Nick Gardner’s Munro challenge of a lifetime

Morag Bootland speaks to the remarkable Nick Gardner about his mountaineering challenge.

I’VE heard some incredible tales of adventure, tragedy, and love in my years as a journalist. But few have touched me as deeply as Nick Gardner’s real life love story.

Nick is now 82, and has spent the last two years of his life climbing mountains. At the time of writing, he is just four mountains short of climbing every Munro in Scotland. Three in Knoydart remain and then the crowning glory, Cairn Gorm, which I have no doubt he will have scaled by the time the sun sets on Saturday 13 August.

Nick has always loved to climb, in fact he moved to Gairloch in order to be able to spend more time in what he describes as ‘the finest mountains in Britain’. But he was never a Munro bagger until, at 80 years of age, he set himself the challenge to climb them all.

But as much as he loves being in the mountains, it was the love for his wife Janet that was the catalyst for this extraordinary adventure. Nick and his wife Janet have been together for 50 years, but just over two years ago she was taken into care. Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and Osteoporosis, Nick was no longer able to look after her.

‘When I couldn’t look after Janet anymore it really knocked me for six’, says Nick. ‘I realised that I had to do something to refocus my life. Janet doesn’t recognise me and she can’t walk or talk, it’s just a dreadful existence. The initial impetus for the challenge was about me, because I knew I was heading into some sort of mental problem and I had to do something about it.

‘But, soon afterwards I decided that if I was climbing all of the Munros I might be able to collect money for charities and it has really taken over my life. I’m very reliant on climbing now as an antidote to the problems with Janet. It doesn’t solve them but it enables me to cope.’

Nick and Janet

Nick is devoted to Janet and visits her every day that he is not climbing, although he finds it very upsetting when there is no response. ‘I’m on my own with that particular problem, but I’ve met so many lovely people through doing this challenge that I feel that I have so many more friends now,’ he tells me. ‘I’m at two emotional extremes. One is having to see Janet like that and the other is the elation of still being able to climb mountains.’

Nick tells me that the sheer stamina required to climb some of Scotland’s mountains is incredibly tough. His highlight so far has been climbing the notorious Cuillin Ridge on Skye. ‘I was quite chuffed to have done it,’ he says. ‘It’s many a mountaineer’s dream and I’ve done it as an 80-year-old. You do need some technical ability in rock climbing. The main ridge has 11 Munros, but there’s another one just adjacent to it and climbing that one is called doing the Greater Traverse. I’ve done that one too. It took me three days. I felt equally elated and knackered afterwards!’

Nick has currently raised over £52,000 for Alzheimer Scotland and the Royal Osteoporosis Society and despite his original target being £10,000, the money is still rolling in. ‘Hillwalkers, collectively, are just such lovely people’, says Nick. ‘They are so willing to give.’

Nick is planning to climb Cairn Gorm with around 100 friends, family and people who have helped him out along the way and will be celebrating in Aviemore when he finishes. But despite being so close to completing his incredible challenge, he’s not ready to hang up his hiking boots quite yet.

‘I’ll keep on climbing as long as my knees let me and I’ll keep collecting for charities of course.’

You can follow the rest of Nick’s love story on Instagram (nicks.munro.challenge) and Facebook (nick.gardner.nmc1200), or donate at

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