We believe there is currently a crisis in leadership in our country and in the world. To address this, we are empowering future leaders who are curious, energetic, and, most of all, willing to listen. It is their voices and vision that will find the common ground that serves us all.

Two Summer Sessions

Leadership Matters 1

June 16 – July 11, 2018 / 26 Days

Leadership Matters 2

July 11 – August 5, 2018 / 26 Days

Leadership Matters is a wilderness expedition and cross-cultural service program for young people who have a strong desire to become leaders who will work for the common good. Life presents challenges, and leaders respond with courage and integrity. This is a program for those who demonstrate these qualities, and who want to take them to the next level. Participants develop those qualities of leadership through:

  • Backpacking in the canyons of Utah and the mountains of Colorado
  • Service projects in Navajo and Hopi tribal lands in Arizona
  • Dialogue with Native American leaders and community members
  • Discussions on the nature of individual as well as community leadership

The World Needs Leaders Apply

Program Itinerary


Days 1-3
Participants arrive at Basecamp throughout the first afternoon. Their expedition leaders help them become acquainted with Deer Hill as participants meet each other, and the group dynamic begins to form. Here they start to create the foundation for relationship building as well as begin to explore their expectations for how to become leaders. In addition to getting to know one another, the group will begin to pack gear for the first part of their trip.

Camping Above the San Juan River

Days 3-5
The group drives to Cedar Mesa in southeastern Utah, where they’ll set up camp on the mesa top. The group will hike in the nearby canyon systems and begin to acclimate to the landscape while they learn essential backcountry and wilderness skills to prepare for the next section of the expedition. The group will engage in team-building activities and continue their focus and discussion on leadership development.

Canyon Backpacking in Utah

Days 5-10
Prepared now as the challenge level increases, the group drives to a nearby trailhead, where they’ll leave the vehicles behind and enter the canyon system on foot, with their gear on their backs. Here participants will learn and practice route-finding skills, and Leave No Trace backpacking techniques. The group will learn how to continue relationship building while overcoming physical and mental challenges. Evening discussions will center around the nature of compassion and empathy and how to use these qualities to build toward a common goal.

Service in the Navajo-Hopi Partition Lands

Days 10-16
The group will work on cross-cultural service projects in two nearby communities: the Navajo Nation and a Hopi pueblo. Project work is arranged by our service hosts based on the needs of their community. This can include structural repairs such as the building or maintenance of sheep corrals or shade arbors, constructing mud-and-brick outdoor bread ovens, or whitewashing plaza buildings using a mixture made from local soil, as well as traditional farming in community gardens or other projects that support the community. These hands-on projects will help the group to understand the true nature of building community. Participants meet tribal leaders, live with traditional families, have the opportunity to observe ceremonies and other cultural events, and engage in discussions on the nature of leadership in disenfranchised communities.

On Day 16, the group will wrap up their project, and return to Deer Hill Basecamp until Day 18, to prepare for their mountain backpacking section.

Mountain Backpacking

Days 18-24
After preparing at Basecamp, the group heads back into the field for an extended backpacking expedition in the San Juan Mountains. The group will hike through fields of wildflowers and aspen groves, attempt to summit 13- and 14,000-foot peaks, and learn route finding and orienteering skills, along with Leave No Trace practices for mountain wilderness travel. At this point in the program each member of the group begins to articulate and share their own developing concept of service and leadership.

Return to Basecamp

Days 24-26
Participants return to Basecamp for program closure. The next day, the group will experience together a traditional sweatlodge ceremony, a deeply emotional and spiritual activity that combines individual reflection with intense group connection. Afterwards, they will enter into their final discussions on leadership, how to integrate what they have learned and then formulate a plan to use those skills to pay it forward in their own communities. And, of course, the group will celebrate, joining together with a wonderful meal and slide show of the amazing adventures and profound friendships they have all shared.

Participation is supported through a full scholarship which includes:

  • Program tuition
  • Transportation to Durango, Colorado, and the DHE Basecamp
  • Provision of required personal gear with the exception of footwear


  • Junior year of high school (exceptions can be made for outstanding sophomores and seniors)
  • Physically fit sufficient for hiking in rugged terrain and manual labor in service projects

DHE will make admissions decisions based on the application, student essay, and references. Financial need is a consideration but not a requirement. The Admissions Committee will be looking for:

  • Excellent communication skills
  • Ability to inspire and empower others
  • Personal responsibility and accountability
  • A commitment to the common good

Leadership Matters
As we assemble leaders from different parts of the country to live together, face and overcome challenges, and share dreams and desires for a better world, we hope this opportunity will impact every student. The time is now for students throughout the US to become more active leaders.

Our Deer Hill staff is privileged to guide this journey of self-discovery through 26 days of hiking rugged landscapes and building community through service. As students ascend to the rocky summits of Colorado’s most treasured mountains we plan on inspiring spirits and goals to ascend as well. In meeting the challenges inherent in these accomplishments and discovering a new sense of resolve we hope our first group of Leadership Matters students return to their communities with a more personalized meaning of leadership and the determination to impact their families, schools and communities.

The World Needs Leaders Apply

I didn’t know anything about leadership except that I wasn’t a leader. I’m not athletic, smart, or cool. Yet at Deer Hill, when a hailstorm collapsed our tent, I fixed it. When some slacked on their chores, I did more. When people were talking trash about others, I brought it up to the whole group. At the end, one of the cool guys thanked me for being such a good leader. Everyone snapped their fingers. I realized then that leadership is more about being real than being popular.

Asha, participant