October 22, 2022 7 min read
It's safe to say that Nick Gardner is a huge inspiration to all of us, and we're so excited to share his story with all of you. The grandfather-of-four turned 80 years old in April 2020 and made it his mission to climb all 282 Munros (Scottish mountains over 3000 feet) in 1200 days. Now, just over two years later, Nick has bagged his final Munro with more than 150 friends, family and supporters who walked with him on his final ascent.
Along the way, he’s been raising money for Alzheimer Scotland and the Royal Osteoporosis Society after his beloved wife Janet was sadly diagnosed with both Alzeimer’s Disease and Osteoporosis. He’s managed to raise an astounding £82000 so far, and he will continue to fundraise for the rest of his life. We’ve absolutely loved following his journey, and have repeatedly come across people who were lucky enough to bump into him and chat to him along the way. We're so grateful for the opportunity to catch up with Nick following this epic challenge. I absolutely loved chatting with him.
We’ve all been following your journey and have spoken to various people who have encountered you on Munros. We’re hugely inspired by what you’ve achieved. What was your inspiration for taking on this challenge?
I’ve been a climber all my life and I’m passionate about being in the mountains. As a result of that, together with my interest and Janet’s interest in living a simple life. We both gave up jobs and moved to Wester Ross, where I'm living now. We've got the best mountains in Britain, arguably, I’m sure most people agree Whereas I had always intended to climb all the Monros in the past, I never got around to it because I don't particularly like driving. And so I just repeatedly climbed the local peaks, there’s a lot of them there’s probably 100 altogether, where I wouldn't have to do a lot of driving. That explains why I've been a climber but not climbed Munros. Now, when Janet got Alzheimer's, it wasn't so much when she got it, because I knew something was wrong, obviously, it was when she deteriorated so much, and couldn't look after and she went into care. That's what knocked me for six, when I couldn't look after. So I just thought I had to do a challenge, I had to find something to focus on. And so I thought, right, well I’m a climber, let’s climb all the Munros. I know it was a tall order, because as far as I knew, no eighty-year-old had ever done them starting as an eighty-year-old. So the inspiration was, for me, very personal. I had to do something to look after my own mental health. And so that was the start of it. Doing something that I enjoyed is going to occupy me for a long time, because obviously when your partner's got Alzheimer's, it's not just a week or two or a month or two. It's years. Because I mean, that was three years ago. She's still alive, but she doesn't know me anymore. And so the main inspiration for it was me needing to get a focus.
There were other bits of inspiration, one of which was from an Alzheimer’s magazine. A couple of years ago there was a story of a young woman from Motherwell I think climbing 20 Munros, in memory of her grandfather. And so that was something I realised, well, yes, I could do that. And so the initial inspiration was for me, and then doing it for the charities came very soon afterwards.
Huge congratulations for completing the challenge of climbing all 282 Munros and raising over £80,000 for Alzheimer Scotland and the Royal Osteoporosis Society. It’s really amazing to see how much money you've actually raised.
Thank you so much. I couldn't quite believe it. I honestly, really, honestly thought 10 grand would be about right. But to get 80 grand is just unbelievable.
What do you love about climbing Mountains?
They hold a fascination for me like nothing else I’ve experienced. I've always fancied it even as a little boy. I loved looking at pictures of mountains and asking my parents to take me to a mountain and so on. I’m from Leicestershire and there's not many mountains down there. My parents took me to one of the Hillier bits in Leicestershire. I remember being disappointed because I was expecting the Matterhorn you see, I've seen pictures of the Matterhorn. So it’s sort of in the blood. I just find it so relaxing, and so powerful. The sort of feeling in the mountains and a lot of climbers say this as well, I'm not a religious person, but this is one of the Psalms quotations - ‘I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.’ And they say that being in mountains provides some spiritual satisfaction. I really do believe that and loads of people have said this as well.
Is there a defining moment that ignited your love for hillwalking?
Going to an Outward Bound mountain school when I was 17 is what started it off. It would have happened at any time through joining the University mountaineering club. Could have happened a few times. But yeah, I've just always loved being in mountains. Munros are just this particular group of mountains that happen to be over 3000 feet but there's plenty of lovely mountains, which are less than that.
