Semester 40: First Expedition

Written by Kate Sanchez, Sophie Schadler, Willie Thacker, Anna Solomon, & Lia Kelly
February 16, 2018

Group A

On January 27th our expedition groups departed the HMI campus and headed out to the Utah Canyons. The bus ride from Colorado to Utah was silent, due to the fact that none of us knew each other quite well yet, which made us all wonder what the next eleven days were going to be like. Though it was scary to venture off to a new place with eleven new people, nerves were shortly lifted and laughter filled the remainder of the time. Food was the main conversation topic for the majority of the trip as we lived off of lots of cheese, peanut butter, and the occasional veggie. The best meal that we made would have to have been the “brownies.” These were not traditional brownies and could be seen as brownie soup due to their non-traditional consistency, but we quickly discovered that everything tastes better in the backcountry and greatly appreciated our rare desert. Near the middle of the trip, we had a long and difficult day of hiking. Eight miles on a dirt road sounds easy until you actually have to do it. We arrived to our campsite late but as we got there we were able to witness the most magnificent sight we had ever seen. The sunset was visible to the west, and to the east the sky was pitch black save for the moon rising in sync with the sun lowering. Not only did we get the opportunity to experience the simultaneous sunset and moonrise that night, but later we had the opportunity to see the lunar eclipse. Near the end of the expedition, our group sat down for Circle to wrap up the day, and were greeted by a ten second long shooting star that every single person in the expedition group had the opportunity to enjoy. Our expedition group also got to enjoy a walk through ice-cold water on one of our hiking days. Through long days we were able to form bonds that will last a lifetime. This expedition was an amazing, unforgettable experience that leaves us connected to not only one another, but also the canyons.

Group B

Our crew of 13 had a great time in Jacobs Chair and Cheesebox area, with Coco and Timbah as our fearless leaders! We trekked through the desert, scaled canyon walls, discovered ancient caves, and climbed our way through slot canyons. The sunrises and sunsets bookended each day at the various beautiful campsites where we came to rest our tired bodies. Each night we gathered together for Circle, often distracted by the incredible clarity of the stars or moon. There, we would connect, share, listen, laugh, dance, and leave Circle with a greater appreciation for each other every time. If you were to have encountered our group in the desert, you probably would have seen us orienting the map, laughing about funny mishaps, reciting Vines, storm-proofing the area (very important), dawning our finest clothes (or ground cloths) for our fashion show, making pizza, eating hot chocolate powder, drinking matte, or simply gazing at the beautiful scenery around us. It was a crew of 13 best friends that returned on the bus February 6th, all ready to take on HMI, and the showers.

Group C

Wowza, what a trip! Semester 40 went to the stunning region of Bear’s Ears, in the canyons of Utah. Our expedition group took a route around Jacobs Chair, an imposing piece of rock that looks decidedly like a bench or a shoe depending on the viewing angle. In the first half of our trek, we explored the area around Long Canyon as we navigated along it. On the third day, we took a much needed break from hauling our packs. During that rest day, we did a short hike up a nearby mesa where expansive views of Cowboy Canyon, Gravel Canyon, and Aztec Butte, (along with a windy study hall) greeted us. Many long hiking days followed that, filled with games and conversation on the trail, and great food (pizza, cheesy hashbrowns, noodles with peanut sauce, cheesy pesto bagels, and brownie scramble—we ate quite extravagantly). We experienced relatively mild weather throughout the trip, which lead to a constant bombardment of beautiful views of vast stretches of buttes, mesas, canyons, pinion pines, juniper bushes, and redrock. Relatively mild weather until the last day that is. We had decided to sleep out under the stars (which were usually stunning) as an expedition group, despite reservations about some ominous cloud. It is the desert, we figured, it hardly rains. Lo and behold, we awoke at midnight to the start of a downpour. We had set up our tarps ahead of time as a precaution though, so we still had a dry spot to scurry to, fortunately! It is hard to overstate the impact of the bonding experiences, such as that one, had on our expedition group. Despite only having been together for 11 days, it feels as if we have known everyone for months if not years.

