National

Record number of climbers stranded on Japanese mountains in 2017

Kyodo

A record 3,111 people became stranded on mountains last year amid a boom in the popularity of mountaineering that has led many inexperienced climbers to venture into the backcountry, a National Police Agency report showed Thursday.

The total was up 182 from the previous year while those that died or weren’t found also hit a record, up 35 to 354, the report said. The agency began compiling such data in 1961.

With the rise in inbound tourism in recent years, the number of stranded foreign climbers grew to 121, a nearly threefold increase from 2013, it said.

About half of the total number of people stranded were age 60 and over. By age group, those in their 60s accounted for 741, or 23.8 percent of the total, while those in their 70s came in at 669, or 21.5 percent. People in their 50s accounted for 14.6 percent of the total, or 455.

By region, Nagano Prefecture saw the largest number of incidents involving stranded climbers with 292, followed by Hokkaido’s 236 and Yamanashi Prefecture’s 161.

Attributing the increase in the number of alpine accidents to a lack of mountaineering knowledge, experience and physical strength among many climbers, the agency is urging people to give themselves plenty of time to complete their trips and to always climb with others.

An NPA official said foreign visitors who have become stranded tend to be unfamiliar with Japanese mountains, which are prone to drastic weather changes.

In October, a Malaysian man and a Singaporean woman, along with a Japanese couple, became stranded on Mount Asahidake in Hokkaido. They were rescued from the snowy 2,291-meter peak via helicopter after losing their way while descending the mountain. They had to spend a night outdoors in frigid temperatures but escaped without serious injuries.

Mountaineering has become a popular sport in Japan over the past several years, and the trend is reflected in the growing number of alpine incidents as well. The number of people stranded on mountains has increased 1.7 times from 10 years ago, while the number of those who died or weren’t found grew 1.4 times over the same period.

Among last year’s total, an overwhelming 2,223 people, or 71.5 percent, were mountaineering when they became stranded, while 380 people, or 12.2 percent, were hunting for wild vegetables or mushrooms.

Among foreign people who became stranded, skiing and mountaineering were the two most popular activities they engaged in.