Explore Wild Patagonia

April 24, 2018

Join us for an HMI Friends and Family Expedition to Patagonia next winter!

Central Patagonia is one of the few remaining wild regions in the world. Experience the magic of HMI in an awe-inspiring setting. Join fellow HMI alumni, friends, and family on an extended wilderness trek through the future Patagonia National park while exploring the many wonders of the Aysen region.

HMI has been running courses in this area since 2015 for our Gap Semesters. We are excited to introduce our extended family to this beautiful and rich area.


  • Backpack through the breathtaking glacial valleys of the future Patagonia National Park
  • Witness and learn about conservation in action to protect this unique and irreplaceable landscape
  • Explore and experience the distinct culture of Patagonia
  • Become part of a community of shared responsibility committed to personal growth, exploration, and adventure


Hostel in Chile Chico (4 nights), backcountry camping (4 nights), backcountry hut (1 night)

Itinerary: January 2 – 10, 2019

  • January 2: Arrive in Chile Chico; welcome and introductions
  • January 3: Local town exploration; day hike in Valle de la Luna and Cuevo de los Manos; expedition prep; dinner in town
  • January 4: Drive to Parque Patagonia headquarters; explore the headquarters and history of Conservacion Patagonica; camp at trail head to Valle Aviles
  • January 5: Hike up Valle Aviles; 5-6 miles and 1500 feet of elevation; set-up camp; evening discussion and Circle
  • January 6: Hike up Valle Aviles into Valle Hermosa, 5-6 miles and 1500 feet of elevation; evening discussion and Circle
  • January 7: Hike down Valle Hermosa 3-4 miles; afternoon of exploration and/or relaxation
  • January 8: Hike to backcountry hut; learn about eco-tourism efforts in the park
  • January 9: Hike to Lago Verde; get picked up at 4 pm and return to Chile Chico
  • January 10: Deissue; Asado celebration; final Circle
  • January 11: Evaluations and departure

What’s Included:

Cost: $4,150

Price includes all meals from mid-day January 2nd to breakfast January 11th; all accommodations; airport transportation (if desired); transportation to and from Parque Patagonia; and group gear.

If you are interested, please email Becca Schild, Co-Director of HMI Gap, at to receive additional information.

Semester 40: Second Expedition

March 28, 2018

Group A
For our winter expedition, groups went to separate areas in the Mosquito and Sawatch mountain ranges which are to the east and west of the town of Leadville. Group A went to the Sawatch range, near Homestake Mountain. As a means of transportation, each person was equipped with a pair of telemark skis and poles. The snow gets to be around 4-6 feet deep in open areas at the time during the expedition, and our skis kept us from sinking down. For the first two nights, we slept in snow pits over which we erected tarps to shelter us from wind and snow. Cooking in the backcountry is a blast; in the winter, however, it’s a bit more difficult because of the cold. On winter expedition we also got more food than we did in the desert. For the next eight days, we slept in quigloos. Quigloos are made by mounding snow, letting it sit overnight, then hollowing out the mound the next day. Each expedition group was split into four smaller groups including the instructor team and each smaller group was responsible for excavating a quigloo. The inside of each quigloo was surprisingly warm and usually stayed in the neighborhood of around zero degrees Celsius.

Although our winter expedition was difficult at some points, we’re glad that we got to partake. There certainly aren’t many opportunities to go and live in the snow for ten nights. Not only that, but you really gain an appreciation for the smaller thing in everyday life that you typically take for granted.

Group B
Winter expedition was chill(y). With sleds packed behind us and backpacks on, we skied our way up a mountain in the Sawatch Range to our first camp spot where we spent two days sleeping in tents with snow walls. The second camping spot was nestled next to Mt. Zion and had an amazing 360 view of the surrounding mountains. There, we built our first quigloos by mounding up piles of snow and then hallowing them out. The next four days were full of backcountry skiing (which is much more strenuous without a chairlift), decorating our quigloos with snow statues, and fires in a wooden tipi we had found. After getting used to sleeping in our first quigloos, which were nice and roasty toasty, we skied to our third and final camp spot where we made another set of quigloos. Here we briefly met the other expedition group for some hellos and then goodbyes as they left for their last camping spot. We had a fantastic slope nearby where we spent a lot of our time skiing in the last four days. We also summited Buckeye Peak which brought us all together for some bonding. All in all, we had a great time romping around in the snow.