Group D

Eleven kids, eleven days, eleven packs, one canyon. We drove to our trailhead after a six hour drive of nonstop music, our first real bonding experience. We all discovered our collective love for the song Big Fish by Vince Staples. As the road thinned out, the terrain became new, alien. To a canyon newcomer, it truly feels like you are on Mars. As the sun set, bright red and orange hues reflected on the mesas and butes that stick out of the flat landscape like towers. The first night, as we made cheesy mac, it seemed to be written in the stars that food would be the sacred, twelfth member of our expedition group. Many of our best memories revolve around group kitchen nights (when we all cooked together) and extra treats from the instructor team during Circle (scrambled brownies, to be exact). During one of our layover days, we had an elaborate pizza party that started at 4:00 with the assembly of the dough. Taught by the stars of the Great British Baking Show, Petunia Flower-Garden, Jacques, and Julia Child (the instructors in disguise), we were shown how to make pizza dough in the backcountry. After the dough was made, we basked in the warm Utah sun, dough bags inside of our shirts to allow them to rise (our dough “babies”), doing homework and braiding hair. Once the dough had risen and sun went down, we set up the group kitchen and made some of the best pizza we have ever had. Slathered in tomato sauce, vegetables, all kinds of dairy and non-dairy cheese, we feasted as though we had never eaten before. Our night was not truly complete until we made scrambled brownies: a backcountry concoction consisting of partially cooked brownie mix and water. Bellies full and kitchens cleaned, we lay together on the slickrock, watching the brilliant stars. Nights were some of the most memorable parts of expedition. We all shared vulnerable, silly, and reflective moments under the Utah sky. The last night, we even slept outside, staying outside of our tarps even as it started raining. Driving out of the canyons in our bus, we experienced a truly cyclic moment, as the instructors turned on Big Fish by Vince Staples one more time.

Group E

On January 27th we loaded up the trailer with our backpacks then hopped into the van for the 8 hour drive to the canyons in southeastern Utah. It was an exciting moment to finally be at HMI and leaving for our first expedition. Our first days in the backcountry were long hiking days with many classes in between but they were also full of fun games and stories. The first half of our trip was in preparation for “mesa day” which would be the day where we would ascend a 300 foot mesa then hike 7 miles along a road and then later that day descend the mesa is a different spot. Mesa day was one of the most intense days of the course because it physically takes a lot to hike that much while keeping a strong metal state. This day really brought us together as a group because for a good chunk of the day while we were ascending and descending we hiked together rather than in two hiking groups. Once we got to the top of the mesa we took time to capture the view which was absolutely stunning. We were able to see the canyon we had just hiked along, the mesas that were beside us and the mountains in the background. The descent off the mesa was also an exciting time. We ended up having to do it in the dark with headlamps and a couple pack passes along the way. Once we were off the mesa we still had to hike more to our actual campsite and find water which can be tricky in the canyons. As we were hiking to our campsite we walked into a pothole full of water and decided we were going to camp there for the night. We all gathered together and just looked up at the clear sky where we could see hundreds of stars, which was an amazing end to our day. That night we all slept out under the stars and felt proud of what we had accomplished. Our evening Circle topic was a six word story which was a powerful and rewarding way for us to reflect on what we had just done together. The rest of our expedition was also very exciting and full of more stories as we became closer. But mesa day is something that we’ll all remember when we think back to HMI in a couple of months.

HMI Gap: Full Circle

December 21, 2017

My experiences in these past three months have shed light on an unexpected irony. In feeling incredible weakness, my knees buckling under the weight of my pack and my legs burning with each step through the rising snow, I knew what it meant to be strong. In waking up cold and wet, watching, the walls of the tent bowing under the weight of snow, I knew what it meant to get a good night’s sleep. Staring up at Utah’s cloudless night skies, the billion stars dotting every inch of darkness, I understood what it meant to feel small. Splashing in sheer panic as I dove headfirst into a pot hole in the canyon, my whole body paralyzed by fear, I knew what it meant to be brave. In being dwarfed by Patagonia’s grand landscapes, it’s peaks, valleys, waterfalls, condors, and the occasional Huemul, I knew what it meant to feel big. In all of the moments of weakness and fear, I found strength and courage – the good within the bad. All the toughest moments these past months have had the greatest impact. All the good and bad, dark and light, big and small, they inevitably coexist. I cannot be brave without first being fearful. I cannot be full without first being hungry. I cannot grow without first being challenged.

Just a few days ago, HMI Gap 2017 came to an end, and with its closing, we began to reflect on what this experience has meant for us. Of course, so much has happened that it will no doubt take much longer – weeks, months, years even – to fully metabolize its impact. Even so, during the final section of the course, each of us did a 36-hour solo to begin the process of reflection and to distill this experience to be able to say something, anything, when people at home ask, “How was it?”

At the surface, each group concluded their semester with a focus on embracing independence. The Rock group left Chile Chico early on Dec. 3 and traveled nearly the whole day to Piedra Parada, deep in the pampas of Argentina, and fell asleep under the stars and beech trees of the estancia. The next morning, we awoke surrounded by cows and horses, and we headed into Buitrera Canyon to climb. The canyon had 500 foot volcanic tuff walls and hundreds of sport climbing routes. For the next 10 days, we took the skills we had accumulated throughout the semester and put them all to practice.

