Octogenarian’s love for his ailing wife is bigger than any mountain

An 81-year-old man, whose enduring love for his ailing wife has inspired him to climb all of Scotland’s 282 Munros, has struck up a remarkable friendship with a counsellor who specialises in mental health and addiction.

Retired teacher and passionate mountaineer Nick Gardner was devastated when he could no longer look after his soulmate Janet – who has Alzheimer’s and osteoporosis – as her health declined and she had to move into full-time care,

He set himself the challenge not only to raise funds for Alzheimer Scotland and The Royal Osteoporosis Charity, but to boost his mental health and wellbeing as he grieved the loss of the cherished life he shared with his beloved Janet.

“I couldn’t look after Janet anymore and I was so upset and it felt like life was over. I was absolutely bereft,” explained Nick.

“I knew that I had to find a focus on something to give me a reason to get up each day, to give me back a sense of purpose, something that would last a long time. I needed a real challenge.

“Initially, the impetus was completely for my own benefit, my own mental health. Then, by chance I read an article about a daughter of an Alzheimer’s sufferer who had set out to walk and raise £10,000 to give back to the charity that had helped her mum and the idea was born.”

Setting out last August, Nick originally set himself a fundraising target of £10,000 and began climbing and chatting to other lovers of the great outdoors while hiking. On hearing his moving story, they would hand him cash or make an online donation.

Among those who met Nick along the way and were inspired by his gritty determination was Lanark-based life coach Ross Hyslop, an advocate for the healing powers of nature and a believer that daily, cold water dips and mountain climbing can banish negative feelings and nurture a sense of wellbeing.

Ross Hyslop recharges his batteries on tops of mountains

“I was just so blown away with Nick,” said 48-year-old Ross, of Lanark, who is in the process of launching a new enterprise, Scout and About, which combines counselling with climbing Munros and camping out under the skies.

Through his new venture, Ross aims to help recovering addicts find a new direction in life by taking them out into nature.

He continued: “I am totally inspired by Nick’s quiet determination and his steady, strong pace. Nick has become a mentor and good friend. We regularly hook up for climbs and all of my team have completely fallen in love with him. He regularly gets recognised on climbs now and is generous with his advice and encouragement with novice climbers, too.”

Ten months since he pulled on his walking boots for the two charities, Nick has bagged 87 Munros – and has raised a whopping £26,355.

As part of Mental Health Awareness Month, pals Nick and Ross are heading up a team of 20 climbers this weekend to complete the Three Peak Challenge to boost Nick’s fundraising total and smash his current target of £28,200.

Octogenarian's love for his ailing wife is bigger than any mountain
Nick Gardner and wife Janet

The climb is the latest in a series of quests that have helped Nick to cope with how her illness has robbed him of Janet, who is now being cared for at Isle View Care Home in Aultbae, Wester Ross.

His time in the mountains allows him to reflect on the precious time he shared with his wife, whom he describes as the love of his life, since they met through mutual friends in 1972.

Having each been married before, the couple – who had four children between them – craved a similar lifestyle in Nick’s beloved Scotland. So, when their family flew the nest, Nick and Janet uprooted from Stockport to a 10-acre croft, where they lived for an “idyllic” 30 years together before Janet’s condition deteriorated.

Nick, who fell in love with Scotland as a student at St Andrews University, said: “Janet and I had 30 wonderful years together and the sadness I have felt has been overwhelming. I lost my soulmate.

“Losing Janet has been the biggest mountain I have had to climb. My 282 Munros challenge has given me a great focus. The Three Peak Challenge is to raise funds and awareness about what we can do to carry on and how to look after our mental health. I am so grateful for all the support and new friends I have made along the way.”

Octogenarian's love for his ailing wife is bigger than any mountain
Nick Gardner finds solace in the mountains

Starting at Ben Nevis car park at 5pm this afternoon, Nick, Ross and the team will be climbing Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon within 24 hours to raise more vital cash for Alzheimers Scotland and The Royal Osteoporosis Charity.

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