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High Mountain Institute


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

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.



Diversity & Inclusion

BIPOC Support

The High Mountain Institute believes that both diversity and inclusion are essential to growth and learning. We all achieve our potential when each person in the community feels a true sense of belonging, and has the confidence to express their full self.

At HMI, inclusiveness starts with an intentional and affirming community. Creating such a community is our priority. We connect deeply to each other through classes, wilderness expeditions, and shared responsibilities. We prioritize open communication and honest conflict resolution. These efforts inspire us to build trust, to value diverging perspectives, and to build communities greater than ourselves.

Historically, however, outdoor programs like HMI have attracted largely white and privileged populations. At times, this has made it challenging for all at our school to feel fully part of our community. We seek to address these challenges at HMI by increasing the diversity of our students, faculty, staff, trustees, and advisers; by creating classes and activities that explore and reflect students’ identities; by expanding the cultural competence of faculty and staff; and by continually challenging the assumptions we hold.

We engage with this challenging work because we are committed to building an exceptional learning environment rooted in community—not just for some, but for all who seek to be inspired by the natural world.


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Yes, I recommend this program

Patagonia Trek Gap Program

We went backpacking in beautiful, remote places + partnered with a local rafting company to do some amazing rafting, and learned about glaciology and saw a glacier with another local company. We stayed in local’s homes and developed relationships with our hostel owners and had time to explore cities. A highlight of mine was the 24 hour solo where we spent a full day alone and able to reflect and appreciate.
Not only this but we practiced communication, leadership, authenticity and self advocacy in a small community where everyone was committed to learning. It’s hard to find this intentional of a community. I did not realize the emphasis of this before starting the program but I am very grateful for how I’ve grown in these 80 days.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Embrace the challenges of being in a small community while doing hard things
  • Learn/practice Spanish
  • Create intentional community
  • See stunning landscapes
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Yes, I recommend this program

Fall Trek 2023

HMI GAP TREK was essential in enhancing my communication skills and helped me learn how to give constructive feedback during a conflict. Alongside that, I had many firsts including backpacking, sleeping outside, planting trees, and flying internationally. The one thing I enjoyed the most was getting to experience such drastically different environments all spread out in perfect increments. Of course HMI comes with its challenges but you will thrive and feel the support being offered by all instructors and students.

What was the most surprising thing you saw or did?
While in Patagonia National Park, I got to see 2 pumas, tons of flamingos, guanacos, andean condors, wild horses and cows.
  • Support
  • Physical
  • Challenge
  • Heights
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Yes, I recommend this program

Fall Trek 2023

Definitely recommend doing HMI gap semester! I loved the people and the instructors were amazing. We went to some of the coolest places like the Utah canyons and the valleys in Patagonia.

If you go you will meet some of your closest friends and have some really special memories of your adventures. We had a lot of fun hiking on trail as well as playing silly games and laughing together. Some days were challenging but the challenge is what makes it worth it!

HMI wants a kind, supportive community that will lift each other up and work on goal setting together. If this seems good to you, apply and find out what makes HMI so special.

What was the most surprising thing you saw or did?
We were hiking in Patagonia and we saw the biggest flying birds in the world, the Condor. They were so cool to look at and watch them circling in the sky.
  • The loving community
  • The places you will go
  • The best instructors
  • Very structured
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Yes, I recommend this program

f-rock 23

HMI gap was awesome. I came in with zero outdoor experience and learned a ton. It’s also a great community with some lovely people. You spend three months with a very small group, so you get close to everyone. It might get cold or wet or ridiculously windy, but those will end up being the best memories you look back on. I don’t regret doing it.
There was a written curriculum, which was occasionally interesting, but could definitely use some revision. Our teachers made the best of it, though. If you don’t think you’d be cut out for three months of backpacking and rock climbing, don’t doubt yourself. Give it a try.

  • new friends
  • amazing places
  • open to all experience levels
  • There will be hard days
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Yes, I recommend this program

Yes please

Loved the places we traveled and the things we learned. Getting to see remains of ancient civilizations to pumas and flamingos in Patagonia to sleeping under the biggest sky I’ve ever seen, i was surrounded by incredible people and memories. I’m walking out with some insane stories, lifelong friends, advice from incredible mentors, and a better sense of what i want from my future. The perfect way to move into the next part of my life, highly recommend if you’re looking for an adventure or new path in life.

What was the most surprising thing you saw or did?
Ancient Puebloan dwellings and petroglyphs deep in Utah canyons


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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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