Group C
We ventured out to the Sawatch Mountain Range for our second expedition. The first 100 yards of the trip were tough, due to the lack of snow and the ice, but from that point on everything went uphill, literally. We shared a massive kitchen the first two nights of the trip, which offered us much time to hang out and bond. Mounding the quigloos required a lot of shoveling, but we all participated and had a lot of fun. The views were incredible, the stars were bright, and the fried pickles were tasty. We had some amazing days of ski touring, in which our resident videographers, Ollie and Mickey, took cool videos of everyone making nice tele turns. At one point we were able to look out over the town of Leadville, and we could almost see HMI. We had a fox visitor one night, which was exciting to see, but sad as we did not want it to become dependent on human food. We powered through our hardest day, pulling the very heavy sleds, mounding our second quigloos, and digging out mid shelters with no complaining and an amazing sense of comradery and teamwork. It was really amazing to see how we were all looking out for each other and offering help to anyone who needed it at any point in the day. Our kindness and patience made that hard day much better than it could have been. After that day, it was smooth sailing. We had a beautiful, powdery ski hill right under our campsite, and the sunsets were vibrant and colorful over the distant mountains. The girls’ tarp group and one of the boys tarp groups built a joint kitchen and shared many unique, but delicious meals together. One snowy morning the boys even made the girls cheesy bagels for breakfast. While there were certainly challenges along the way, we made it through and had an unforgettable experience.

Group D
Group D had an amazing expedition in the Mosquito mountain range. Our days were filled with skiing, shoveling, and laughing. For the first two nights, we set up a snow tarp camp in a meadow. Even though it was cold, our large group kitchen was a highlight of the trip. For the next four nights, we camped at a beautiful area that overlooked Leadville. Here is where we built our quigloos. After a lot of difficult shoveling, our winter homes were finished and kept us warm at night. On the fifth day we celebrated a birthday with a special cookie brownie dessert made by Dylan. There is something extra special about celebrating in the backcountry! The next leg of the trip involved trekking to the tundra above tree line. The tundra was packed with snow so we built snow caves instead of quigloos. Overall, it was a great trip!

HMI Gap Announces our Civic Adventure Scholarship

by Becca Schild, Co-Director of HMI Gap
March 21, 2018

Through HMI Gap’s Civic Adventure Scholarship program, we hope to support students who have demonstrated a commitment to civic engagement and outdoor adventure to become part of HMI Gap. This year, we will award three merit scholarships to students who wish to take one of our HMI Gap semesters.

Why Civic Adventure?

The American conservation movement started with early outdoor explorers who drew their inspiration from the land. In pursuit of adventure, people journeyed to, as Terry Tempest Williams puts it, “extreme landscapes.” Through their journeys, they developed strength of character and a deepened sense of their place in the world. This spirit of adventure is central to the American frontier narrative, with its legacy etched across our vast public land system.

In recent years, we’ve seen outdoor recreation, especially adventure pursuits, explode in popularity. The Outdoor Industry Association estimates that outdoor recreation contributes $646 billion annually to the US economy and has seen consistent 5% growth per year since 2005. While this rise indicates more people are getting outdoors, it is not necessarily accompanied with responsible use and may lead to a host of environmental, management, social, and safety problems.

Rather than to merely take from these places, to consume an experience that can be conveniently curated on Instagram, HMI Gap invites students to engage with these landscapes, to consider themselves part of their communities, both human and natural. They do so through hands-on and community-based environmental stewardship efforts while also gaining the skills and experience to be competent outdoor adventurers. By exploring some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes in the world while also working to protect them, students develop a deep connection with place and become part of a community of shared responsibility. Through this “civic adventure” model, students not only cultivate an enduring appreciation of the natural world; they can learn to act as citizens and to work toward positive social and environmental outcomes.

We are not alone in seeing this important and timely connection. Organizations such as the Access FundAmerican Whitewater, and the International Mountain Biking Association, to name a few, are national conservation groups that emphasize initiatives to engage adventurers as caretakers and advocates of wild spaces. Even the National Outdoor Leadership School has recognized the importance of involving their students in more direct stewardship through their new Service Expeditions.

Just as we have the power to transform the landscape, the landscape has the power to transform us. Throughout history, many different cultures have looked to the mountains as sources of meaning and inspiration. From Moses’s ascent of Mount Sinai, ancient philosophers’ reverence for mountains, to indigenous cultures’ vision quests to sacred summits, these “extreme landscapes” have become the mythological stage for some of humanity’s most profound quests. There is something instinctual in outdoor adventure, shared across time and place, in which mountains become, as Edwin Bernbaum claims, “places of inner experience that have the power to transform our views of ourselves and the world around us.”

