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Three Lake County High School Sophomores Receive Full Scholarships to HMI!

May 26, 2017

Benney, Gonzales, & Reigel Receive HMI Merit Scholarships

Lake County High School sophomores Ariel Benney and Bianca Gonzalez, and Abigail Reigel are the recipients of this year’s High Mountain Institute (HMI) merit scholarships.

HMI Semester, LCHS Students, Outdoor High School SemesterBenney, daughter of Mr. & Mrs. Charles & Suzi Benney, will attend HMI this summer, Gonzales, daughter of Mr. & Mrs. Alberto & Vianca Gonzales, will attend HMI for the fall semester; Reigel, daughter of Mr. & Mrs. Michael & Allison Reigel will attend HMI in the spring. 

With an extremely competitive admissions year at HMI, these LCHS scholarship recipients were selected for their commitment to academics, leadership, and involvement in their greater communities.

The merit scholarships cover the full cost of tuition for each recipient, a $29,263 value for the HMI Semester, and a $8,650 value for the HMI Summer Term.

Since inception in 1998, 31 other LCHS students have attended HMI on full merit scholarships. Past LCHS HMI Alumni have attended colleges such as University of Denver, University of Colorado Boulder, and Colorado State University.

The High Mountain Institute is a semester-long boarding school for high school juniors. Each semester a new cohort of 48 students travel to Leadville from all over the country to partake in the school’s rigorous academic curriculum, extended backpacking expeditions, and a small, intentional community.

 In addition to the semester program, HMI offers a 5-week Summer Term for high schoolers, a two week backpacking trip for middle schoolers, and a variety of adult programs including wilderness medicine and avalanche awareness training. HMI also partners with the local non-profit Full Circle of Lake County each summer to offer a free, week-long backpacking program for LCHS 7th and 8th graders.

Today is Gap Year Decision Day

May 25, 2017

HMI Gap Instagram Post Gap Year Decision Day In celebration of the inaugural Gap Year Decision Day, HMI is excited to welcome an incredible group of students for our 2017 and 2018 gap semesters. Gap Year Decision Day is a nation-wide initiative to encourage students to declare their gap year plans through social media outlets. The National College Signing Day, a movement started by Michelle Obama to celebrate students going to college, inspired the concept of Gap Year Decision Day. As gap years are increasingly popular, leading to numerous reported positive benefits, leaders within the Gap Year Industry, including USA Gap Year Fairs, American Gap Association, Go Overseas, and EnRoute Consulting, are spearheading the opportunity to provide students taking a gap year their time to shine and come together as a cohesive group. 

Alia Paltos, Director of USA Gap Year Fairs, explains: “We hope that Gap Year Decision Day will empower students by allowing them to feel like a connected community … The possibilities for a gap year are endless, so this initiative will demonstrate to the public just how many students are taking gap time and exactly what students are planning to do.”

HMI Gap, Semester in Patagonia, Cerro Colorado, Outdoor Education Now in our third year, HMI has expanded our program offerings to include a wilderness-focused gap semester through the American West and Patagonia in the fall, and a semester in Patagonia in the spring. Our students come from all over the country and with diverse backgrounds, yet they express the same desire to step into the world to learn more about themselves and broaden their perspective so they can pursue their ambitions in life with purpose, passion, and preparedness. 

Semester 38: Square Dance, Fun Run, and Final Projects!

May 16, 2017

As the academic year comes closer, our final projects for our classes have been introduced. In Natural Science we performed two water quality experiments in Leadville’s local watershed, which really brought it closer to home. Our project combines two essential aspects of science: thorough research and engaging presentation. First, we must find and read scientific papers about the watersheds that affect our hometowns. Next, we must use our creativity to decide on a non-traditional presentation method. In past projects we have used classical methods, much like the scientists who present their findings in reports and posters. For this project, however, we will instead use methods including creative writing, board games, or movies to express our message. Once we have created these projects, we will present them to our classes.

In our Practices and Principles class, we have been presented with a similar project. After reading, discussing, and writing about diverse environmental ethics, we have an opportunity to create our own statement. Again, this project will be a presentation in the form of creative visuals, such as songs, movies, or artwork. One group is interviewing restaurants in Leadville about their food ethics and the manner in which this influences their food orders. Informed by their interviews, they plan to create a movie in which they discuss how ideas of food locality and animal treatment are prevalent in Leadville’s food industries. In both classes, these culminating projects allow us to explore the intersections of our lives with the information we’ve learned!

