“I’m no hero. I’m just an ordinary bloke.”
The mission that Nick Gardner has undertaken is far from ordinary, as Scotland’s many peaks challenge even younger mountaineers. The serpentine routes twist up and down the mountains, often alongside sheer precipices, and Nick regularly spends the night outside in his sleeping bag. His goal of scaling these summits stems from the time his wife was diagnosed with serious, life-changing illnesses.
After thirty years of marriage, Janet – the love of Nick’s life – was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, the most common form of dementia. Nick devoted himself to taking care of his wife, but he reached the point that it was no longer possible. “I was devastated that I was unable to look after Janet at home,” says Nick. “I tried my best in the circumstances at that time, but on reflection and further understanding of the illness, I believe that the Dementia caused such a change in her behavior that I didn’t know how to respond. The illness progressed quickly, and it was decided that hospitalization was necessary.”
Since 2002, Janet had been suffering from osteoporosis, a deterioration of bone density. The couple had a very close relationship, and this has been a devastating time for Nick. He visits Janet as often as possible, and they spend quality time together.
At eighty years old, Nick has set himself a challenge that combines his love of the mountains with supporting the charities that Janet has benefitted from.
© Scott Jackson Photography (scojackson.com)
After Janet was admitted to the hospital, Nick realized that he had to look after himself and do something to fill the void. He would go walking in the local area at first, but he found himself increasingly drawn to the mountains. As he approached his 80th birthday in April 2020, Nick decided to challenge himself to climb all the Munros over a period of 3 years. In doing so, he is combining his love of the mountains with supporting the charities that Janet has benefitted from. As soon as he made this decision, Nick discovered a strength within him he never imagined he had: “Climbing the mountains has been my savior in coping with my emotional problems. I still think of Janet when l am on the hills, but l can rationalize it and enjoy my time climbing.”
A dream of the Scottish mountains
Ever since he was a child, Nick has dreamt about Scotland’s legendary mountains. He wanted to live there one day, but his path took him elsewhere. He became a teacher, got married, and led a normal life until he eventually discovered true happiness in his second marriage. When Nick told Janet about his dream, he found a kindred spirit.
The couple moved to the Highlands in the north of Scotland, a landscape characterized by mountainous areas and moorland. Nick and Janet bought a house in the northwest Highlands, and together they became as self-sufficient as possible, sharing both a love of nature and a commitment to sustainability.
“Janet has been the most wonderful and caring wife, mother, and grandmother possible, and I am eternally grateful that l fell in love with her,” Nick says.
In helping to fill the void in his life while supporting a greater cause, Nick inspires others. Word has got around of the eighty-year-old with the iron will, and people are supporting him, donating to the charities, and joining him on his expeditions.
A journey of self-discovery
“This support and encouragement are giving me so much impetus to continue with my challenge.” He finds peace and calm in the mountains, which helps him cope with the worries of daily life.
Scotland’s raw beauty
The mountains’ barren expanses and wild beauty have held a magical attraction since time immemorial. “I’d always been completely enchanted with the Scottish mountains since I was at university in St Andrews,” Nick says. A Munro is a Scottish mountain that is more than 3,000 feet (around 915 meters) high. The name comes from Sir Hugh Munro, who counted all of these mountains in 1891, but ‘only’ managed to climb 280 of them. Now, 130 years later, Nick aims to climb them all.
“I’ve already met so many wonderful people in the mountains.”
Public support keeps him going
Tomorrow, Nick will pack his rucksack, put on his waterproof climbing clothes, and set out to scale a peak or two once again. Where does he find the strength?
“It’s the donations and support from wonderful people that keep me going!”
Nick’s challenge is raising money for two UK charities, Alzheimer’s Scotland and the Royal Osteoporosis Society, and all the money raised is split equally between them. “I want to raise money to help others suffering from these terrible diseases,” Nick says.
If you would like to find out more about Nick Gardner and support his Munro challenge, please click here.
*Many thanks to Jay Golin for providing the audio quote.
“Climbing the mountains has been my savior in coping with my emotional problems.”
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