We are very pleased to report the successful completion of our Fall 2020 Semester and Gap programming. Both of these programs ran in an entirely in-person fashion and did not experience a single positive COVID case. Gap students departed from Arizona on December 8, Semester students left our campus in Leadville on December 11.
The 49 students of HMI Semester 45 arrived on August 17 after completing a two-week quarantine and testing negative for COVID. Students and faculty were both tested on the first day of the semester, and then again ten days later. Students were broken up into isolated groups of 9-10 upon arrival in the airport. After the second round of tests came back negative, and the students completed their 16-day backpacking expedition, they returned to campus. For the next 3.5 months, students and adults wore masks whenever indoors and focused on social distancing and hygiene. Students became a “pod” with their individual cabin cohorts and were able to spend evenings with their cabinmates unmasked. Students participated in two more backpacking expeditions and stayed on campus over the week of Thanksgiving so as to reduce the risk of travel-related exposure.
The 36 HMI Gap Semester students followed the same pre-programming COVID quarantine and testing protocols as the HMI Semester. The Gap semesters operated in three separate cohorts of twelve students and three instructors each. At the end of a 14-day quarantine period, students were able to enter a “pod” which they then maintained for the duration of the program. The three courses began with a two-week backpacking trip in the Sawatch Range of Colorado before splitting off with distinct itineraries and focusing on rock climbing, backpacking, canyoneering, and/or whitewater rafting. All said, over the course of the 80-day expedition-based semester, students spent almost 70 nights sleeping in the backcountry.
Our faculty and staff deserve the highest praise for facilitating such extraordinary experiences while navigating by an ever-changing set of COVID health and safety precautions. We are all now looking forward to a well-deserved winter break before pivoting all of our energy toward spring programming.