In memoriam: John Fischer, pioneering climber of the Eastern Sierra

John Fischer, who helped establish guiding as a profession in the United States, died June 5 when he was riding his motorcycle and struck a deer. He was 63.

John Fischer, a pioneer of climbing in the Eastern Sierra, died the morning of June 5 in Mono County, Calif., when he was riding his motorcycle and struck a deer. Fischer was 63.

According to a report in the Inyo Register, “Fischer was riding a 2009 Kawasaki Concours 14 north on U.S. 395 just south of Virginia Lakes Road at about 5:50 a.m. when he collided with a deer that had run into the roadway.” The California Highway Patrol told the Register that Fischer was killed on impact.

Climbing guide Doug Robinson credits Fischer with helping to make guiding a full-time profession in the United States. He told SNEWS® that when he and Fischer first met in the late 1950s, there were very few places to get climbing instruction. “We learned from the Sierra Club Rock Climbing Section. At the time, that was the only game in town, the only way to get formalized instruction,” said Robinson.

He and Fischer would go on to serve as guides for the Palisades School of Mountaineering, which in 1959 became the first commercial climbing school in California. Fischer eventually became the owner of the Palisades School, which, as Robinson noted, “is part of the story of guiding becoming a profession.”

Fischer and Robinson went on to do significant climbs together in the Palisades. “Probably the most significant was in 1972. We did Dark Star on Temple Crag, which at the time was the biggest Alpine climb in the High Sierra and was 30 pitches as it was first done,” said Robinson.

He said Fischer was “a totally committed climber,” and added that he was “a lot of fun to climb with. He was very venturesome, but also had a good mix of caution, which I appreciated.”

Robinson said Fischer was also noted for being extremely organized. “His organizational skills really played into him becoming an international guide, and he wound up guiding upwards of 70 expeditions outside the country, and was an early guide for Mountain Travel (now Mountain Travel Sobek),” said Robinson.

As competent as Fischer was in the mountains, he was also known as a good friend to his clients. “People also liked him because he was easygoing and loved to hang out in the pub with his clients and be their friends,” said Robinson. “His clients speak really fondly of the adventures he facilitated for them all around the world.”

People who have climbed with Fischer have posted remembrances at, and you can click here to read a thread concerning Fischer.

Click here for a SuperTopo thread about the Palisades School of Mountaineering.

Funeral services for Fischer are still being planned, and we will post more information when it is available.

–Marcus Woolf

Photos courtesy of Doug Robinson