Nick Wilkes


AMGA Single Pitch Instructor
AMGA Climbing Wall Instructor (Lead)
ACA SUP Instructor
ACA LII Sea Kayak Instructor
Wilderness First Responder

I was born and raised in Vernon, Wisconsin, amidst forests, farms, and marshlands. I spent my youth rambling outside with my two younger brothers, building forts, shooting homemade bows and arrows, and catching crawfish and garter snakes. As long as we came home by supper time, Mom and Dad granted wide latitude, for which I am forever grateful. Senior year of high school, a major car accident forced me to switch from running-intensive team sports to slower athletic pursuits. Fortunately, college was the perfect place to transition to outdoor sports, and the Hoofer Outing Club at UW-Madison helped me become an able outdoor recreationist. I did my first climbing, backpacking, snowshoeing, and whitewater paddling my freshman year, and I soon dedicated my education to outdoor adventure. I found jobs teaching canyoneering, rock climbing, sailing, paddling, wilderness travel, and co-led Adventure Learning Programs, a UW organization that facilitates team-building and leadership workshops. Life was good.

After undergrad, I studied field science and biology education at Teton Science School in Jackson Hole, and Antioch New England Graduate School in New Hampshire. Along the way, I met incredible friends, students, and mentors, people who taught me how to identify important moments, ask open questions, and set high standards for myself. Graduate school was worth every cent of tuition (and interest) I paid for it.

In 2004, I moved to Springdale, Utah, to help my friend and mentor, Jonathan Zambella, grow the guiding department at Zion Adventure Company. Over six seasons, our Guide Corps quintupled in size, bringing all the joys, challenges, and great satisfactions that come with such an effort. While at ZAC, I had the great honor of leading over 750 field days of canyoneering, rock climbing, mountain biking, and desert hiking with the best clients in the world.

After much soul-searching, my wife and I moved back to Madison in 2010. We moved here to start a family, push down some roots, and make a home here. The West may be best when it comes to mountains and spectacular scenery, but nothing beats Wisconsin for seasonal wonder, character-building weather, and friendly, down-to-earth people. When I'm not climbing in the off-season, I also work as a photographer in Madison, WI and design websites with Isthmus Design.