Richard Fisher - photographer, climber, river runner and wilderness guide
“For many years, the Yarlung Zangbo in eastern Tibet was known to be among the deepest valleys in the world. Its inaccessibility meant that its depth could not be directly measured—until 1993, when, after 10 years of trying, explorer Richard Fisher obtained the permits he needed to visit the area. British botanist Francis Kingdon Ward explored the Yarlung Zangbo at the beginning of the century, but no other Westerners were able to do so until Fisher led his expedition there.” (Guinness Book of Records, 1996).
I was born in Washington, DC, in 1952 and brought up in Indiana, Texas and California , but mostly in the canyon state of Arizona. From my earliest years, I was inspired by legends of a young man from the hills of Judea who bounced rocks off lions stalking his goats and, as he grew older, hunted giants with his slingshot. In later years, my inspiration came from the biography of Crazy Horse, the great Sioux chief who invested his efforts protecting his people and their life ways.
One day as a boy of 16 I discovered that if I could find water in the hidden canyons, I could enjoy and learn from nature year-round in Arizona’s hot deserts. In a revelation in the late ’70s, I realized that many of the most fantastic canyonlands in Arizona and Utah had never been professionally photographed—and, in the ’80s and ’90s, that this was true of canyons worldwide. This opened up a career of incredible cultural, geographical and historical discoveries. I found my vocation during my college years, when I discovered the Tarahumara Indians in the nearby Copper Canyon of Mexico’s Sierra Madre who still ran races of more than 100 miles, outlaw cowboys riding tough mules who made their living by growing hemp and women who still made their daily bread by hand. This was the life for me. I eventually experienced this lifestyle in canyonlands worldwide and brought the stories home to share.
From 1979 to 1994, I embarked on a program of intensive outdoor study and adventure that began with a solo ascent of Mount Orizaba, the third highest peak in North America at 18,800 feet. In 1982, I climbed Aconcagua solo, the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere at 23,000 feet. From 1986 to 1994, I logged first descents by raft of the Urique, Sinforosa, Aros, Canchos canyons in Mexico, and, in 1994, the Yarlung Tsangpo River in Tibet. These are all 4-6 class rivers. During this same time, I soloed or lead large groups on rivers such as the Yampa and Cross Mountain, Middle Fork of the Salmon, Dolores, San Juan, West Water, Grand Canyon, Upper Upper Salt and Middle Gila Box.
My publishing career began in 1982, when the editor of Arizona Highways magazine contacted me on an urgent matter concerning my photography of West Clear Creek. This canyon was being considered for national wilderness designation by the U.S. Congress, and no one had any photographs at all. Following my article, the canyon was subsequently designated a National Wilderness Area. My career has followed this path on a national and international basis since. As a journalist, my objective since 1990 has been to document photographically the earth’s deepest canyons and record ancient tribal knowledge before these landscapes are lost to development, and the native peoples absorbed.
Beginning in the American Southwest, I expanded into the extensive canyonlands of Mexico, Bolivia, China, the United States, Tibet, Greece, Ethiopia, Australia, Spain, France, Namibia, South Africa, Venezuela, Bosnia, Monte Negro, Corsica and Crimea. While doing so, I have guided more than 1,000 special people on five continents—deaf, blind, juvenile delinquents, Native American youth and educational groups. Guiding, combined with photography, led to the publication of seven books, including Copper Canyon Mexico, and more than 100 articles in five languages in such magazines as Arizona Highways, Sierra, National Geographic, Outside, Reader’s Digest and Smithsonian.
I have been very fortunate to be the first American to explore the earth’s deepest canyon in Tibet; help the canyons of the Mogollon Rim, like West Clear Creek, to get National Wilderness designation; discover and sponsor the only championship ultra long-distance Tarahumara Indian racing team (and deliver more than 175 tons of famine relief since 1992); discover and document the geographical location of the River Styx and the mythical land of Hades in Greece; to photographically document the largest crystals ever discovered in Chihuahua, Mexico; to reconnect the ancient knowledge of the Hohokam and the Anasazi of the Chaco Canyon to the scientific world of archaeology; and to complete the first comprehensive documentary of all of earth’s great canyons. I feel honored and blessed to have been “chosen” to make these six significant discoveries and/or additions to human knowledge.
During all of these expeditions, I lead more than 1,000 people in some of the most dangerous environments on six continents and never lost a soul. I always put people ahead of ego and safety before material objectives. This is ultimately what made me successful. Having led blind children more than 30 miles to the bottom of the Grand Canyon at Havasupai, spent many weeks alone with hardened juvenile murderers and rapists in the Salome Wilderness and led several people who had never walked more than 18 holes of golf around Namche Barwa Peak through the Tsangpo Gorge in Tibet, without major incident this is, in many ways, my most significant accomplishment.
To be an explorer, one must imagine, conceptualize, recognize, document, publish, defend and ultimately survive the challenges of your critics. Explorers Club FN97.
click here for an extended Biography -
Richard D. Fisher - Narrative Account of his Career
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RICHARD FISHER is a name synonymous with canyons. He has a Bachelor of Science in education from the University of Arizona. As a freelance photographer, climber, river runner and wilderness guide he’s stacked up many first descents. He has dedicated his life to the preservation and sharing of canyon environments and cultures around the world.
Rick has a daughter, Mariah Sierra Williams Fisher, and lives in Tucson, Arizona.