Frequently Asked Questions

Since 1998, HMI has offered empowering experiences in inspiring surroundings, boldly uniting place-based and hands-on learning with the natural world. For two decades, this foundation has enabled us to create a meaningful impact that transcends the boundaries of our campus. Students return from HMI transformed, carrying with them the confidence, passion, and readiness to excel in college, graduate school, and beyond. Our alumni stand out in the increasingly competitive environment, as colleges and employers view HMI alumni as risk-takers in the best sense who have the skills to work effectively on a team and emerge as leaders in their community. 

HMI Gap’s unique integration of outdoor education, environmental studies, and service presents rich opportunities to gain important life and professional skills. Outdoor rock climbing and wilderness travel offer a powerful venue to confront physical, emotional, and intellectual challenges with focus, creativity, and resolve. Students must interact with the natural environment and think critically about their own impact. Finally, they must work closely with others to evaluate risk and achieve goals, developing important judgment and decision-making skills along the way. Through our authentic service opportunities, students develop an understanding and awareness of their impact on the environment while working to affect positive change, pushing them to become more scientifically literate, environmentally aware, and civically involved.

HMI is accredited by the Gap Year Association and the Association for Experiential Education. As an independent high school, HMI is accredited by the Association of Colorado Independent Schools.

HMI strongly believes and making our programs accessible and affordable to any student. With the generous support of our alumni and other donors, we are able to offer need-based financial aid. About 25% of our gap students receive some amount of aid, the amount of which is determined by demonstrated need and amount of aid available. Financial aid is allocated on a rolling basis, so we encourage students to apply early. Visit our financial aid page to learn more about how to apply.

There is no “typical” HMI Gap student, but many of our students join the Gap experience for similar reasons: to expand their worldview, to expand their perspective beyond the classroom, to find themselves through challenge. These shared values might mean that although you come from different states, or even a different country, your cohort will likely find common ground through your experience of exploring what the natural world has to offer. An emphasis on creating a community of shared responsibility draws students to our program who are passionate about doing the tough work necessary to nourish the dynamics of a close-knit group.

Learn more about Gap alumni by reading some profiles here.

HMI Gap is for high-school graduates and current college students. Generally, students are between the ages of 18-22, however we do have some students who begin the program as 17 year olds and turn 18 during the semester. Our Andes Leadership Semester, a collaborative program with Where There Be Dragons, is for students ages 18-25. 

Both our rock climbing and wilderness travel curriculum goes into great depth to develop your technical skills, judgment and experience in a variety of environments. While no experience is necessary, we recommend that you have a strong interest in being in remote and field-based environments, and spending a semester working to advance your outdoor skills.

The average HMI Gap course will include anywhere from 8-12 students. Throughout your course you will have some instructors who may serve as “proctors” and will stay with you for the duration of your program, as well other specialists who may join in at other times to support the teaching or technical skills like climbing or canyoneering. In general, there will be a mixed gender group of 3 instructors with your cohort at all times.

HMI Gap faculty are both exceptional mentors as well as accomplished outdoor educators, with significant experience leading groups outdoors, guiding rock climbing, and traveling in South America. They are required to have a Wilderness First Responder Certification, which is an 80 hour advanced medical training. Every HMI Gap faculty attends an intensive 10-day field-based training and orientation prior to the start of the course. As our climbing curriculum is highly advanced, we require our climbing faculty to have extensive training, either through the American Mountain Guides Association or equivalent, and high-level personal climbing experience. As such, our faculty are able to meet every student where they are, provide in-depth coaching on both technical and movement skills, and guide students up climbs that challenge them appropriately. Many of our faculty come to us with previous HMI experience, having demonstrated excellence in experiential education, supporting students to develop as leaders, and building strong, intentional community. Other faculty come to us from other well-respected organizations such as NOLS and Outward Bound. We make sure that every course has a faculty who speaks Spanish and is familiar with the course areas we travel through in the United States and Patagonia. You can read more about our faculty here.

 

No experience with spanish is necessary for our Patagonia course sections. This being said, all of our hired staff speak either conversational or fluent spanish and will create a spanish language curriculum appropriate to each group’s desire to improve their language proficiency. On our Spring Semester in Patagonia, spanish language acquisition will be more of an emphasis than on the fall course as we will be spending the duration of the course in a spanish speaking country. Regular spanish classes will be taught in the field as will opportunities to practice in informal settings with the people and partners we work with.

The majority of the semester will be spent either on a wilderness expedition or base camping during a climbing expedition. During this time, you will sleep in either a three-season tarp or four-season tent with a 3-4 person tent group. During transitions, you will stay either at a lodge or a hostel in a bed with showers and laundry.