To learn more about the Civic Adventure Scholarship and HMI Gap programs, visit Deadline to apply is April 30, 2018.

Semester 40: Creating new traditions and slowing down

Written by Charlie McKenzie, Maya Gabor, and Oliver Johnston
March 14, 2018

This week we wrapped up our first two major essays in English and history, and we had a debate on animal rights in Practices & Principles, our ethics class. For one of our essays we analyzed Terry Tempest Williams’s use of literary devices in Red, a collection of short stories which paid homage to the deserts of Utah. It brought so much depth to our first expedition in the canyons to read about someone else’s appreciation for the same landscape we were exploring. In one of the essays, Ode to Slowness, Williams tells the story of how she and her husband moved from Salt Lake City to the remote desert, and how it taught her to appreciate a slow life: unscheduled days, breathing, simply watching nature, and a disregard for time. Many of us here are from urban areas, and we were able to connect to Williams’s experience of feeling overwhelmed by a city. Now that we’re in picturesque Leadville, some of us have been trying to implement her practice of taking moments to slow down despite our very scheduled lives here at HMI.

Our history essay was a response to the prompt “Americans love to talk about freedom, but what does it actually mean to be free?” America is supposedly the “land of the free,” so it is important to think about what we mean when we say that, and what we want to achieve when we strive for freedom.  It is also impossible to define freedom precisely, so we looked to what the historians we have read think about freedom. For example, in analyzing Howard Zinn’s and Paulo Freire’s arguments about freedom, some students came to the conclusion that both argued that people are free when they are encouraged to think freely: to analyze the many biased narratives given to them and formulate their own opinions. Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed was actually one of the first things we read here, and it was refreshing to be handed an argument that fosters a culture of challenging our history teacher, each other, and ourselves.

We have been reading about animal rights and land ethics for two weeks in P&P, and we recently had a mock-debate about whether the U.S. should ban animal husbandry by 2030. We had a heated debate surrounding the ethics of killing animals, the economic impacts of America’s going vegetarian, and the environmental implications. Many students were surprised to learn that, although cows produce methane and use up a lot of land, if the world went vegetarian it could possibly be worse for the environment for a number of reasons. In the end, we argued our points so well that some students considered going vegetarian, and some felt convinced they should remain omnivores.  As always, it was a rigorous but productive academic week at HMI.

As a community, we have been creating new traditions, unique to Semester 40, and adopting old ones, established semesters before us. After every study hall, all the students have a big dance party in Who’s Hall, until we have to go to bed. Whether we are screaming the words to Mama Mia, or jumping up and down to Hey Ya!, it is always a great way de-stress and connect with the community after a long day. Back in Cabin Two, all of us love to sit around the fire at night, telling stories about our lives back at home, and answering Circle questions we think of earlier that day. We can always go to our cabin when we need advice. Every time it snows, which is pretty often, the HMI “swim team” has practice on Who’s Hall porch. Practice consists of students diving into powder to swim a few strokes, although the main point is simply to have fun outside. During lunch, sometimes clubs hold meetings: Queer Affinity, a safe space for students to talk about sexual identity, and Avatar the Last Airbender club, where students passionately discuss how the show is ahead of its time. The whiteboards in Who’s hall are always littered with surveys, such as “is cereal a soup?” or is it “a pack of gum” or a “packet of gum”? These always lead to heated debates during meals or free time. Even with a big essay or lab report due the next morning, at HMI the community is always high energy, squeezing in time to be kids whenever possible.

Last week was ski week, so on Friday, Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday everyone went to the local ski slope, Ski Cooper, for a few hours in the morning. Our goal: learn to telemark ski by the end of ski week. After all, on Wednesday we’ll be backcountry skiing in the Sawatch and Mosquito Mountains for our second expedition. Friday, our first day of ski week, was all about getting skis attached to boots and feeling the difference between what most of us were used to: standard alpine skis, and what we were trying: telemark skis. The thing about tele skis is that the heel of the boot isn’t attached to the bottom of ski, which adds an extra element of difficulty. Proper tele skiing technique involves “freeing the heel” and getting into a lunge stance with one knee forward, alternating legs. Sunday, we learned about tele turns and attempted a few. On Tuesday, depending on the group, we did anywhere from ten tele turns to a hundred tele turns. There was a lot of falling. Thursday, the last day of ski week at Ski Cooper, was a blast. The first half of the day we stayed with our groups, but the second half we were free to ski in pairs or trios of our choice. It was a great week.

