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‘I still can’t quite believe it!’ Wester Ross octogenarian Nick Gardner reacts as inspirational mountain exploits earn him an MBE in King’s New Year honours list.

By Alasdair Fraser

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Nick Gardner: Strong focus.
Nick Gardner: Strong focus.

An inspirational octogenarian who bagged all 282 Munros in a record-breaking charity challenge has been recognised in the King's New Year honours list.

Nick Gardner, who is 83, completed the feat in 730 days and went on to raise over £130,000 for Alzheimer Scotland and the Royal Osteoporosis Society in memory of his beloved late wife Janet.

He had originally set out to raise £10,000 and complete the climbs in 1200 days.

It was an achievement, completed last year, that many less than half his age might have struggled with - the equivalent of scaling Mount Everest 18 times while walking more than 2000 miles.

Already listed in the Guinness World Records as the oldest man to scale every Munro, the Aultbea resident and retired schoolteacher has now been awarded an MBE for what Palace officials described as a “profound” feat of endurance.

“I still can’t quite believe it,” Nick admitted. “I was actually told about six weeks ago and the letter from the Palace said I was to treat it in the strictest confidence, but they never actually told me not to tell anyone!

“I told a few friends and one of them, who knows more about these things than me, suggested I’d better not breathe another word until further notice!

“It really is incredible. I still get quite emotional, even now, thinking about it.”

JustGiving Awards 2022 held at The Camden RoundHouse, London. Here: Endurance Fundraiser of the Year: Nick Gardner
JustGiving Awards 2022 held at The Camden RoundHouse, London. Here: Endurance Fundraiser of the Year: Nick Gardner

MBEs mark outstanding achievement or service, within and to the community, which has delivered "sustained and real impact" and served as an inspiration to others.

Nick, with a longstanding love of the mountains, told how the decision to tackle Scotland’s Munros, defined as peaks over 3000 feet or 914 metres, sustained him after the mental strain of caring for Janet in deteriorating health.

The pair had moved to Gairloch in retirement through a shared love of the countryside, Nick with his passion for the mountains and Janet in her element in nature and her garden.

When his soulmate declined in health, it took a severe toll on Nick - and he came to realise he had to act to “save” himself.

While he is proud of the cash raised for charity, he makes no secret of the fact his initial motive in embracing the challenge was personal.

“If I’m being absolutely honest, the first inkling of it all was for me,” Nick said.

“I knew I was heading for a serious mental problem and subconsciously I’d decided I had to do something about it.

“As a climber much of my life I knew, for me at least, that mountains had a very strong therapeutic effect. I thought about what I could do to protect myself.

Nick Gardner
Nick Gardner

“I had moved to the north of Scotland because of my love of climbing. Janet, my second wife, loved wildlife and gardening so it was a joint venture.

“Because we lived in the north-west Highlands, close to Torridon, and I had the best hills and mountains on my doorstep and didn’t see much point in climbing Munros in Perthshire or wherever else, so I had only climbed about half of the Munros.

“I realised I’d never read of any 80-year-old doing them all. It all fitted together in my mind so I decided to go for it.

“The initial impulse was to protect my own sanity.

“I just didn’t know what to do with myself and realised I had to do something to protect myself. The initial push was for number one, but then I realised I could do it for my wife and make something of it for charity.”

Nick Gardner
Nick Gardner

Having been the main carer at earlier stages of Janet’s Alzheimer's, his wife had to eventually move into a care home.

Ironically given the remote settings, Nick’s climbing then became a lifeline to human contact.

He met many kindred spirits of all ages on his journeys, some of whom have become close friends.

There are also a great many he doesn’t know who have written to say they drew inspiration in their own lives from him.

“When I saw people were so interested in what I was doing, that rebounded in the shape of far greater support and encouragement,” he explained.

“I’ve made at least a dozen really good friends because of this and lots of others who I don’t even know.

“I get approached by people who recognise me and say I’ve inspired or helped them.

“Someone donated some money and wrote ‘from a friend you’ll never know’.

“I do intend to write a book about it. With a bit of help and guidance, I do feel a lot of people with mental health problems could benefit.”

Nick Gardner's guard of honour at the end of his quest.
Nick Gardner's guard of honour at the end of his quest.

Over a hundred people walked Cairngorm with Nick, his final Munro in August last year and he has built up a 15,000-plus following on social media which he uses to promote awareness of both charities, and the importance of the outdoors in managing mental health.

He was awarded the Just Giving endurance fundraiser of the year award and was invited to talk about the beneficial effects of walking in the mountains at the Kendal Mountain Festival.

The Palace notes on Nick added: “The physical feat he achieved is profound. The energy and endurance required to walk over two thousand miles and scale the equivalent of Everest over 18 times by an ordinary octogenarian is a testament to love and beyond measure.”

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