The result of that was near self-sufficiency, and rather than feeling like we were on an “outdoor program,” it felt more like we were a great group of friends on an amazing climbing trip. We embraced this opportunity and pushed each other to lead challenging climbs. We became more comfortable taking larger lead falls trying more difficult routes. Often, falls represented successes, since falls meant we were pushing our limits.

The Backpacking group was tasked with planning a week-long expedition to Cerro Castillo. Using maps with 50-meter contour lines and limited information, we planned a route through the area that would challenge our physical limits and ability to work as a team. In Patagonia, harsh weather and rugged terrain aren’t considered challenges, they’re just part of the experience, and this final expedition did not disappoint.

Of course, there is one particular day that stands out. It started out like any other day: early wake up, breakfast, pack up camp, start walking. A large river crossing almost immediately got out attention – maybe this wouldn’t be a casual walk in the woods. Across the river, we followed fading trail markers scattered amongst the lenga where two trail markers pointed directly up a rocky snow-filled ravine.

Excitement built as we approached what we believed was the top of the pass, and quickly withered as we spied the actual pass looming over a mile in the distance. We greeted huge wind gusts with hooting and hollering, the adrenaline keeping our morale high. As we crested the pass, relieved to be descending, we simultaneously realized the scale of our ambition: This day was an epic! Below us, a steep and vast scree field gave way to a snow covered drainage. In pairs we traversed the slick snow and loose rocks. The wind gusts tore us from our already unstable footing. Crossing the snow became a slow process, moving carefully, then bracing for impact as gusts moved in. Rattled and weary but finally in the protection of the forest, we continued to camp. Our truly epic day ended with a big warm meal on the edge of a glacial river, flanked by beautiful mountains and flaming sunset skies.

“Whenever roles shift and we step into uncomfortable transitions, there is a chance to find new outlets for the parts of ourselves that may be under-appreciated, or perhaps yet undiscovered; a time to reevaluate the things that have always been done this way, and to follow new inspirations.” I wrote this entry on the plane to HMI, the first day of our semester, and it seems quite applicable in this moment. I have watched each of us grow, discover that new part of ourselves, and follow new inspirations. I have challenged myself to be present, to wake up with an open mind, to be honest, to ask questions; to simply be the person the “world” won’t always let me be, and have had the immense honor of watching each of you do the same thing. Thank you all for giving me the space to explore who I really am in this moment and helping me begin to decide who it is I hope I will become. For giving me more credit than I would ever give myself, for challenging and supporting me. I hope to live a life of courage and compassion. This experience has given me the opportunity to examine what it feels like to be courageous. To stand even with my fear, looking it right in the eye, to confront that unnerving mindset that I must be unafraid.

The details, the epic hikes, the wild climbs, don’t answer the question “How was it?” We’ve each come full circle, back where we started, yet transformed by this incredible journey. It’s left indelible marks on each of us, some epiphanic and other imperceptible, but marks nonetheless. These marks are left by those moments of calm, of exhaustion, of inspiration, of uncontrolled laughter, of fear, and of friendship. Of course, we all had ideas of what our Gap experience would be like and what we wanted to get out of it, but none of us could have predicted all that it offered us. The true test of our independence is how we confront uncertainty, make sound decisions that have real consequences, apply the skills we’ve learned, and support our peers to do the same. And departing HMI Gap to what each of will do next may be the greatest challenge we’ve faced yet.

By Janet Conklin, Jedi Biswas-Diener, Minnie Hutchins, Nora Fried, Chris Barlow and Becca Schild

Bears Ears National Monument: An Important Message from HMI’s Head of School

December 7, 2017

Dear HMI Alumni,

Yesterday, Donald Trump signed an order reducing the size of the Bears Ears National Monument, beginning a legal battle over the president’s right to make such a decision. These public lands contain culturally significant areas to American Indian tribes in Dark Canyon, Grand Gulch, Jacob’s Chair, and Cedar Mesa, all places key to our wilderness program. They are our classrooms. They are places where scores of HMI students have discovered passions, confidence, and strength. They are important to us.

