Climber (82) from Gairloch, Wester Ross approaches summit of epic Munro challenge in aid of Alzheimer Scotland and the Royal Osteoporosis Society
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An octogenarian who set out to conquer all of Scotland’s Munro mountains is nearing his final summit.
Nick Gardner (82), from the Gairloch area of Wester Ross, began climbing the 282 peaks over 3000 feet back in 2020 after beloved wife of 50 years, Janet, moved into a care home.
As her Alzheimer’s and osteoporosis conditions deteriorated, the retired schoolteacher was left feeling bereft and directionless.
Fearing for his mental wellbeing without a focus in life, the idea dawned that he could draw on a lifelong love of the hills and channel his grief into something positive.
The intrepid pensioner has since picked off 278 Munros and, with seven to go, hopes to complete the last – Cairngorm – on Saturday, August 13.
His penultimate three, on Knoydart, will be completed this weekend.
By the time the grandfather of four finishes, he will have scaled more than 500,000ft (152,000m), the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest 17 times.
He will also have hiked 2000 miles, a similar distance to walking from Edinburgh to Greece.
“It feels unbelievable to be close to finishing. I’m so excited,” Mr Gardner said.
“At the outset, the challenge seemed so difficult, the chance of succeeding I thought was quite small. I remember thinking ‘no, this is far too much’.
“What swayed me to give it a go was the realisation that the important thing wasn’t completing the challenge, it was attempting it.”
Strangers encountered at great heights have become close friends and regular climbing companions through an unforgettable, life-enhancing experience.
“As it has gone on, the number of supporters has increased and a nucleus of about 10 or 12 people have become very good friends,” Mr Gardner said.
“I always climb with somebody, although a couple of times I’ve gone solo when arrangements fell through.
“It has been a fantastic way to meet like-minded people.
“The one thing that bothered me was that I might not enjoy it. I’ve been a mountaineer all my life and mountains are absolutely wonderful, so therapeutic and I didn’t want to lose that love.
“But I’ve actually enjoyed it more and more as I’ve gone on.
“As a little boy I dreamt about the mountains. It is obviously in my blood somewhere.”
Aside from the sense of achievement, the challenge has recently smashed through the £50,000 total for Alzheimer’s and osteoporosis charities, above an original £10,000 target.
“The money raised has been an absolute surprise to me,” Mr Gardner said. “I never expected such support.
“What has happened to Janet is very upsetting. She doesn’t know me any more. At the moment I feel OK, but sometimes when people ask how she is I can’t control my tears.
“But I do know the healthy Janet, before all of this, would have been very proud. She was the most loving and caring wife, mother and grandmother.
“When Janet went into care, I just didn’t know what to do. It knocked me for six. I knew I needed something to focus on and this is what I chose.
“Whether or not I succeed, doesn’t make any difference to this point – doing it has helped me immeasurably.”
Completing his final Munro is likely to be an overwhelming experience, shared with friends.
“The only thing that can really go wrong now is me injuring myself,” Mr Gardner said.
“So far, I’ve had no real mishaps. Something is wrong with one of my knees, but strangely it doesn’t hurt and has never stopped me.
“I feel very fit. A few weeks ago, I was walking for 13 hours and felt very tired by the end. Then I thought, I’m 82 – I’m entitled to be tired!
“How will I feel on that final climb? I think I’ll be emotional.
“I did the Cuillin Ridge about three weeks ago, the most amazing mountaineering experience you can have in Britain. I was up there for three nights, bivvying, and when I completed it I burst into tears as it is so demanding.
“So I think I will be emotional by the final climb, but I’m not going to stop after that.
“I still need focus and I’m planning to walk the great Devon and Cornwall coastal path.”
You can donate here to Nick's fundraising for Alzheimer Scotland and the Royal Osteoporosis Society.