By Yukako Fukushi / Yomiuri Shimbun

The summer mountain climbing season is in full swing. Although it tends to be seen as safer than winter mountaineering, the number of people involved in accidents in the summer has been increasing, especially in the past few years.

It’s important to enjoy nature in the summer after preparing sufficient clothing and supplies in your backpack, as well as determining which mountain to climb based on your stamina and experience.

According to the National Police Agency, there were 647 mountain rescues in July and August 2015, the highest number since data was first collected in 1968. Compared to the summer of 2011, the number of rescues has increased by about 30 percent.

One reason is an increase in the number of climbers. In addition to the boom in mountaineering among middle-aged and senior climbers in the past decade, mountaineering has become an accessible leisure activity even for young people, including “yama girls,” literally meaning “mountain girls” and referring to young women climbers.

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“Getting stranded and suffering from injuries due to falls is common among middle-aged and senior climbers,” said Shizuoka University Prof. Shin Murakoshi, who specializes in cognitive psychology and is familiar with mountaineering and hiking crisis management.

“In contrast, there are few cases of falling among climbers in their 20s to 40s, who have been increasing in number in the past several years,” Murakoshi added. “However, many of them get lost because they don’t carry a map or compass, or don’t know the proper way to use them.”

Along with insufficient preparation, another major cause of mountaineering accidents is overestimating one’s ability. For example, some people carelessly try to take on 2,500-meter-high mountains, despite having insufficient experience in mountaineering, because they think it will be easy in summer.

“There are a lot of rocks on high mountains, making it difficult to walk, and such conditions can easily lead to serious injuries, like bone fractures, when falling,” Murakoshi said.

“Mountain grading,” which classifies mountains in terms of two standards — 10 levels of physical requirement and five levels of technical difficulty — helps people determine which mountains suit them.

Five prefectures — Yamanashi, Shizuoka, Nagano, Niigata, and Gifu — offer similar grading, and the information is carried on their prefectural websites and distributed in booklet form.

Of those prefectures, Yamanashi Prefecture recommends the 634-meter Mt. Iwadono and 1,731-meter Mt. Amari as most suitable for beginners. There is almost no worry of sliding down the mountain even if you fall.

A staff member of the prefectural Tourist Sites and Facilities Division recommends that you “select a reasonable mountain with consideration for your stamina and experience.”

You should thoroughly prepare appropriate clothing and supplies even when climbing a mountain for beginners.

The Okutama Visitor Center — which organizes events like nature walking tours in Tokyo’s Okutama area — emphasizes being particularly aware during summer mountaineering of sudden weather changes, like evening showers, as well as heatstroke. It also urges people to make sure to bring rain gear and water.

Bring batteries along with a mobile phone or smartphone in your backpack. Lately, mobile phone reception has been expanding even in the mountains. If your device is connected, you will be able to request a rescue in an emergency and share your location with a rescuer using the global positioning system.

Registering one’s entry to a mountain and a climbing plan can provide valuable help for search efforts if a climber gets stranded. Write down the estimated time you will pass major landmarks, your home telephone number and an emergency contact number, and drop it off in the mailbox at the trail head. Such documents can also be submitted to places like police boxes at the foot of a mountain.

Nonetheless, climbing down on your own is an absolutely basic skill of mountaineering. Murakoshi advises, “Carefully make plans by receiving advice from experienced climbers and safely enjoy hiking in the mountains.

Source: The Japan News