Pick peaks within your ability, climbers urged

by Koichi Tsujimura

Kyodo

Now that it’s summer climbing season, police and rescue teams are urging potential climbers to choose mountains and routes appropriate for their ability and strength amid an increase in mountain accidents.

The National Police Agency said 2,465 people were involved in mountain accidents last year, up from 2,204 the previous year, with people aged 60 or older accounting for about half of the total.

By prefecture, Nagano, where the Northern Alps and the Yatsugatake Mountains are located, saw the most accidents at 254 as well as the most people involved at 279.

Of last year’s accidents, 62.2 percent involved people falling, while 9.8 percent were due to illness, according to statistics compiled by the Nagano Prefectural Police.

Among the 50 confirmed and presumed fatalities in 2012, more than half were men aged 60 or older.

By season, a little less than half of the accidents, or 46.1 percent, occurred in July and August, according to the police.

“In a number of cases, climbers became too exhausted to move and fell as a result,” said Shigeyuki Ichinoseki, president of Nihon Hiyo Hosho SSI Inc., a mountain insurance company based in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture.

As of the end of March, the number of people enrolled in the company’s insurance services came to roughly 30,000, or 2.6 times the level of three years ago, the insurer said.

The prefectural police said climbers should choose mountains they believe they are capable of climbing instead of those they want to climb.

They must also make thorough preparations, including physical conditioning, and amass the proper equipment and knowledge. It is likewise imperative they tell family, friends or colleagues about their climbing plans.

Noting that many accidents occur when climbers descend mountains, Shigeo Miyazaki, head of the prefectural police’s mountain rescue team, said: “In mountaineering, your goal should not be to reach the summit, but to descend the mountain safely. You should regard the top as a mere passing point.”

To help reduce accidents, the prefecture’s climbing education center, based in the city of Omachi, organized a mountaineering class at the end of May to teach potential climbers how to make climbing plans and proper decisions regarding weather, as well as how to trek in snowy conditions.

Among the 10 participants, a woman in her 30s from Nara Prefecture, said: “The class helped me figure out why I slip so often. I hope there’s such a class back home.”

“By attending this class, I learned what I had missed,” said a man in his 50s from Nagano Prefecture.

The center said about 1,000 people participated in its classes for all of fiscal 2012, double from the year before. But the figure is small compared with the total number of people who climbed in the prefecture last year — 705,000.

A survey by the center in April found that many people climb alone and that many rely on the Internet or magazines for information about mountains.

“It’s important to pick up know-how and technique from experienced climbers, but relatively few people opt to join alpine clubs (where they can meet veterans),” said Hiroyasu Sugita, director of the climbing center.

“If climbers understand which mountains and routes are appropriate for them and then choose those mountains and routes, the number of accidents should drop sharply,” he said.