I was thrilled that this incredibly special area was to be preserved forever. We want future generations to experience the Bears Ears as so many of us have. While I was disappointed by our president’s decision, I have been equally concerned by the rhetoric both sides in the debate have employed to defend their views. We would do well to have more empathy for one another, to try to understand why the Bears Ears are worth preserving and why many residents of Southeastern Utah do not want to accept more federal regulations on the use of the lands they call home. Living in Leadville, a place also surrounded by public lands, I am both grateful the lands exist and often extraordinarily frustrated by the bureaucratic labyrinth that manages them. The difficulty we have in obtaining wilderness permits for our backcountry expeditions, for example, is a real threat to HMI.

The debate about the president’s decision proves once again that it has become too acceptable to talk past one another. I have waited in vain over the last two days to hear an interviewer ask partisans in this controversy if they have taken time to understand the perspectives of people on the other side, and, if so, how those perspectives have helped shape their understanding of the situation. It is questions like this we need more of, and questions which I hope HMI alumni across this country will ask themselves.

In P&P class, our students do just this, studying the question of the Bears Ears National Monument from a variety of perspectives. I will not deny that many of our students favor maintaining the current status of the Bears Ears after these discussions. I hope they make this choice, however, with empathy for those on the other side, with an understanding of the complexities of the issue, and with a determination to engage in dialog with those who disagree. We will win when we approach these conversations not to convince those on the other side that they are wrong, but to build respectful relationships between people of good will. This is what our country needs more than ever; it is a challenge I hope that our alumni will accept with the same determination and enthusiasm that they brought to visits to the Bears Ears as students at HMI.

Please reach out if you want to connect on this topic; I look forward to hearing from you.

Wishing you all the best,
Danny O’Brien
Head of School

HMI Gap: Grateful to be in such a wild place

December 7, 2017

Backpacking Group

By Leo Polk and Christina Iwanski

Three days after arriving in Chile Chico and getting acquainted with Chilean culture and prepping for our expedition through Parque Patagonia, our group of 10 set off on an unbelievable bumpy road circumnavigating a seemingly endless lake. Our minds had plenty of time to build up a healthy level of nerves and anticipation. Questions like “how will we survive 20 days in the notoriously bad Patagonian weather? Can we do without showers, refrigerators, or tearing each other apart?” swirled around everyone’s minds.

Our worries disappeared as we stepped down a cobblestone trail to our first campsite at the star of the the trail through the Aviles valley. Artfully designed shelters dotted a valley resembling something from The Sound of Music. This glamping experience didn’t last long – we left the comforts of the trailhead the next morning to begin our epic journey.  

The first day of hiking left every one of our jaws wide open. At every twist and turn, we were met with cascading waterfalls and glacial valleys. The peaks at our sides were jagged and topped with snow. We also were able to enjoy the most defined trail we’d see for our entire 20 days. Things like bridges and cut branches turned into a luxury quickly. We met our first dose of Patagonia weather on day 3. The rain quickly turned to sideways hail and we were lucky enough to find refuge in an old gaucho puesto. We felt grateful that the weather was kind enough to hit while we had shelter.

The next day, we encountered our first of many river crossings. Once through a long and cold crossing, we made camp for two nights to explore a side valley that led to Lago Escondito, a pristine glacial lake. Many of us saw our first glacier here. When we got back to camp, we hiked up the valley a little and watched the sunset.

Once we arrived to the top of the Aviles Valley, we began our journey to several backcountry huts where we planned to do service. On the trail, we were passed by two Chilenos moving quite fast. One called back, “we’ll start water and a fire for you.” The Chilenos were Andrès and Miguel. They would guide us in the huts and teach us about their work in Parque Patagonia. The prospect of warmth and hot drinks drove us the rest of the way to the hut. We were met with a huge deep-blue lake fed by an epic glacial waterfall. There on the side of the lake, nestled in the woods, was our first hut.

At the hut, we all enjoyed the hospitality of Andrès and Miguel. They gave everyone some wild mushrooms they picked on the trail. They also told us that the wood stove would heat water for showers! We all cheered as we had two minute showers under scolding hot water from a stream by the hut. Waking feeling refreshed and energized, we spent the day collecting huge bags of moss and stuffing them in the cracks in the hut walls. We sang and danced as we worked and marveled at how the hut transformed. We had created something reminiscent of a hobbit home. When we went inside, we felt instantly warmer as a result of our moss insulation.

