Frequently Asked Questions

Since 1998, HMI has offered empowering experiences in inspiring surroundings, boldly uniting place-based and hands-on learning with the natural world. For two decades, this foundation has enabled us to create a meaningful impact that transcends the boundaries of our campus. Students return from HMI transformed, carrying with them the confidence, passion, and readiness to excel in college, graduate school, and beyond. Our alumni stand out in the increasingly competitive environment, as colleges and employers view HMI alumni as risk-takers in the best sense who have the skills to work effectively on a team and emerge as leaders in their community. 

HMI Gap’s unique integration of outdoor education, environmental studies, and service presents rich opportunities to gain important life and professional skills. Outdoor rock climbing and wilderness travel offer a powerful venue to confront physical, emotional, and intellectual challenges with focus, creativity, and resolve. Students must interact with the natural environment and think critically about their own impact. Finally, they must work closely with others to evaluate risk and achieve goals, developing important judgment and decision-making skills along the way. Through our authentic service opportunities, students develop an understanding and awareness of their impact on the environment while working to affect positive change, pushing them to become more scientifically literate, environmentally aware, and civically involved.

HMI is accredited by the Gap Year Association and the Association for Experiential Education. As an independent high school, HMI is accredited by the Association of Colorado Independent Schools.

HMI strongly believes and making our programs accessible and affordable to any student. With the generous support of our alumni and other donors, we are able to offer need-based financial aid. About 25% of our gap students receive some amount of aid, the amount of which is determined by demonstrated need and amount of aid available. Financial aid is allocated on a rolling basis, so we encourage students to apply early. Visit our financial aid page to learn more about how to apply.

There is no “typical” HMI Gap student, but many of our students join the Gap experience for similar reasons: to expand their worldview, to expand their perspective beyond the classroom, to find themselves through challenge. These shared values might mean that although you come from different states, or even a different country, your cohort will likely find common ground through your experience of exploring what the natural world has to offer. An emphasis on creating a community of shared responsibility draws students to our program who are passionate about doing the tough work necessary to nourish the dynamics of a close-knit group.

Learn more about Gap alumni by reading some profiles here.

HMI has about thirty Essential Eligibility Criteria (EEC). Below are a few highlighted criteria: 

All participants must:

  • Come with an open mind and positive attitude.
  • Display tolerance, respect and compassion towards all.
  • Participate fully in stressful and emotionally intense wilderness, residential life and academic experiences, including changes in diet, group living and a daily routine that is likely much different than your routine at home.
  • Perform necessary self-care independently or with the assistance of a companion on campus or in a remote and outdoor setting, including personal hygiene and toileting needs, adequate hydration and dressing appropriately for weather conditions.
  • Withstand repetitive and sustained use of one’s body including, for example, hiking or skiing 3-9 miles a day for multiple days, and carrying a pack weighing 35-45% of one’s body weight.
  • Learn skills and engage in tasks to support yourself and the group. This includes, but is not limited to: cooking in the wilderness or in a commercial kitchen for self and others, setting up and taking down a camp, washing dishes, caring for group gear and camp site or cabin care, including clean-up.

For a full list and more information about HMI’s EEC click here

HMI Gap is for high-school graduates and current college students. Generally, students are between the ages of 18-22, however we do have some students who begin the program as 17 year olds and turn 18 during the semester. Our Andes Leadership Semester, a collaborative program with Where There Be Dragons, is for students ages 18-25. 

Both our rock climbing and wilderness travel curriculum goes into great depth to develop your technical skills, judgment and experience in a variety of environments. While no experience is necessary, we recommend that you have a strong interest in being in remote and field-based environments, and spending a semester working to advance your outdoor skills.

For a detailed overview of who should and should not participate in HMI programming, view our Essential Eligibility Criteria

The average HMI Gap course will include anywhere from 8-12 students. Throughout your course you will have some instructors who may serve as “proctors” and will stay with you for the duration of your program, as well other specialists who may join in at other times to support the teaching or technical skills like climbing or canyoneering. In general, there will be a mixed gender group of 3 instructors with your cohort at all times.

HMI Gap faculty are both exceptional mentors as well as accomplished outdoor educators, with significant experience leading groups outdoors, guiding rock climbing, and traveling in South America. They are required to have a Wilderness First Responder Certification, which is an 80 hour advanced medical training. Every HMI Gap faculty attends an intensive 10-day field-based training and orientation prior to the start of the course. As our climbing curriculum is highly advanced, we require our climbing faculty to have extensive training, either through the American Mountain Guides Association or equivalent, and high-level personal climbing experience. As such, our faculty are able to meet every student where they are, provide in-depth coaching on both technical and movement skills, and guide students up climbs that challenge them appropriately. Many of our faculty come to us with previous HMI experience, having demonstrated excellence in experiential education, supporting students to develop as leaders, and building strong, intentional community. Other faculty come to us from other well-respected organizations such as NOLS and Outward Bound. We make sure that every course has a faculty who speaks Spanish and is familiar with the course areas we travel through in the United States and Patagonia. You can read more about our faculty here.

