laughs
  • Do cool stuff
  • Learned how to make decent eggs
  • Spiders
  • I’m allergic to spiders
  • There’s a lot of spiders in the outdoors
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Yes, I recommend this program

Spring Traverse

I had a great time on my spring gap program with HMI! I had never been on a backpacking trip before and thought it was a great introduction to spending extended time in the backcountry. The instructors were super enthusiastic and helpful and we saw beautiful parts of the United States. Additionally, I loved the diversity of actives we participated in including backcountry skiing, backpacking, rafting, and rock climbing. The trip is definitely physically demanding but I would recommend it for anyone who loves the outdoors.

  • Diversity of activities
  • Visited remote, beautiful places
  • Enthusiastic Instructors
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Yes, I recommend this program

Spring Traverse

Over the last 80 days I met people I will never forget and encountered challenges that helped me grow. So many moments I stood in awe of the places we traveled and wondered how I got so lucky.
Our students and staff skied, hiked, climbed, rafted, cooked, laughed, and so much more over the course of the semester. You never fully know what to expect on a course like this. This far exceeded my expectation. I feel like I learned so much and am ready to go into college with the tools I need to succeed.

  • Challenging
  • Builds communication skills
  • Builds outdoor skills


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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

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