Semester 40: “These types of experiences we can only get at HMI”

Written by Anna Mackey, Z Stowe, Brittney Randle, and Claire Greenberger
February 28, 2018

This past weekend was packed with activity and entertainment. On Friday night, HMI hosted its first coffee house; a chance for students and faculty to display their talents to the community. The variety in the show surprised us; there was everything from beautiful singing performances to magic shows to Chicago fun-fact presentations. The apprentices also surprised us with a beautifully executed lip sync performance of “Stick to the Status Quo” from High School Musical.  The support from the entire community was overwhelming, and applause lasted minutes rather than seconds. Of course with all of the energy from the coffee house, we hosted a dance party afterwards and danced and screamed lyrics until we collapsed into bed, obviously all before 10:30pm. The next day, we had the opportunity to participate in the Leadville Loppet, an annual Nordic ski race. HMI students donned their usual crazy costumes including vintage ski coats, animal onesies and silly head wear. While some chose to try skate skiing, most stuck with classic. We all loaded into the buses and walked to the starting line of the 10K race. With many whoops and cheers, the HMI community started off on the 5K uphill to the halfway point. We talked and huffed and puffed and sang until we reached the aid station, greeted by familiar HMI faces with a cold drink and many cheers. The way down was a breeze for many and as we crossed (or fell!) across the finish line we felt triumphant in our success. After some complimentary blueberry soup, we headed to the awards ceremony for some more fantastic soup made by the community. We clapped as fellow students won awards, and slept on the way home from the race. The rest of the weekend was filled with well-deserved naps, a tremendously engaging science lab (in which we played in the snow and took samples for an experiment), and the usual good times.

This week at HMI is Ski Week! This means we are all heading to the local ski mountain, Ski Cooper, to learn how to telemark ski. Before the week started everyone was buzzing with excitement for the days to come, and feeling the anticipation in everyone was wonderful. On the first day we woke up earlier than usual for breakfast and packed our paper bag lunches. Hopping on the bus with friends was so exciting, thinking about how this was our school. This was a school day. Wow! We have never been skiing on a mountain and then been back in a classroom presenting about current events within the same hour! Everyone joining together in something new (our telemarking experience) is such an amazing bonding experience. Getting to learn with friends with friends made the falling even better! One of the things that I find so cool about our community is that we have classmates who have never skied before, and then we have an expert telemarker or two. To think that soon we’ll be using our skills out in the backcountry on winter expedition is amazing. Recently we have been doing a lot of work with snow in science, and we were able to do a lab on snowpack and went out into the field to collect data. it all came full circle today while at Ski Cooper: some of us started thinking about what types of metamorphosis the snow we were skiing on had undergone. How cool is it was that we were thinking that? These types of experiences we can only get at HMI.

This week cabins chose who would be their cabin representatives. Amelia, Olivia, Raffi, Luke and Kai are representatives. Each week they will be present at staff meetings and weekend meetings with Hayden. It is important for students to know that their voices matter, and the representatives represent the student’s interest. Also this week student activities changed so we are having fun rock climbing, card making, poetry writing, playing snow volleyball,  broomball, and practicing cross country skiing! Many student-led clubs and activities also started this week including Step Club, Avatar: the Last Airbender Club, and the Queer Alliance group. We also had a new and exciting morning exercise routine with the Science faculty Coco doing a dance routine. As second expedition approaches, we’re all excited because we can’t wait for living in a quigloo (snow shelter) and getting to know each other even better.

We have only been taking classes at HMI for two weeks, but classes are already in full swing. In science class, we have been studying snow in preparation for Winter Expedition. Last Saturday, we went to the Mt. Evans basin to study the density of snow. It turns out that this year Colorado has had much less snowfall in comparison to past years! We begin math class each day with an engaging, thought-provoking problem that we work through as a class. It is a great way to get our brains working and practice our collaboration skills. In English class, we have begun a novel called Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko, which is a story about an American Indian war veteran. In History class, we have spent a lot of time discussing the ways in which we use and view education. We are all working on being more conscious and critical learners! In Practice and Principles: Ethics of the Natural World, we have been discussing the concept of morality. This week in class, we discussed animal rights and if equality should be extended to animals . Everybody had very different opinions on this topic, which makes for really interesting conversation. Overall, classes have been very student-led and placed-based!




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.