HMI follows industry best practices in managing incidents while students are on course. For the entire semester, there is an administrator and an evacuation coordinator on call 24/7. In the event of an incident, we decide the appropriate course of action depending on what our risk management protocol outlines. Sometimes a student will stay in the field and the group will alter the itinerary or activities to accommodate that student’s recovery. If the student cannot participate fully for more than several days, or the injury/illness triggers our evacuation protocols, the student is evacuated from the field and taken to seek medical care. We strive to keep the student on course despite an evacuation. During this time, they may stay on campus, in a hotel/hostel, or return home for a short duration. However, if the nature of the injury or illness prevents the student from participating in the remainder of the semester, we may decide it is best for the student to return home. 

We have compiled a detailed packing list tailored to each of our semester programs which can be found in each program’s course information packet on our enrolled students page. All group gear is provided by HMI. Depending on the course starting location, some items may be rented from HMI. Students receiving financial aid may be eligible to rent items from our HMI campus’ gear room at no additional cost.  

While HMI programs are in the field, we use a bulk ration system that students cook in 3-4 person tent groups. They are provided a budget and food planning template and purchase their ration for each expedition at local grocery stores. We strongly believe students can cook nutritious and well-balanced meals in the backcountry and provide students recipes and continual coaching for how to cook meals on a single-burner stove. Students can purchase additional personal items at the store to supplement their ration if they choose, and we encourage students to bring a credit card or extra money for these expenses. During transition and in-town days, food is provided in a group meal format, cooked either by instructors, students, or our kitchen manager on campus. At these times, we emphasize fresh food (particularly vegetables and fruits) with the understanding that these are limited in the backcountry. We rarely have food prepared by restaurants, but may purchase this kind of food during travel days or for a celebratory dinner after each section. 

We can easily accommodate vegetarians and students with mild dietary restrictions and food allergies. Students with severe food allergy or dietary restriction should speak with a program administrator about the specifics of their needs. We have been able to accommodate severe nut, soy, dairy, and gluten allergies, but want to make sure we have a clear plan with the student and program administrators before final acceptance to the program.

 

During the backcountry portions of the semester, students will not be in phone or Internet contact. However, during the non-backcountry portions of the semester, we strive to provide regular opportunities for students to update their friends and family on their adventures. While students will have periodic access to public pay phones and/or computers when we are in towns, we recommend that you bring a small Internet connected device, such as a smartphone or tablet, for ease of communication. Time and access to using these devices is limited both by course logistics and by community norms established by the group. When in Patagonia, you can opt to purchase an international travel plan. However, communication is generally readily available with Internet while at hostels, and students can use programs such as WhatsApp to make calls. 

HMI is able to accept 529 Savings Plans if you sign up for college credit with Western State Colorado University. Please visit their website to learn more about how to use a 529 Plan for our semesters.

We offer optional college credit through Western State Colorado University for our outdoor leadership and environmental studies curriculum. Every student on an HMI Gap course will participate in this curriculum, but will receive an additional evaluation if they are enrolled in college credit. There are additional requirements for Western State courses which should be completed after the conclusion of the HMI Gap program. We recommend that you speak with your college before enrolling in these credits to see how or if they will transfer. Western State Colorado University courses offered ($125/credit)

  • OUT 189 – Principles of Outdoor Recreation (3 credits)
  • ENVS 297 – Land Conservation Ethics (3 credits)

If there is a documented medical reason that prevents you from participating in the program prior to the start of the course, we will issue a refund. If you choose to not do the program for another reason, we will not refund your deposit but can transfer it to another program in the future. There are no refunds once the program has begun.

The High Mountain Institute consistently strives to provide best-in-class outdoor adventure programs, and we are proud of our history of facilitating positive and powerful experiences of growth and learning for our many generations of students. Still, we recognize that these kinds of experiences come with inherent risks and that students and their families have to make a significant investment to participate in our programs. For these reasons, we encourage families to purchase an insurance policy that can cover losses as a result of a student’s being unable to participate in an HMI program or losses related to the inherent risks of activities a student does at HMI. Ultimately, any decision about insurance is up to the student and his/her family. We encourage families to consider the Travelex Travel Select plan because it offers appropriate coverage for the nature of HMI programming at a reasonable cost. The Travel Select plan offers the following coverage that could be the right fit for HMI students:

  • Trip cancellation, including travel expenses and pre-paid tuition
  • Emergency medical and evacuation
  • Adventure sports upgrade
  • Trip interruption
  • Baggage and personal effects
  • Travel assistance

HMI has a zero tolerance policy for the use of drugs and alcohol during the course. This experience demands a high level of trust for all community members, and we believe that maintaining a substance-free space is essential for creating and building trust. To read more about our expectation for student conduct, please review the enrollment agreement.

For more extensive information on the HMI Gap experience watch a recording of our latest online information session.