Central Patagonia is one of the few remaining wild regions on Earth. Journey to this frontier for an amazing gap year in Patagonia to explore breathtaking mountain regions, immerse yourself in Patagonia culture, and engage with grassroots efforts that improve environmental and social sustainability.
- Explore the distinct culture of Patagonia, learning Spanish while working and traveling through local communities.
- Embark on extended wilderness expeditions through pristine mountain regions.
- Study conservation efforts in the region, witnessing first hand the building of a new national park.
- Travel by boat down one of the region’s threatened rivers, learning about the tension between modernization and local conservation.
- Investigate the impacts of climate change on sensitive mountain regions on the Northern Patagonia Ice Fields.
- Integrate your wilderness and leadership skills by planning and executing a student-led expedition at the end of the semester.
You begin your exploration of Patagonia in Balmaceda, Chile, where you meet your instructors and other members of the group. From there, you travel to Chile Chico, a quaint town on the shore of Lago General Carrera, one of the largest lakes in South America. After a few days getting acquainted with the local community, you depart for the first expedition, a two-week trek through the Jeinimeni Reserve and Parque Patagonia to witness firsthand the development of the future Patagonia National Park. While traveling through spectacular glacial valleys and over mountain passes, you’ll gain all of the essential skills to live and travel comfortably in a backcountry environment. In addition, you will begin daily Spanish lessons and delve into the ethics of conservation in the Patagonia region. Through the challenges and adventures that backcountry travel presents, you will get to know one another and begin forming the strong community that will be the foundation of your semester.
Once settled back from the first expedition, you will travel north along the famous Carretera Austral to the small town of Futaleufú. Known for its iconic river of the same name, this town has become an international destination for rafting and kayaking. It has also been at the epicenter of conservation controversies in Chile due to increasing pressures to dam the river for energy and industry. In response, local and international stakeholders formed a strong coalition to oppose these dams and present an alternative model of sustainable development in the area. Through site visits, interacting with members of the local community, and volunteer projects, you’ll develop an understanding of these issues and how they relate to the larger pressures of modernization on the region.
Your time in the area culminates in a multi-day raft trip down “The Futa” – considered one of the best rivers in the world. You’ll get to unwind from the thrill of the river on an overnight ferry through the magnificent fjords on the Pacific coast to make your way back south for the next leg of your adventure.
After a few transition days in Chile Chico, you’ll prepare for your most challenging expedition yet: a journey into the Northern Patagonia Ice Field. Covering over 1600 square miles, this ice sheet is the second largest in the world outside of the polar regions. Trekking up the magnificent Soler Valley, you’ll arrive at the foot of the tremendous glaciers and witness geology in action. You’ll explore the intersection of plate tectonics, climate change, and mountain culture and gain a better understanding of the landscape on a scientific level. You’ll also have the opportunity to attempt summits of peaks in the area, explore the region’s extensive glaciers, and further develop your ability to live and travel in this rugged environment.
As a culmination to all that you’ve been working toward during the semester, you and your group will plan and execute a week-long backcountry expedition through another wilderness area in southern Chile. With your instructors only there for support, you’ll plan your route and itinerary for this final wilderness experience. This expedition is both a celebration of the growth you’ve made over the course of the semester as well as a time for reflection on your HMI Gap experience.
January 26 – April 14, 2020