Once we completed this project, we hiked with Andrès and Miguel to the second hut. We all rushed to stay in the front to hear Andrès’ wide knowledge of the edible flora in Patagonia. We also learned a lot about navigation by following gaucho trails through thick lenga forests and snow. At the second hut, we built stairs and campsites by the hut in between dips in the glacial river. At the same time, we waited for our re-ration of food, which was to come in by gauchos on horseback. The re-ration was scheduled for November 22 but never arrived! As time passed, we became increasingly hungry and worried. By the 23rd, we began to realize that we may be needing a Thanksgiving miracle. We created contingency plans if the re-ration didn’t come and found ways to distract ourselves until we finally heard cheers from across the river. In a very dis-organized, hungry crazed fashion, we gathered our food, thanked the gauchos and began preparing our feast. We prepared baked cheesy mac, buttery mashed potatoes, stew, and piping hot apple crisp. We all shared stories and traditions and gave thanks to all the parts of our lives we missed. We all agreed it was one of the most memorable Thanksgivings any of us had ever had.

After a good night’s sleep, fueled by the food in our bellies from our feast, we awoke and got ready for our long hike back to the first hut. In preparation for our self lead expedition, our instructors decided it would be a good idea to let us students take the reigns for navigating and route finding. We were all up for the challenge, but it was still intimidating, as we had only gotten through the dense forest once before with the help of our local friends. With timid confidence, we trudged through bushes, fallen trees, muddy ground, streams and slushy snow in attempt to follow the route. It was a fun and tricky day, and we made it back to the first hut in good time. With another luxurious nights in the hut, we left on a very windy morning to head back down the valley. The wind blew with such force it could literally blow someone away if they didn’t have solid footing. With packs on and our sense of adventure heightened, we were all determined to make it to our much anticipated campsite at Lago Verde.

Lago Verde is one of the most unique lakes any of us have ever seen. Its color, ironically, is the bluest of blue—truly an unbelievable sight. We decided to take a layover day at this campsite so that way we could explore our area with a little day hike and maybe have a few classes. On our day hike, we were pleasantly surprised when we stumbled across bunches of mushrooms, and so our scavenging began. The next day we packed up camp and headed towards Lago Jeinimeni, where we luckily found a beautiful campsite above Laguna Esmeralda, another breathtaking little lake. A few of us even decided to take a quick dip in its waters before having class that day, just to cool off from the sun’s powerful rays.

In an effort to do something that had never before been done by HMI, we tried to explore the San Antonio Valley next to Lago Jeinimeni. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful and had to turn around due to an uncrossable river. But luckily, we were close enough to a great campsite on the opposite end of Lago Verde, with a quaint hut next to a pebble beach and sheltered campsites. Here we cooked good food and shared our personal environmental ethics presentations. But our trip wasn’t over— we had yet to get to Lago Jeinimeni! So we had another hiking day to our last campsite, where the water was irresistibly clear and just the right temperature. Sitting at this campsite, we realized how fast everything had gone by, and just how incredible it was to spend three weeks in such a wild place.

HMI Gap: Bienvenidos a Patagonia!

December 5, 2017

Rock Climbing Group

Written by Nora Fried and Ben Clouse

Bienvenidos a Patagonia! Welcome to Patagonia!

After quite the journey (3 planes, 3 bus rides, and a ferry), our group finally made it all the way from Leadville to Chile Chico, Chile. Spirits were through the roof as we awoke 6,296 miles from the start of our travels. Excited to explore and absorb this new place, we spent the next three days prepping for expedition – what would be an 11-day mixed backpacking and climbing trip to Cerro Colorado. Tackling the challenges of being in a new place, we practiced our Spanish while food shopping and interacting with native Chileans and then packed up to head into the backcountry.

Our trek began with several days of backpacking – sizing up the new terrain and remembering how to navigate using topographical maps. In awe of the new landscape, we found ourselves fascinated by the unique flora, fauna, and rock (of course) of the Patagonian steppe, the term used to describe the region of Patagonia we were in. Most notable fascinations include the illusive Guanaco, an alpaca-like creature we soon came to idolize and made numerous attempts to befriend (although they didn’t seem that interested in our situation!), the Caracara and Condor, both massive birds who have learned to perfectly circumnavigate the intense winds of the region, and the enchanting “baby dragons,” small, brightly colored lizards who seem to enjoy the heat.

We soon aimed for the base of Cerro Colorado. The remnants of volcanic activity thousands of years ago, this basalt mountain stands high above the landscape, giving off the impression of being an awe-inspiring yet intimidating alpine climbing area, and of being the evil lair of some Disney villain. Spending 7 days at the base of the peak gave us the opportunity to learn how to approach alpine climbing, learn rock rescue skills and put them into action through several scenarios, to practice building anchors and establishing new routes, practice wilderness medicine skills, and to even get on to the top via a ridge traverse or multi-pitch climb.