What are your favourite mountains to climb?
Well, one of them has gone to the local one, An Teallach because the lovely Mountain is actually a mini mountain range, there are two Munros on it. There are about six other summits as well. My favourite has to be Skye. The peaks on Skye are just so wonderful. So really, it's An Teallach and Skye. If I had to choose a specific one I’d find it quite difficult because there are so many really good ones.
I hope a lot of other people do go climbing and can get the benefits that I’ve got. I’ve taken on this challenge to benefit me because I needed something to focus on. It’s definitely worked. It obviously hasn’t solved the problem with Janet, but it’s helped me deal with it. And that to me is the important message that comes out of it.
That’s really amazing. Is there a particular mountain that you found the most difficult?
On Skye. The mountains there are amazing geologically. You've going to be very experienced to go on them. Although I had climbed them a lot in the past, being old and my balance isn't as good frightened me because it was so craggy. I took a guide which was worth it. From a mountaineering experience, the most difficult has got to be the Cuillins. The whole range is so spectacular.
The Munro challenge couldn’t have been easy! Did you come across any major obstacles or challenges along the way?
No. The weather was the biggest challenge. Arranging to go with other people and then bad weather comes along. That's made things difficult. But not difficult from a climbing point of view. There's no problem there at all, except on Skye when I got frightened. That's what made me take as a guide to do it.
Did you learn anything in particular along the way during the challenge? Or was there anything that surprised you?
Well, we're always learning. It's more of a reinforcement. Firstly, the mountains are very dangerous places, but they can give sustenance. This is a point which I do want to explore. I've been asked to give a talk at the Kendal Film Festival, in November. This is where I'm going to push it. I think we can learn to get a lot of sustenance for mental conditions. Going on mountains can help. It's helped me. Because COVID came, and I wasn't even allowed to visit my wife. And that was barbaric. That was awful. Whoever saw to those regulations, it was just appalling. I know, I know why they did it. But I think it was completely overdone. I think being in mountains can help a great deal. But it doesn't have to be the big mountains, smaller hills will do. Just out walking, but serious walking, not just walking, having a stroll for two or three miles. I mean, walking all day. So I think there are benefits to be gained. I think I've learned that people with mental problems, as long as they can be encouraged or guided into doing these sorts of things in the mountains can have a lot of benefits. I think that's what I've learned most of all, the benefits to the mental health of doing this sort of thing is considerable. Whether it will work for everybody, of course, I don't know. I can't comment on that one. I think the NHS could use this a lot more, instead of giving pills to people, they should encourage them to get out. I mean, I love going over quite difficult mountains. But that's a very personal thing. You don't have to do that. But it's just getting out in the wild places which I find so therapeutic and it works for me so I think that could be a basis here for the health service to take on board. Once you realise the benefits of it, you won’t want to stop doing it.
My final question is, do you have any more adventures or challenges on the cards?
Yes, but they’re just on hold is a minute because I’ve got a bit of knee trouble and I don't know what's wrong. I am still going on the hills but I don't want to actually arrange anything as a part of the challenge. I'm climbing tomorrow so I just want to find out exactly what's wrong with my knee. I don't think it's serious. But this walk I did have my eye on but I mean, I won't be doing it now is the Appalachian Trail in North America. I think that's just a bit too big. But I'm interested in the West Highland Way and also the Devon and Cornwall coastal path has another interest. I'm not arranging anything just yet I just want to see how this knee problem works out.
I'm not going to stop fundraising for the charities. Because that's another thing that surprised me actually. That I have enjoyed fundraising. I didn't think I would. When I first started it, I didn't think I'd enjoy the process of fundraising. But I have done. I’m recognised on the hills now, people seem to like meeting me and it’s all on Instagram which my Daughter handles. It’s quite thrilling when I see people on the hill and they oh it’s Nick! That’s happened increasingly now because I’m getting more and more known. I find that quite enjoyable. I’ve very lucky my knees have lasted as long as this.
Thank you so much to Nick for taking the time to chat to us, you are truly inspiring! You can donate to his JustGiving page here.
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