Don’t underestimate risks even for seemingly approachable mountains

Even mountains at low elevation have the risk of putting climbers in distress. It is hoped that mountain climbers make thorough preparations without underestimating the risks.

There were 2,635 mountain distress incidents in 2021, up by 341 from 2020. The figure was the second highest since statistics were first compiled in 1961.

With mountain climbing booming in recent years, the number of incidents of distress has been trending upward. While incidents dropped in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they have started rising again.

There has been a noticeable increase in mountain distress incidents in the Tokyo metropolitan area, where there are many popular low-altitude mountains, such as the 599-meter Mt. Takao. Apparently, many climbers headed for nearby mountains as they refrained from going to distant places.

The 969-meter Mt. Bonooreyama on the border of Tokyo and Saitama Prefecture has seen a series of alpine distress cases in addition to climbers falling or slipping: Some climbers could not find the trail and got lost or became stuck on the mountain when night fell. Such incidents involved not only elderly climbers or those in middle age, but also many in the younger generation.

It is easy to get lost in low-altitude mountains that have many roads for forestry work and paths used by local residents. In some paths on such mountains, rocks and roots of trees have been exposed due to lack of development. Even though these mountains seem approachable, climbers must not be careless.

The need for basic equipment, such as clothing suitable for mountain climbing, hiking footwear, rain gear, headlights and maps, is the same for low- and high-elevation mountains.

If people start climbing a mountain earlier in the day, that could reduce the risk of getting lost after sunset. It is important to make reasonable plans by taking into consideration the possibility that refraining from going out during the pandemic may have caused one’s physical strength to decline.

Serving as a useful reference for choosing a mountain are mountain grading systems, which rate the difficulty and other matters of major climbing routes. A system proposed by Nagano Prefecture has been released with gradings for 962 routes in 10 prefectures and one mountain range.

Climbers can choose a mountain that matches their skills and physical strength in the system that rates technical levels required on a five-step scale and physical strength needed on a 10-level scale. If this system is used well, climbers could help prevent mountain distress incidents.

Even though a mountain is at low elevation, it is essential to submit a mountain climbing registration form that includes the climber’s name, contact information and itinerary. The previous system allowed climbers to write such information on paper and post it at a starting point of a mountain trail, but local governments are increasingly allowing these forms to be submitted online before a climb.

If climbers also share their plans with family members, it is expected that police or firefighters can be mobilized for searches sooner in the event of an emergency.

Climbing a mountain is a full-body exercise that can help train one’s heart and lungs to function better and improve the strength in one’s legs. When standing on the peak of a mountain, the sense of accomplishment is immense. However, if a climber is in distress, it will all come to nothing. If tiredness or anxiousness sets in, climbers should have the courage to not overdo it and turn back.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 3, 2022)