John Crabbe Cunningham

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John Crabbe Cunningham
Born 1927
Died 31 January 1980 (aged 52–53)
Anglesey, Holyhead
Cause of death Drowning
Spouse(s) Married

John Crabbe Cunningham (1927 – 31 January 1980) was a Scottish climber. Born in Glasgow, he climbed extensively in the Scottish mountains, where he pioneered new techniques of ice climbing.[1][2]

For several years, he worked for the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) of the British Antarctic Territory (BAT). On 23 November 1964, he became the first to climb Antarctica's Mount Jackson.[3][4] In 1960–61, he was a member of the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey,[5] serving as Station Commander at Stonington Island in 1962–63. He was a member of the British Antarctic Survey, and was Station Commander of Adelaide Island in 1964–65. He was also a member of the South Georgia Survey of 1955–56. He died after a climbing accident off "sea-cliffs" of mountains of Holyhead on 31 January 1980, when was carried away by sea waves to his death as he did not know how to swim.[6][7]

Professional years[edit]

During the 1950s and '60s, Cunningham went to New Zealand, India and Antarctica. He wanted to climb to Mt. Everest, and in 1953 he had gone to Nepal via India with Dr. Hamish MacInnes, also a Scottish mountaineer, to start his climb. However, Hillary and Tenzing had made it to the top of Mount Everest before he could begin.[7]

He then started his career with the British Antarctic Survey. He was the base leader at Adelaide Island. In the 1970s, after he returned to Scotland, he became an instructor at the Glenmore Lodge near Aviemore. In this capacity he perfected innovations in techniques for front point cramponing and use of curved pick ice axes on steep sloping ice.[7] He had used this front point technique while working in Antarctica on icebergs and cliffs with a slope of 70 to 90 degrees.[1] In 1976 he became an instructor at I M Marsh Campus in Liverpool.[7] In 1980, he took his students for practical instruction on climbing to the South Stack cliffs on Anglesey. Here he drowned on 31 January 1980 after being swept into the sea, as he did not know how to swim. His students survived.[7]


Cunningham is the namesake of Mount Cunningham (1,220 metres (4,000 ft)) in the Queen Maud Bay at the southern end of South Georgia,[6][7] His biography, titled Creagh Dhu Climber, the life and times of John Cunningham, was published by Ernest Press.[8][9]


  1. ^ a b Cunningham, John; March, Bill. "New ice climbing techniques and equipment" (PDF). Alpine Journal: 75–79. 
  2. ^ "Old Climbers & Bold Climbers: A brief history of northern Cairngorm climbing". BBC. Retrieved 13 September 2011. 
  3. ^ "Mountaineers and Skiers in British Antarctic Territory Place-names" (pdf). Alpine Journal Org. Retrieved 27 December 2012. Of the many young mountaineers that have served at the BAS stations over the years, space allows mention of only two. J. C. Cunningham (1927–80)...on 23 November 1964 he led the first ascent of Mount Jackson, Palmer Land (3180m); the highest peak in the BAT 
  4. ^ "Exploring the Frozen World" (pdf). Mountain World, Climb ascent... [of] the highest mountain in the entire Peninsula, Mt Jackson at 3,188 metres (10,459 ft) well to the south in remote Palmer Land, fell to the notorious Scot, John Cunningham, in 1964 
  5. ^ R K Headland (1989). Chronological List of Antarctic Expeditions and Related Historical Events. [Mit Abb.] (1. Publ.) – Cambridge [usw.]: Cambridge Univ. Press (1989). 730 S. 8°. Cambridge University Press. pp. 395, 413–. ISBN 978-0-521-30903-5. Retrieved 27 December 2012. 
  6. ^ a b Hattersley-Smith, G. (1988). "Mountaineers and Skiers in British Antarctic Territory Place-names" (PDF). The Alpine Journal: 190. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f "Hard Man of the Hills". Herald Scotland: The Herald. Retrieved 28 December 2012. 
  8. ^ Connor, John (1999). Creagh Dhu Climber, the life and times of John Cunningham. Ernest Press. ISBN 978-0-948153-54-9. 
  9. ^ "Mount Cunningham". Mountains mounts. Retrieved 13 September 2011.