John Crabbe Cunningham was born in Duke Street, Glasgow in 1927. At the age of 17, he became a member of the Creagh Dhu Mountaineering Club. He visited New Zealand, the Himalayas, Antarctica and Nepal rock climbing and spent many years working for the British Antarctic Survey. He was a student at Jordanhill College of Education from 1965 to 1967, studying a youth leaders' course.
Cunningham was killed in 1980, when a wave swept him to his death below the sea cliffs at Anglesey.