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Hikers warned to protect themselves amid spate of strandings in Japan

Hikers are seen on Mt. Fuji in July 2019. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- With more and more people venturing into the mountains in Japan's summer months, there has been a corresponding rise in the number of hikers getting themselves into difficult situations related to heat and weather events.

In July and August of 2018 alone, authorities were notified of 793 people getting into trouble in Japan's abundant mountainous areas, up 88 from the previous year.

Of the total, nearly 80 percent were in their 40s or older, reflecting an increase in the number of hikers of advanced age. Of those who found themselves in trouble, 54 died and 17 remain missing.

The number of hikers stranded each summer has topped 700 every year since 2015, according to the National Police Agency.

Among the 793 people from 2018, 179 got lost, 169 suffered minor falls, 120 became sick, 119 slid down the mountainside and 93 fell victim to exhaustion.

The NPA suspects the record-breaking heat Japan experienced in the summer of 2018 contributed to many cases.

"More people are climbing or hiking as part of leisure or tourism activities without the proper knowledge or preparations for mountains or nature," said Gota Isono, director of the Japan Mountain Guides Association.

It is important to take one's ability and experience into account when making hiking plans as even climbing a small mountain can be exhausting. Hikers should also consult their doctor beforehand if they are worried about their health, Isono said.

To prevent heat stroke or heat exhaustion, it is recommended hikers consume sports drinks or oral rehydration solutions in which sugar and salts are diluted in water.

With the weather in mountainous areas prone to sudden and violent changes, hikers should be prepared to return to safety if there are signs the weather is turning, the association said.

When exposed to rain, a hiker's body temperature can plummet and sudden heavy showers can cause flash flooding, it said. Streams and rivers can also quickly rise when there has been rain some distance away, particularly when it falls at a higher elevation.

"We would like people to be alert about what can happen when exploring nature. By hiking safely, they can have an enjoyable experience they would not be able to have in the city," Isono said.

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