This Saturday afternoon we had an HMI community square dance. We brought in professional callers from Leadville who set up big speakers and turned the parking into a square-dance dance floor. Everyone dressed up in their best square dance costumes including flannels, jeans, and even cowboy boots. The callers taught us a lot of new dances that seemed complicated at first but everyone learned really quickly. We did dances as a whole group in a big circle and then we also did a couple other dances with smaller groups or partners. Along with the students, some apprentices and faculty joined in the fun as well. Everyone’s shoes got a little dusty, but the new experience was worth it.

On Saturday after dinner, we played a few school-wide games, some of which got pretty heated! After a while of friendly but intense competition, we switched to an activity led by Sofia called Warm and Fuzzies. We each got a piece of paper, and, in groups of ten, we rotated the papers around the table and wrote little notes to each other, like you would in a yearbook. Everyone got a little teary-eyed after reading all the sentimental notes on their papers, and Noah certainly did not help the situation when he started a playlist of slow, emotional folk songs.

This Sunday, everybody woke up early and got ready for the ten-mile Fun Run, an HMI tradition since Semester 12. Starting in the beginning of February, we have run three mornings a week for AMX in preparation for the Fun Run. At first, some were anxious about the race; however when Ben led us in an inspirational chant, all of our nerves disappeared. We began the race on a flat road about four miles away from campus, which led us to the six-mile loop that many of us have run on the past few months. The Fun Run then finished in the HMI driveway, with lots of cheering, snacks, and celebration! The weather was perfect for running, and the entire race we were surrounded by beautiful snow-capped mountains and blue skies. Throughout the course, there were three aid stations run by staff members. Each aid station was stocked with water, gatorade, and pretzels for anyone who needed a boost of energy. Everyone did an amazing job during the race, and Simon Kearns beat the all-time Fun Run record by fifteen seconds, making HMI history!

Semester 38: Life on Campus

May 09, 2017

In our second week back after third expedition we have gotten back into the swing of academics on campus. In lab on Monday we were in the Arkansas River catching, sorting, and analyzing morphotypes of benthic macroinvertebrates (think small to medium size bugs that live in the riverbed) as indicators of pollution from California Gulch. Leadville’s mining history puts us in an amazing location to study acid mine drainage in our local waterways and access how it affects the ecosystem! Standing in the running water was chilly and brought some of us back to the icy water in the canyons during first expedition. Instead of writing a usual lab report, we made posters to display the results of our studies, a method we will all likely use in college and in the future if we choose to pursue a career in science.

In Josh’s English class, we finished reading Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony. Ceremony is a novel about Tayo, a WWII vet and member of the Laguna Native American Tribe struggling to understand how his culture’s stories and ceremonies fit into the modern world as well as his own life. It is certainly a complicated text with many nuanced themes and patterns and has lead to many great discussions. On Friday we went on a mindful walk to brainstorm ideas for what we want to write our Ceremony essays about. Many of us have chosen to analyze a pattern or motif while others wrote theses about the traditional stories and Native American agency.

This Saturday, some of the HMI students got to take the SAT! After everyone was done, we rotated between going into town and chopping wood. Students who didn’t take the SAT headed into town in the morning for some brunch or hung out on the back porch in the sun, sitting in the hammocks and playing guitar. For Saturday night activity, we hosted our second open mic of the semester. Along with cookies, chai tea and a halftime show, we watched and listened to some pretty incredible acts. There were a variety of hilarious duets, some cabin sing alongs, magic shows, guitar solos, dances, and a skit. Everything was either very funny or showcased an amazing talent. All of this was followed by a quick dance party  before we headed to our cabins.

 On Sunday, we visited Colorado College (CC). In the morning when we left, it was cold and threatening rain. Nonetheless people wore shorts, anticipating beautiful weather in Colorado Springs. When we arrived and got out of the buses, it was springtime! People plucked dandelions from the side of the road, blowing them at each other. We ate lunch first, choosing from a variety of options in the CC dining hall, soft serve ice cream and cheesecake being among them. Then we had the info session. We learned all about the programs CC has, and the opportunities their block plan gives us to explore different places within the country and the world. We learned about how students at CC have access to Colorado skiing and backpacking, including in Southern Utah, which we’ve done at HMI. We then had a tour of the facilities, which were beautiful. We saw Pike’s Peak, and the Barr trail, and the soccer fields. Altogether, CC was a different experience from most college tours, and it appealed to a lot of us because of our experiences at HMI.

