Golden Pitons 2013 - Community

John Ellison, center, is the founder of Climbers Against Cancer. Photo by Beau Kahler

John Ellison, center, is the founder of Climbers Against Cancer. Photo by Christian Stewart

“You can’t do anything about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth.” —John Ellison, founder of Climbers Against Cancer

Englishman John Ellison was diagnosed with cancer in late 2011 and given only a few years to live. Ellison had been judging climbing comps for about a decade, and at the world championships in Paris, nearly a year after his diagnosis, he had an epiphany: The climbing community was like a vast and yet very close family. He saw climbers and coaches from all over the world loudly cheering each other on. Surely, he thought, there must be a way to harness all that positive energy for a greater good.

Ellison, a gregarious, 50-year-old father of one, had already raised a bit of money for cancer research at climbing events, and now he broached a much bigger idea with friends Graeme Alderson, the longtime British coach and competition official, and Shauna Coxsey, a leading British boulderer. Their enthusiasm spurred Ellison on. He and another friend designed the distinctive Climbers Against Cancer logos and colorful T-shirts, and they launched the CAC fund-raising website in January 2013.

Almost overnight, those CAC shirts seemed to be everywhere, from the crags of Catalunya to the competition walls of Slovenia. The shirt sales (£15 each, or about $24) and other donations brought in more than $240,000 in just 10 months. In November, CAC ( began selling a 2014 wall calendar featuring Alex Puccio, Anna Stöhr, Alex Johnson, and other top female climbers in 1950s-style pin-up poses. In keeping with CAC’s international focus, the money is being doled out to cancer-research organizations worldwide—Australia, France, and Canada so far.

Ellison doesn’t know how much time he has left. But he has vowed to continue CAC’s mission of raising money and demystifying cancer as long as he can—and to foster a powerful international movement that will long outlive him.

More Golden Pitons:

Climb of the Year: La Dura Dura.
Breakthrough Performance: Alex Megos
Bouldering: Jimmy Webb
Traditional: Hazel Findlay
Speed: Kilian Jornet
Competition: Psicobloc

Look for the full Golden Pitons feature story, including dozens more climbs and climbers, in our February issue (Climbing 322).


Previous Comments

I think John has done amazing work, and it was the female climbers themselves who decided to do the calendar - lead by CAC Trustee Shauna Coxsey. To take this one example, which was a product of the women themselves as a way to raise money for cancer, and make a blanket statement, seems unfair. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but threatening a dying man with an "or else" seems a little over the top.

Kay - 02/03/2014 4:47:46


admin - 12/30/2013 3:54:09

I'll have to disagree with giving John Ellison and CAC a Golden Piton. For such a young NPO, CAC has made a huge misstep of using sex--provocatively-clad, exclusively-female, pro climbers--to sell calendars. What does this say to half of the climbing community? Is this the best example for girls in the sport, that when you are really good, you are nothing but a piece of flesh to be dressed up in scanty clothes to make money for other people? Ellison wrote that the climbing community " a family has so much power to deliver a message across the globe." And if selling young women is his message, regardless of the cause, I'll want no part of it. I have been donating money annually to Medecins sans Frontieres and Habitat for Humanity, and you know what? I'll keep on doing that. Climbers Against Cancer, change your tune or else.

Stacy - 12/26/2013 1:56:13