About HMI Gap Programs


HMI Gap from High Mountain Institute on Vimeo.

With programs traveling through Patagonia and the American West, students embark on an incredible three-month journey to some of the world’s wildest places. During HMI’s gap semesters, students pursue outdoor adventures, explore pressing environmental issues, and gain real-world experience making a positive impact in the conservation field. In all of the places we travel, students examine conservation issues, combining intellectual inquiry with hands-on service. By living and traveling with a small group of peers and instructors in a community of shared responsibility, students develop lifelong friendships, have lots of fun, and walk away with valuable leadership skills and a broadened perspective on the world. Students return with a greater sense of purpose and better prepared to succeed in college and beyond.

Program Offerings

Curriculum Elements

Rock Climbing and Wilderness Adventure

Central to all HMI Gap semesters is extended experience and practice in outdoor adventure. Each course goes into great depth to advance students’ skill in either rock climbing or wilderness travel. Whether climbing iconic sandstone towers in Utah or hiking through a breathtaking glacial valley in Patagonia, our outdoor curriculum is aimed at moving students toward excellence and independence. All experience levels are welcome; however, we encourage students to have a strong interest in spending time outdoors.

Our rock climbing curriculum is aimed at moving students beyond the fundamentals of outdoor climbing to progress toward competence and independence in advanced climbing skills. The progression is individualized based on students’ previous experience, skill level, and personal goals.

Our wilderness curriculum prepares students to comfortably live and travel for extended periods of time in back-country settings, both domestically and internationally, navigate in diverse terrain, and evaluate and manage the hazards inherent to the outdoors.

Leadership and Community

The opportunity we offer for transformative personal growth is grounded in a strong, intentional community. Activities such as evening “Circle,” weekly community meetings, and group discussions form the foundation of our strong community. Students live and travel within a small cohort of their peers and instructors during the entire semester. During this time, they develop, refine, and practice their own leadership style in various venues – whether navigating through a remote mountain range, coaching their peers on a challenging rock climb, conducting a habitat restoration project with land managers, or interacting with local gauchos in Patagonia. To further their leadership development and personal growth, students receive ample mentorship from faculty, meeting wtih their advisors regularly to discuss their progression toward personal goals and receive feedback that will help them excel during the course. Time for reflection, structured journaling, and informal sharing are also fundamental to each course. These experiences build lifelong friendships, open-mindedness to diversity, intellectual maturity, and improved self-awareness to pursue their passions beyond HMI.

Environmental Studies

What is the value of wilderness and wild landscapes? How do we balance competing values and interests at play in natural resource management? Can we restore the landscape to a natural condition? These are some of the essential questions students ponder during each semester.

We believe the best learning occurs in nature’s classroom. Through experiential and field-based activities, students explore the complex cultural, environmental, and ecological issues in the areas that they visit. In partnership with land management agencies and conservation groups, students participate in authentic service opportunities to protect and restore these wild landscapes.

College Credit

Students have the option to earn college credit for an additional cost through Colorado Mountain College and Western State Colorado University.  We recommend students consult with their college to ensure that the course work will transfer.

Why Invest in a Gap Year?

By taking thoughtfully structured gap time, students step off the academic treadmill to develop the skills, sense of purpose, and independence to get the most out of college and pursue their life ambition. Research shows students who invest in a gap year:

  • Have a higher GPA
  • Are more likely to graduate in 4 years
  • Arrive to college more emotionally and socially prepared to succeed