Because of the geography of the country, the region of Patagonia is perhaps most known for two things. First and foremost, the wind. We experienced gusts that reached up to 80 mph, complicating simple and daily tasks. A couple examples include: eating food (before it was blown clear off your spoon) and keeping feet firmly on the group while properly layering (a few students experienced their maiden flights!) We were especially confused when we found ourselves in a snowstorm underneath a cloudless sky, which made us hypothesize it was snowing in a neighboring valley. Despite the wind, we also had the privilege to enjoy yerba mate, the second thing Patagonia is well known for. We learned that drinking this caffeinated tea is a traditional way to bring people together, and spent many hours huddled in groups chatting as the mate made its way around the circle.

On the final day of living in what felt like the most remote and foreign landscape, we, covered with a thick layer of mud and sun, walked back into the town of Chile Chico, ready for a hot meal and excited to continue our journey as we move on to explore Argentina!

Coming Home

Written by Danny O'Brien, Head of School
November 22, 2017

One year ago, I moved into the new Head of School home on the HMI campus with my family. It was a wild time. Within ten days, we unpacked a home’s worth of boxes, treated Vivie for a severe case of bronchitis, hosted Semester 37 families over Family Weekend, and welcomed our son, Henry, into the world.

Looking back on that week now, my gut reaction is almost always the same: “What were we thinking?”

We survived the week, of course, and have almost recovered from it. And the effort was clearly worth the temporary toll. Living on campus feels like a natural extension of everything for which HMI stands. The Head of School house is a peaceful and comfortable place for us to live. It has also become another gathering place for our community, where relationships develop and people come together to connect with one another and the natural world.

The completion of the Head of School home marked the end of the first phase of our current $4.5 million capital campaign to build on-campus housing for a majority of our faculty and staff. One reason to undertake this effort, which will fulfill the original vision for HMI, is that it will create new ways we can connect with students and each other, building important relationships along the way.

Sometimes these ways are silly: Last spring, we hosted 48 students in my living room at 7:30 in the morning when they “disappeared” during AMX to prank the faculty member on duty. Rather this this being a burden, I found I had 48 friends for my kids. And sometimes these ways are more serious. I have gotten to know students over the meals we have shared together when was, frankly, easier to bring our family to dinner in Who’s Hall than cook ourselves. I notice little things I’d never see otherwise. I recently received an email from a student who attended HMI last spring. He asked me to write him a recommendation for college, saying he believed I knew him deeply and well. He gave two examples, one of a time when I pulled him aside to congratulate him for thriving academically in a tough class, and the other when I pointed out how he could set higher standards for himself during cook crew. Each conversation had a lasting impact on this student, and each happened because I was present on campus. Being here gave me the chance to turn little moments into big learning opportunities.

Living here has been great in other ways too. Recently, I had to meet with a student during study hall. When I lived off-campus, it was impractical to return home before coming back to HMI. This time, however, my family joined me for dinner and I helped Ellie read nighttime stories before my meeting. I am able to be a better father and husband because we live on campus, something for which I am grateful.

As I look back upon our first year in the on-campus Head of School home, it was my two-year old who provided me with the most clarity. Last weekend, Vivie and I were walking back from dinner in Who’s Hall. I was explaining to her that we were going to a party the next night; the hosts, coincidently, were the folks who moved into our old home when we moved to campus. “They live in my old house,” said Vivie, filling in blanks for me. “We live in my home now.”

Thank you, Vivie, for reminding me—in a way better than I ever could—that the crazy week last October was worth it many times over, both for our family and our school, in order to have a place we can call home.

With the Phase I of our Campaign for Community complete, we are now turning our attention toward Phase II: the construction of homes for faculty and staff. We intend to break ground in the summer of 2018 and will continue to fundraise for a second round of homes in Phase III. This project will honor faculty members by providing quality housing and allowing them more time at home with families. It will strengthen our program by providing more varied and meaningful ways for students and faculty to build relationships. Finally, it will ensure our fiscal sustainability by capitalizing a portion of benefits, allowing HMI to improve compensation without adding to the operating budget.

For more information on the campaign, please contact Reed Holden, Director of Development, or visit our campaign page.

HMI Gap: Settling into a new normal in Utah

November 17, 2017

Rock Climbing Group

Written by Heath Lawrence, Christina Klyce, and Becca Schild

In the American Southwest, I began a lifelong love affair with a pile of rock.” –Edward Abbey

During the last section of Utah, it feels that we’ve entered into a rhythm with the sun, rock, and community that feels like our new normal. We’ve developed a routine around camp, taking turns with various chores and cooking meals within our tent groups. We’ve also taken on more leadership and decision making for planning each day. Each LODizzle (Leader of the Day) solicits input from the group on what they want to focus on for the day and then makes a decision of where to go and how to use our time for the best learning. At dark, we’d come back to camp to play a game, have a class about environmental studies, or even walk to the Big Bend boulders for an evening bouldering session.

