NAGANO – Four men believed to be members of a climbing group from South Korea were found collapsed Tuesday in the Central Alps, and three were later confirmed dead, police said.
They were believed to be among nine South Koreans who were reported missing Monday. Five of the missing were confirmed safe Tuesday morning.
The three fatalities, all in their 70s, were found separately Tuesday morning on a climbing route between 2,728-meter Mount Hinokio and 2,931-meter Mount Hoken. They had suffered cardiopulmonary arrest and were later confirmed dead, the police said.
Later in the afternoon, the fourth man in the group was spotted at the bottom of a cliff on Mount Hoken. He had also suffered cardiopulmonary arrest, but it wasn’t immediately clear if he was dead, the police said, without saying whether the man had suffered a fall.
The nine people were part of a group of 14 men and six women ranging in age from their 40s to 70s. Eleven were confirmed safe Monday.
The group had planned to head Monday for Mount Hoken after having spent Sunday night in a mountain cabin. They were apparently climbing without a guide.
Among the five people who were found safe Tuesday morning, four were found together on Mount Hinokio, while one had managed to return to the cabin, the police said.
The police are looking into the possibility that the group ignored bad weather and made a precipitous decision to press on.
“It wasn’t impossible to climb up the mountain trail, but on Monday morning it was raining and the wind was strong,” an employee of a lodge on Mount Hoken said. “The weather was bad.”
According to the Japan National Tourist Organization, the number of South Koreans coming to Japan for mountaineering started to rise around 2007.
The number dropped after the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011 but has since recovered.
There are many climbing enthusiasts in South Korea, but the country has few high peaks for them to climb, JNTO officials said.
Numerous South Korean climbers try their hand in the Japan Alps, said Jusetsu Setsuda, a former chief editor at Yama-Kei Publishers Co.
The company, known for its respected magazine Yama to Keikoku (Mountain and Valley), specializes in mountaineering and climbing, and publishes material on related topics.
“I’m not sure if it is because they have a limited amount of time, but many South Korean tourists set out despite bad weather,” Setsuda said. “I’ve always thought it was dangerous.”
According to Koji Hokari, 64, who runs a lodge on Mount Yari in the southern part of the Northern Alps, the number of hikers from South Korea and other countries is up this year.
He said his inn had more than 200 lodgers in July, of which around 80 percent were South Korean. Most come in groups of around 20 climbers, with a guide, Hokari said.