No experience with Spanish is necessary for our Patagonia course sections. This being said, all of our hired staff speak either conversational or fluent Spanish and will create a Spanish language curriculum appropriate to each group’s desire to improve their language proficiency. On our Spring Semester in Patagonia, Spanish language acquisition will be more of an emphasis than on the fall course as we will be spending the duration of the course in a Spanish speaking country. Regular Spanish classes will be taught in the field as will opportunities to practice in informal settings with the people and partners we work with.

The majority of the semester will be spent either on a wilderness expedition or base camping during a climbing expedition. During this time, you will sleep in either a three-season tarp or four-season tent with a 3-4 person tent group. During transitions, you will stay either at a lodge or a hostel in a bed with showers and laundry.

HMI follows industry best practices in managing incidents while students are on course. For the entire semester, there is an administrator and an evacuation coordinator on call 24/7. In the event of an incident, we decide the appropriate course of action depending on what our risk management protocol outlines. Members of the HMI community who have a legitimate need to know about any illness or injury and its treatment will be informed of it. Sometimes a student will stay in the field and the group will alter the itinerary or activities to accommodate that student’s recovery. If the student cannot participate fully for more than several days, or the injury/illness triggers our evacuation protocols, the student is evacuated from the field and taken to seek medical care. We strive to keep the student on course despite an evacuation. During this time, they may stay on campus, in a hotel/hostel, or return home for a short duration. However, if the nature of the injury or illness prevents the student from participating in the remainder of the semester, we may decide it is best for the student to return home.

We have compiled a detailed packing list tailored to each of our semester programs which can be found in each program’s course information packet on our enrolled students page. All group gear is provided by HMI. Depending on the course starting location, some items may be rented from HMI. Students receiving financial aid may be eligible to rent items from our HMI campus’ gear room at no additional cost.  

While HMI programs are in the field, we use a bulk ration system that students cook in 3-4 person tent groups. They are provided a budget and food planning template and purchase their ration for each expedition at local grocery stores. We strongly believe students can cook nutritious and well-balanced meals in the backcountry and provide students recipes and continual coaching for how to cook meals on a single-burner stove. During transitions and in-town days, food is provided in a group meal format, cooked either by instructors, students, or our kitchen manager on campus. At these times, we emphasize fresh food (particularly vegetables and fruits) with the understanding that these are limited in the backcountry. 

We can easily accommodate vegetarians and students with mild dietary restrictions and food allergies. Students with severe food allergy or dietary restriction should speak with a program administrator about the specifics of their needs. We have been able to accommodate severe nut, soy, dairy, and gluten allergies, but want to make sure we have a clear plan with the student and program administrators before final acceptance to the program.


During the backcountry portions of the semester, students will not be in phone or Internet contact. However, during the non-backcountry portions of the semester, we strive to provide regular opportunities for students to update their friends and family on their adventures. While students will have periodic access to public pay phones and/or computers when we are in towns, we recommend that you bring a small Internet connected device, such as a smartphone or tablet, for ease of communication. Time and access to using these devices is limited both by course logistics and by community norms established by the group. When in Patagonia, you can opt to purchase an international travel plan. However, communication is generally readily available with Internet while at hostels, and students can use programs such as WhatsApp to make calls. 

HMI is able to accept 529 Savings Plans if you sign up for college credit with Western State Colorado University. Please visit their website to learn more about how to use a 529 Plan for our semesters.

We offer optional college credit through Western State Colorado University for our outdoor leadership and environmental studies curriculum. Every student on an HMI Gap course will participate in this curriculum, but will receive an additional evaluation if they are enrolled in college credit. There are additional requirements for Western State courses which should be completed after the conclusion of the HMI Gap program. We recommend that you speak with your college before enrolling in these credits to see how or if they will transfer. Western State Colorado University courses offered ($165/credit)

  • OUT 189 – Principles of Outdoor Recreation (3 credits)
  • ENVS 297 – Land Conservation Ethics (3 credits)

HMI has a zero tolerance policy for the use of drugs and alcohol during the course. This experience demands a high level of trust for all community members, and we believe that maintaining a substance-free space is essential for creating and building trust. To read more about our expectation for student conduct, please review the enrollment agreement.

HMI Gap students facing mental health challenges can schedule phone calls or video chats with our part-time licensed psychologist and/or connect with local mental health resources. Additionally, some students continue sessions with a mental health professional at home through video chat. While on expeditions, students have limited-to-no access to outside mental health professionals. Our rural location also means mental health supports beyond what is listed above are very limited.

Based upon the recommendation of our physician advisor, we  now require all students to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and to provide proof of such vaccination, with limited documented exceptions (applicable law allows for medical and religious exemptions to this requirement). We believe that COVID-19 vaccinations are essential for supporting the well-being and health of our community and for allowing our programs to function at their highest quality. 

Students are also required to submit a COVID-19 test 72 hours prior to the start of programming as well as upon arrival. Students will be subject to frequent testing throughout the program to ensure the health and safety of our community. 

Students and staff are required to wear masks in public-facing settings (at gas stations, grocery stores, etc.) but not within their semester groups. 

For more extensive information on the HMI Gap experience watch a recording of our latest online information session.

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