Pioneering mountaineer and instructor in the Highlands

Born: May 22, 1953;

Died: February 5, 2019

ANDY Nisbet, who has died in a climbing accident aged 65, was a charismatic and much-loved figure in the Highlands. He spear-headed and influenced the sport of winter climbing throughout Scotland and many remote routes are now known as a ‘Nisbet route’.

Nisbet discovered the routes after careful research as to their safety. In the summer he would stride across the moors and mountains taking photographs assessing the suitability for a winter walk. “I often go to cliffs just to check them out for potential winter lines,” he admitted. Nisbet was a glorious and colourful character - with his long stringy beard and wild and unkempt hair, he was affectionately known as Honey Monster (he also had a sweet tooth!)

Above all, he was an outstanding mountaineer and in Scotland alone could claim over 1,000 first ascents in half a century of walking the hills. He had a profound knowledge and understanding of the Scottish hills and seemed to have a second sense as to the weather conditions that can make the glens so dangerous. He was an expert guide and instructor and did much to further and introduce the sport of hill-walking to climbers of all ages. He took a very real pleasure in conveying his love and enthusiasm for the Scottish hills to generations of walkers.

Earlier this month Nisbet was on Ben Hope in Sutherland, the most northerly Munro, roped to Steve Perry, a great friend and experienced climber, when they fell. One was able to alert the emergency services, but by the time they were found the following day both were dead.

Andrew Nisbet was born in Aberdeen and attended Aberdeen Grammar School where he was introduced to walking the nearby hills. He completed his first Munro at the age of six and by 19 he had bagged all of the then recognised 280. He was to repeat the achievement another four times. He read biochemistry at Aberdeen University and while there became an avid rock-climber, attending courses at Glenmore Lodge. After completing his PhD he decided, in 1982, that an academic life was not for him. Nisbet recalled, “The hills slowly took over my holidays, then my weekends, then I took time off work.”

In 1985 he went on an expedition to Mount Everest led by the Currie-born Mal Duff. The unsuccessful ascent was planned on the northeast ridge but Nisbet returned and joined Glenmore Lodge as an instructor. It was a post he was to fill with much distinction until 2008. Martin Moran who runs Moran Mountaineering at Glenmore has written, “Andy Nisbet was undoubtedly the greatest and nicest character with whom I have ever worked and climbed. He was unique and irreplaceable.”

In 1991 Nisbet led a Himalayan trekking adventure to Ramdung Go when he met his future wife Gill Ollerhead, a graduate in genetic science. They lived for the rest of their married lives in the heart of the Cairngorms at Boat of Garten. When interviewed about expeditions abroad, Nisbet replied, “climbing in Scotland is still my favourite.”

Nisbet wrote widely about climbing and contributed an impressive series of guidebooks for the Scottish Mountaineering Club, of which he was an inspirational president (2010-2012). He regularly spoke at British Mountaineering Club international meets. Through his writings he shared his expertise and love of the mountains and ensured a growing band of enthusiasts were aware of the excitement and pitfalls of climbing.

He reacted with joy to the challenge of finding ever-demanding winter routes. One particular favourite climb was the winter ascent of The Needle on Shelterstone Crag in the Cairngorms – it is hugely demanding but provides spectacular views for miles around especially Loch Avon.

Since his death, the extent of the respect in which Nisbet was held in the mountaineering community throughout Scotland has become clear. Many have called him an icon of Scottish mountaineering and say they learnt the thrill of hill-walking in a howling gale or brilliant sunshine thanks to his ability to impart his joy of the outdoors.

In 2014 he received the award for excellence in mountain culture at the Fort William Mountain Festival which, rightly, celebrated his contribution as a pioneer of mixed rock and ice climbing techniques.

Nisbet and his wife Gill often climbed in the Alps and in Scotland they established over 40 new routes. Gill died in 2006 from cancer. There were no children.

He was a magnificent character of the Scottish hills. Apart from Honey Monster he was also known as the Gig or Ginger Yeti – again a reference to the ginger hair and beard. But his friends will remember his glorious smile, laugh and unending friendship.