Monday afternoon electivities at High Mountain Institute provides students with the opportunity to put their athletic and artistic capabilities into high gear. Electivity is a block that takes place directly after lunch on Mondays, and allows students to pursue interests that they would not normally get the opportunity to practice during a normal school day. For example, some students partake in competitive games of Frisbee or soccer on Leadville’s local turf field. After a quick warm up on the jungle gym and some time mentally preparing for the big game on the swing set, they usually have about forty-five minutes to sweat, scream, and sprint on the turf. Yesterday, we had a particularly intense game of soccer and each player left with a fair share of turf burn. While we were at the field, other HMI students got to participate in making metal jewlery with Aimee, “Waste Warriors” (a recycling program for kids) at a local school, an introduction to bouldering, linoleum block painting, a dance class, or an introduction to film. With only two electivity sessions left, it seems certain that every student will be sad to see these fun opportunities start to wrap up.

Semester 38: 3rd Expedition

May 02, 2017

Group A

Although the blood red mesas, the varnish-stained canyon walls, and the sun-bleached trees remain, Bears Ears National Monument has metamorphosed since we last visited in late January. The arid land’s water is no longer locked up in snow, and with the melt, a new layer of beauty has emerged. Vibrant foliage and brilliant blooms awake from their winter slumber. Life crawls out of seemingly impossible, inhospitable cracks in the earth. The microcosmos that is the intricate system of canyons in southeastern Utah is transforming.

We can’t help but feel anxious before each of our expeditions, and this is no exception. For a claustrophobe, the towering canyon walls can sometimes be suffocating. But to drown in this phobia would be a mistake—there’s too much to miss. The desert’s treasures are well hidden. Ruins perch like the multitudes of ravens on canyon shelves, revealing themselves only to the keenest hikers. Like someone had planted an Easter egg especially for us, we come across an undisturbed site including a two-story ancestral Puebloan cliff dwelling, pottery shards, arrowheads, and pictographs. Peering at the paintings of bighorn sheep, fertility gods, and the handprints of children, I wonder if there was an intention, some religious importance, or a ritualistic significance to their art, or if they were only passing the time in the sweltering desert heat.

As the promise of Independent Student Travel drew nearer, Wilderness First Aid became an essential part of our expedition curriculum. Although we legally can’t be certified by our instructors, all ten boys on our trip become competent enough to handle a medical emergency, should one arise.

In the blink of an eye, our two-week journey through the winding canyons came to a close. Huddled together in our sleeping bags one hundred yards from the highway, the solemn, enchanting cry of a lone coyote pierces the melody of the calm, cold wind. It’s bittersweet; trading the open skies for ceilings, knowing something other than beans and pasta await us, leaving the intimacy of a small brotherhood for the warmth of the larger HMI family. But a little piece of us all stays in the canyon, just as a small part of the canyons will remain in all of us.


Group B

We started with an eight hour drive in a crammed bus. After multiple gas station trips, reading, listening to music, and a sudden change in temperature we arrived at Bears Ears National Monument. Everyone sat with their eyes glued out the window trying to remember the scenery from first exped. The burnt orange of the canyon’s walls swarmed above and below us. The feeling of walking on split ancient earth was something that everyone was eager to get back to. The first night was spent on slick rock right near the highway. We were greeted with a new presence that we had not encountered first expedition: bugs. This ultimately wasn’t that big of a deal though, as there weren’t many bugs once we got further away from the highway. From then on we embarked on our journey and by embarked I mean traveled .003 miles per hour due to our 65 pound packs… we literally crawled. Just kidding! Nothing could stop us. Coming back to the canyons was thrilling, since we were no longer rookies. There were definitely highlights from the trip. One included the 12 hour day in Gravel Canyon. The second hiking group came into camp at a record 9:45 pm, overjoyed to see the first group cuddled together in sleeping bags. Other highlights were discovering ancient ruins; we all hiked up silently to this sight, touched the charcoal on the wall and saw the small corn cobs lying on the ground from thousands of years ago. On the fourth day of the expedition we were met with a steep drop off into the canyon we had to descend. There was no way we could walk down. The I-Team set up a belay and all of us repelled off of a 40 foot ledge into the canyon. At first everyone was a little bit nervous and shaky when Steph lowered us off of the edge but that was quickly tamed when our feet left the rock and we were left dangling. While the days were filled with adventuring, laughing, and enjoying the sun. The nights were filled with cooking brownies, British accents, and star gazing. By the end of the 13 days we were definitely worn and tired but sad to leave this beautiful place we have called home for 28 days. Now it’s back to life in Leadville!


