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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.




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Yes, I recommend this program

F Rock 22

Choosing to do HMI Fall Rock is the best thing I’ve ever done. You start with a backpacking trip in Colorado, then do climbing expeditions in Rifle, Indian Creek, and Moab, plus a canyon backpacking trip, before heading to Chile. In Chile there is a remote base camping expedition at a basalt mountain, and then lastly a more student lead trip at a trad and sport area. Sharing beautiful places and experiences with breathtakingly incredible students and instructors is amazing, but you also get to do that while rock climbing? You can’t find a better combination in my opinion. Need I say more than you get to learn trad climbing in Patagonia?

  • Yummy food
  • Incredible instructors
  • Septuple rack of cams
  • Cool stuff is exhausting
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Yes, I recommend this program

HMI Trek

My gap semester at HMI was so wonderful! I did the trek program which is primarily backpacking.I met so many cool, kind, and supportive people. All of the instructors were super knowledgeable and helpful and taught me so much. It was really hard at some times but so rewarding and so worth it and I 100% recommend it. You definitely don’t need previous camping or backpacking experience to do this program. HMI does a great job with building towards independence. After this trip I’d feel super confident planning my own backpacking trip and I can’t wait to bring my family and friends on backpacking trips.

  • Community
  • Being outdoors
  • Personal growth
  • Can be hard to find alone time
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Yes, I recommend this program

High Mountain Institute Gap Program

HMI gap was a great fit for me. I was looking for a program where we were backpacking a lot, so it was perfect. We started by doing a 2 week backpacking trip in Colorado, then an 8 day base camp in colorado, then a 16 day backpacking trip in Utah, and finally a month down in Patagonia, Chile. The instructors are all very driven and kind. HMI has well developed connections in all of these places, so it was easy to travel everywhere. I would highly recommend this program! The other people on the trip were of all backpacking levels and it worked well.

  • Good community building
  • Lots of hiking
  • Beautiful scenery
  • Fast paced
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Yes, I recommend this program

HMI Fall trek gap semester

This program is the best for someone who enjoys being physically challenged, is curious about the outdoors, and is interested in environmental studies.

During my semester I was able to get more out of it than I thought I would. I learned more about myself and who I am. I improved my skills as leader. I was able to learn other perspectives on environmental issues. I learned about the places we were in.

We had many classes that were taught in a variety of engaging ways. We were able to express our creativity in many ways. Such as for our backcountry talent shows and for our Personal Environmental Ethic Presentation.

This semester has left a positive mark in my life. I am grateful to have had this opportunity. I feel I am equipped with the skills to continue self improvement.

  • environmental studies curriculum
  • The places you see
  • The People (instructors and peers)
  • requires people to be mentally and physically tough so it might not be for everyone
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Yes, I recommend this program

A 11/10 ride

The past 80 days at HMI have been the perfect combination of fun, challenge, and growth. I have been able be pushed both physically and mentally, but in these moments of challenge I felt really supported by the community we built. Our group was able to come together through long hiking days, sharing stories, and exploring new places. Our instructors were so intentional, kind, and genuinely cared about each member of the group. As we travelled through Colorado, Utah, and Chile we learned about the land which helped us feel more connected and educated about the places we explored. I am so glad I got this opportunity to make 10 new friends who felt like a home during our 80 days of constant motion.


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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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