Call of the Wild

Sam Kilburn '18 has worked as a professional ice-climbing guide and mountaineer. Photo courtesy of Kilburn.

Sam Kilburn '18 has worked as a professional ice-climbing guide and mountaineer. Photo courtesy of Kilburn.

Sam Kilburn ’18  

When biology major Sam Kilburn ’18 says he’s been spending time in the mountains since before he could walk, we’re inclined to believe him. Never happier than when he’s scaling a mountain, hiking, slacklining, biking or cross-country skiingor out in the field, learning about forest ecologythis rugged Massachusetts native is a leading figure in Dickinson’s Outing Club, a student group that takes full advantage of the Carlisle region’s abundant natural resources.

Kilburn also is passionate about sustainability—he has worked at the Dickinson College Farm and lived in the Treehouse—and he participated in several sport clubs. This spring, he's pursuing an ambitious goal: To climb all 48 of New Hampshire's White Mountains in winter, while working as a mountaineer, guiding clients on climbing and ice-climbing trips.

"It's truly been an incredible experience so far," he says. "I've learned so much, met some incredible people and fallen more deeply in love with these mountains."

sam kilburn climbs up an icy mountain.



Clubs and organizations:

Jive Turkeys (ultimate Frisbee), Outing Club (officer), the Treehouse, College Farm and Rock Wall Monitor (Kline Fitness Center).

Favorite book:

Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills by the Mountaineers Club of Washington.

Favorite movie:

The Hurt Locker.

On choosing Dickinson:

A lot of things drew me to this school, most notably the College Farm and Dickinson’s campuswide focus on sustainability and strong academics. Tour guides can only cover so much on their tours, and after coming to Dickinson I discovered many other wonderful aspects of this school.

Favorite place on campus:

Either the rock wall or the roof of the Kline.

Favorite Dining Hall food:

Bacon cheeseburger.

On choosing a major:

I’ve always been passionate about biology, specifically the ecology side of biology. When I first started at Dickinson, I was vacillating between biology and environmental science, but after taking a few classes in each major, biology seemed like the right major for me.

Favorite class:

If I had to narrow it down, I would say either Plant Physiology or Forest Ecology. In Forest Ecology, [Associate] Professor [of Environmental Science Brian] Pedersen constantly had us out in the field, applying what we learned in the classroom to the outside world. In Plant Physiology, [Associate] Professor [of Biology Tom] Arnold gave us the freedom to design our own plant-based experiment in the college greenhouse. I would highly recommend both classes to anyone interested in ecology.

As a kid, I wanted to be …

… a fireman.

Most important thing I’ve learned (so far):

At Dickinson I've learned that everyone has different backgrounds, different life stories and different beliefs. It’s important to be respectful of where people come from and what they believe.

Proudest accomplishment:

Finishing all 48 White Mountains (more than 4,000 feet in elevation). I completed it when I was 18, and have since been working on completing all 48 summits in winter. Right now, I'm working for a private company, Northeast Mountaineering, as one of five guides. We take clients out on ice-climbing and mountaineering trips [more on this below]. 

sam kilburn is a Dickinsonian, through and through.

My favorite job (so far):

Being an ice-climbing and mountaineering guide in [New England's] White Mountains is like heaven to me. I've learned a lot about the sport of ice climbing, about myself, about other people and about the White Mountains. 

Many of the things I help teach people are highly specialized, technical skills, and, now that I have lots of practice teaching these skills to clients, I hope to bring them back to the Dickinson College Outing Club and pass on that knowledge. I am already planning on running a workshop or two when I return to campus this semester to visit friends.

I also spent a summer working as a wilderness ranger intern for the U.S. Forest Service, and I spent last summer working for the White Mountain Professional Trail Crew, something I will do again this summer.

What I learned from those experiences:

Aside from technical skills like self-rescue and crevasse rescue, I have learned a lot about how dangerous the White Mountains can be. Multiple people die in these mountains every year. The weather can change instantly, and, especially in the winter, a bad situation can change to deadly in minutes. I am an active member on the Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue team [in Maine], and I hope my time on this team can help make these mountains safer for everyone.

In a perfect world …

… mosquitoes wouldn’t exist. What an awful insect.

Most surprising hobby:

I make axes. I use them all summer long.

If I could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, it would be …

… my grandfathers. I never knew either of them, but they seem like incredible men.

My biggest influence:

My family. They’ve encouraged me to follow my dreams, and have been there to support me along the way.

Post-Dickinson plans:

My plan immediately following Dickinson is to take a few years to travel and experience life. After a few years, I plan to go back to school and get a master’s degree in natural-resource management. Way down the road, I could see myself working for the U.S. Forest Service, Nature Conservancy, Appalachian Mountain Club and other organizations of this nature.

Sam Kilburn '17

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Published February 18, 2015