Group C

This expedition was quite different from the others. We did way more technical travel with reppells and climbs, which we really enjoyed, but more so we got to do a lot more independent activities which we found surprisingly gratifying. While we had been to this area on first exped, it was a very neat experience to come back and see how much more prepared we were this time. Physicaly speaking our trip was much more rigorous, involving fewer long hikes across canyon tops, and more technical climbs and descents in canyons. We got to go in a lot of what we dubbed “narrows,” which involved descending up to 100 feet down slots at the bottom of canyons into freezing cold water that only saw the sun for five or ten minutes a day because of the depth and narrowness of the narrows. Overall it was a wonderful experience and we can’t wait for an opportunity to go back to the canyons of Utah.


Group D

The first night of expedition we camped on slick rock, right off the highway. During Circle that night, we began bonding with our group for the next 2 weeks. The next morning we went to the Ranger Station, to review the principles of “Leave No Trace” and learn about the ancient Puebloan ruins in the area. After, we hit the trails and officially began our expedition! Many days of hiking, learning, and making new friendships followed. After 4 days in Lime Creek Canyon, we had a spontaneous change in our route. Our original plan was to descend into Road Canyon, and continue hiking through the canyon. After hours of scouting, we decided to play it safe and turn back. We learned a lot about conservative decision making and risk management that day: as a group we had to keep in mind which terrain would be safe to travel down, and how much water we had left. 11 hours and 9 miles later, we arrived back at our campsite from the previous night. It was a difficult and tiring day, especially for our feet, but we kept spirits high by belting out songs on the trail, sharing stories, and telling jokes. We felt very accomplished after that day, and even more the next day, which was our first day of Independent Student Travel (IST). Before gaining IST, we had to demonstrate responsible decision making, knowledge of the terrain, and participate in the HMI first aid course. During this course we learned the basics of wilderness first aid, and even demonstrated our new skills on each other during the lessons.

Throughout the trip our Expedition Leaders shared stories, wisdom, and demonstrated exceptional leadership. One highlight was that Margi taught a very insightful and relevant lesson about Bears Ears National Monument, and the Native American history of the area. We expanded this lesson with a P&P reading and discussion about the monument, in context with the Obama administration’s legislature and the Trump administration’s future plans for the monument. We gained a very unique perspectives on this topic by learning about it while in the canyons of Utah.

After days of talking about Neville’s Arch, the moment finally came. It was a beautiful day: bluebird sky and full sun. We set up camp on the canyon floor, and then ascended the up the hillside. At the top, we journaled, took photos, and enjoyed the beautiful scenery. It was a very special moment for all of us together, due to the breathtaking scenery and just being all together under the arch. For most of us, this day turned out to be a trip highlight. During the hike debrief that afternoon, we simply discussed how amazing that day was. This moment, along with many other over the course of the expedition, showed the special connection of an all-female group. We all felt comfortable with each other, starting on day one. By the end of the trip all nine of us shared so many inside jokes and memories. We got to know everyone in the group on a very personal level. During the more difficult moments, we empowered and helped each other. This was a unique aspect of an all-female trip: helping and motivating each other felt very natural. We explored gender empowerment, personal identity, the beauty of nature, and other topics, through prompts given to us by our apprentice, Emily, which aided our process of self and group realization. For most of us, this was our first single-sex wilderness experiences: it turned out to be very empowering, fun, and beneficial to our leadership skills.

Group E

Being able to return to the canyons of Utah with friends we’ve grown so close with over the semester was really something special. Contrasting with snowy, sometimes frigid conditions of first expedition in the canyons, we arrived in the canyons this time around and were greeted with clear, sunny skies, and balmy 75 degree temperatures. We wore shorts and t-shirts every single day; the weather felt like a tropical paradise compared our previous expeditions and time in Leadville!

This expedition was unique in a few different ways, even though it was spent in roughly the same area and with some of the same fabulous people as our previous expeditions. Our group in particular was very excited to earn Independent Student Travel (IST) after we finished our required first aid courses. We worked hard over the first half of the expedition and were able to get IST early on, which everyone was pretty excited about. The hard-working and friendly spirit of the whole group really helped in us being able to reach our goals. While we love the members of our instructor team, being able to spend all day just in the company of our peers helped to form an incredibly strong group bond between all of us. We spent the days hiking, lounging by pools of water, completing our academic work that had been assigned to us by various teachers, playing games, journaling, and other fun, relaxing activities. And while we did have a lot of relaxation time, it was also the duty of the whole group to pitch in with navigation, campsite finding, water collecting, and cooking. We had to accomplish all these necessary tasks without instructor supervision which, while it was difficult at times, played a large role in the cohesiveness of our group. We spent nights singing, playing games, stargazing, and finally all falling asleep together under the brilliant stars of Bears Ears.