We also have spent the last two weeks to apply the climbing skills we’ve been learning and practicing to summit some of the most classic desert towers. In pairs, accompanied by one instructor, we woke up early for our big adventure. Hiking to the base of the climb was both exciting and intimidating – how would it feel to have so much more exposure while climbing 300 feet, one pitch after the other? Did we feel confident in our movement necessary to climb long desert cracks? These questions resolved, however, once we tied into the rope. Over the course of two weeks, all of us were able to summit Castleton Tower, Ancient Art, or climb to the rim overlooking our campground.

As we prepare for our departure to Patagonia, we are excited about the many novel adventures before us. This next leg feels so unfamiliar, we actually are going with little to no expectation.  However, we’re sad to leave this life we have settled into, watching the stars late at night, enjoying laughter and stories around the campfire, and connecting to a landscape that felt so foreign when we arrived. There is something so vast about the desert, creating a feeling of emptiness at times. Even the cracks that we climb; you are literally climbing the void between two sandstone faces, using your body to fill the space that isn’t there and create a hold. However, over time, this void becomes a part of you, leaving a deep imprint on your spirit and your body. As we travel to Patagonia, we will bring the desert varnish and sand with us, literally etched into our clothing, gear, and our suntanned faces.

Semester 39: Second Expedition

Written by Sonali Butensky, Matthew Justh, Sabine Blumenthal, Otis Milliken, and Sydnie Miller
November 16, 2017

Group A

Over the course of second expedition, we were given the opportunity to rejuvenate from our busy lives at HMI, which typically took the form of afternoon naps after a long, strenuous hiking day. The sun’s shadows danced upon the faces of the canyons, as the strong rays warmed the air. We sought out the few shady spots we could find to provide us with a refuge from the sun, a safe place to rest our tired bodies. Though we did more than just sleep for 16 days! Our group hiked in and out of canyons, covering about 80 miles of land (so our naps were well deserved)! The temperature in the canyons was heavily dependent on the sun. As the sun rose over the horizon, we began to strip off our puffy jacket and pants and change into shorts for the sweltering day we knew was ahead. Though each evening around five, the sun dove behind the canyon walls, a great relief from the heat, but leaving us with a significant drop in the temperature. Luckily, we were able to cuddle up in our sleeping bags with a warm hot drink, and drift off to sleep under a blanket of stars.

Each evening during Circle, stars lit up the clear night sky, so bright due to the lack of light pollution and clouds in Bears Ears. We had never seen the stars so bright and visible, we could see each constellation from the Seven Sisters and the Big Dipper One to Orion’s Belt–three stars boldly lighting up the night sky. One night, we hiked up to a natural arch on the top of one of the canyons. We sat directly under the arch for an hour and a half using the light of the full moon to see. In that moment, we felt so grounded in nature and connected with the surrounding landscape.

Group B

It is not easy to describe the canyons. Before second expedition, we all had our individual expectations and impressions of what we were diving into, though, none of us fully knew what we were going to experience. The most accurate description we were told was that it will look like Mars, and it was easy to feel as if we were in an alien landscape. The whole landscape colored an incredible red, always changing as the sun went up and down, strange microorganisms coating the landscape, incredibly beautiful plants emerging from impossible cracks in the rock. This might be an explanation for why, on our first hike, we walked about a quarter of a mile per hour. We could not help but be distracted by our incredible environment.

Our first night we slept under a gigantic arch, like nothing any of us had seen before. It was so beautiful, it softened the blow of being unable to easily find water at our campsite, something we never had an issue with in the mountains. Our next hike we continued down the canyon, which seemed to snake on forever. We saw Anasazi ruins for the first time. We also got to know each other, playing games all 6 miles. The first two days were not the only highlights: we had an 11 hour hiking day due to our inability to find a way down from a cliff. We hiked nearly 14 miles in one day, though no one would complain about it because the incredible views distracted us from our screaming feet and aching backs. Every night we had Circle, where we learned a little bit more about each other under a moon so big, it felt like you could jump up and grab it. The days were filled with singing, games and a whole lot of accents. It was an amazing 17 days and went incredibly smoothly. Now back to snow and morning AMX!

Group C

Our group took on a rather challenging route, exploring a new canyon that HMI students had never been to before, hiking over 50 miles in the second half of our trip. We started hiking in Little Grand Canyon. We spent the first half of the trip hiking across fields orange dust, junipers, prickly pear, and sage brush. Everyday felt like a push, but that’s what made it exciting! We slept under the stars with our tarp mates and cooked on the edges of cliffs overlooking massive canyons. We held nature nugget festivals with ours truly, Hayden Shea, and explored the slot canyons (taking many selfies along the way).

On the last day of hiking before re-ration, we went a little crazy in the canyon. Spontaneous breaks to paint our faces with mud and ponder how we were to find a way out. That night we found out that Grace was to be leaving our expedition group due to an injury. The next day at re-ration, we also lost Sanjana and Katie to illnesses, and found out that Bianca’s injuries had prevented her from joining us for the second half. Our group quickly became two tarp groups, a total of seven students and two instructors. We named constellations after our expedition buddies. Their presence was missed terribly.

However, our group was resilient and we pushed forward to conquer the next leg of our trip. The second half of expedition was almost entirely off trail. We elected Lily as our student expedition leader (SEL), and we started Independent Student Travel. Hiking in silence, our days consisted of 8-11 miles off trail. We spent our days wandering upon mesas and through canyons. Clara and Andrew met up with us for Halloween and sprinkled our campsite with candy! (Shout out to our awesome I-TEAM!) We hit some spectacular campsites on slick rock, and worked to finish up all our remaining school work. Nights consisted of group kitchens (Gritchens) and being together under the stars. The last day of our trip, we shared what we wanted to take back with us to campus. It was a perfect way to end our last expedition with HMI. The canyons will be missed.

Group D

We wake up to the harsh sound of our wristwatch alarms going off in unison. Frost covers our sleeping bags. This is not the first time we have woken up but the 4th. We have all put 6 alarms ten minutes apart just for these situations. We realize that we just barely have enough time to make breakfast. “Ahhh, we’ll just make cereal” Jared yawns. We go back to sleep. Ten minutes later we are in the same situation. I love these cook rotations. Like every other day, our tarp scurries and manages to be five minutes late (which earned us a “delta” on timeliness). The girls, who were miraculously always early, frowned. We start to hike.

There are three types of hiking groups. The first one charges forward with the goal to get to the next campsite as fast as possible. Rather than talking, huffs and puffs dominate the sound of this group. I tended to lead this way, getting to the campsite fast is always satisfying. The second type is more imaginary. This hiking group is characterized by not going too slow or too fast, is purely efficient and never gets lost. If it wasn’t for the few days that the advisors led, I wouldn’t even know this type existed. The third type, extremely fun on certain days, takes its time. A packs-off break is taken every 25 minutes and a suggested 10 minute break can turn into 30. You never really know what to expect. This should only be tried on easy days. We all learned this very early first expedition when we walked 6 miles in 12 hours.

Today, we hiked type 3. Chants, laughs and jokes filled the day. Jared rapped in the background; Ochan leaded cheers and Isabelle carefully looked after us to make sure everybody was taken care of in her role as Expedition Leader. We continue the lightheartedness of the day throughout dinner. Cooking is always a mess but brings out the best laughs. The night continues and we finally come to the decision that we should go to sleep. Of course, we stay up 2 hours longer. Sleep tight.


Group E

Our first day of IST (Independent Student Travel), we decided to implement an hour of silence each day on trail to think about where we are and become more aware of our surroundings. This allowed everyone to breathe in nature and have our eyes wander and scope out beauty. Towards the end of this hour, we stumbled upon the most magnificent sight we have seen in our lives. We had to bushwhack for 15 minutes in this grove of shrubbery and as we emerged, this patch of 20 cottonwoods laid ahead. The wind started to blow large gusts in their direction. As the wind howled, the leaves fell. We stood in silence, looking as the leaves made their way towards the ground and into our hands. The sky was a light shade of blue, with no fluffy white clouds to accompany it. The yellow and green leaves seem to float, contrasting the blue sky. It was the most satisfying moment in the entire trip. We could have extended our last break by a short single minute and have missed this scene. We were so lucky enough to have been in the right place at the right time. It was a magical moment, one that we will remember for the rest of our lives. That image is ingrained in our minds, and will be forever.



Prospective Students & Families: Join us for an Online Information Session!

November 16, 2017

Join HMI Admissions Team and The Norfleets, a Semester 38 alumni family to learn more about the HMI Semester & Summer Term. Our first webinar of the season is this upcoming Monday, November 20th at 8:00 PM EST / 5:00 PM PST.

This webinar is designed to help prospective students and their parents gain a better understanding of the academics, wilderness, and community components of the HMI Semester and Summer Term. There will be an opportunity for Q&A via the chat feature with the hosts. RSVP here!