Jul 17, 2009 at 6:58 pm #1237838
@robertm2sLocale: Lake Tahoe
The temperature in the area was around 46 degrees Fahrenheit, lower than the usual 51 degrees Fahrenheit, it said. The Kyodo News agency said at least six hikers died of hypothermia. The weather at the 7,024-foot Tomuraushi peak was bad Thursday with strong winds and heavy rain, according to Japan's Meteorological Agency. Eight were part of an 18-member group tour, while the other was climbing alone. A 10th person died on another mountain on Hokkaido, he said. [What, no tents, tarps or bivies?]Jul 17, 2009 at 8:13 pm #1514715
@foundLocale: Sacramento, CA
Makes me think about how close to the line I sometimes am with ultralight gear.Jul 17, 2009 at 8:34 pm #1514717
@butukiLocale: Kanto Plain, Japan
I'm sorry. I have no sympathy whatsoever for irresponsible and stupid mountain guides who get people killed when there was no need for it. The most basic rule for climbing mountains is "turn back when the conditions are dangerous". Mountains are no place for ego, machismo, and pride. And "experienced" doesn't necessarily translate to "experienced in bad storms". Tomurauishi is notorious for being a dangerous mountain with severe weather conditions and no shelter trees. The guides should have known that. If this was one of the "weekend rush" things because the Japanese get so few holidays that they often take risks when they do get holidays, then I'm even more angry. In winter in Hokkaido I can understand something like this happening, but summer? From hyperthermia? At 10º C? They didn't have some kind of shelter and warm clothes? Not enough food? Just getting behind rocks and hunkering down in a shelter with warm clothes should have seen them through this. It wasn't even snowing! Ach!
The weather all over Japan that day had horrendous winds. Truly powerful. How could the guides have been so stupid?Jul 18, 2009 at 12:30 pm #1514809
@lilorphanbillyLocale: Montana, MT (Stealth Mode)
Blowing rain, wind chill of around 25 degrees, 45 mile per hour winds, sounds like time to turn around to me. Did the guides perish or just the people unlucky enough to put their trust in obviously incompetent and grossly ignorant imposters?
In MT it is July and we still prepare for cold, (and usually get it) snow and rain when in the mountains. If a person hires a guide I would think that the guide should be responsible for the comfort and safety of their customers according to possible conditions.Jul 19, 2009 at 4:50 am #1514912
The first time I got on top of Mt. Washington, NH it was 45 deg F and 40-50 mph winds. I was thinking how lucking I was to be up there on such a nice day. I know its different because of the state park on top of MtW, but I was comfortable before I went inside and was wearing a cheap jacket from Old Navy and thin nylon pants.
The families should sue that company because the conditions were not that bad. Did they just get "guides" from the unemployment office or what?Jul 19, 2009 at 6:21 am #1514914
Oddly enough I posted about this attitude in Japan a while ago – the Japanese have little independent sense of danger and will carry on in the worst conditions if "sensei" says so. I had a running battle for a couple of years with a Japanese alpine "guide" that my friend's bushwalking shop used for the winter walks they organised in the Japanese alps – I thought he was a dangerous, clueless, thoughtless idiot and on several occasions turned back from winter walks he was guiding when I thought conditions warranted that. As you'd imagine that didn't always go down well.
What makes it more dangerous is that bushwalking in Japan is a retirement activity so 99% of the walkers in the mountains at any time will be aged, have no prior experience, poor fitness, a socially ingrained inclination to trust the nominal "expert" leading them and have been sold the idea that the outdoors is basically a giant, safe playground where nothing can go wrong.
This is compounded by the tick-the-box mentality caused by people trying to complete the Hyakumeizan ("100 famous mountains") or similar lists. Tomurauishi appears to be one of the Hyakumeizan.
I had older friends in Japan who were very, very experienced and trustworthy but they were unusual.
I have to say that I do have sympathy for the victims.Jul 19, 2009 at 6:27 am #1514915
"The temperature in the area was around 46 degrees Fahrenheit, lower than the usual 51 degrees Fahrenheit, it said."
Note that the weather was 10 C at the BASE of the mountain, so at the summit – 2141 metres – it would have been well below zero.
Plus 70 km/h winds.
"[What, no tents, tarps or bivies?]"
Actually they were carrying a tent:
What on earth was the "guide" thinking? If just one person becomes hypothermic wouldn't you stop, administer aid and then go down?Jul 19, 2009 at 8:23 am #1514928
@butukiLocale: Kanto Plain, Japan
What's really baffling is that there were three guides on the tour, not just one. You'd think someone would have the sense to see the situation for what it was; one of the clients certainly did when he turned about and went back down on his own. But that's the hierarchy system here for you. You just don't gainsay a "sempai" (older, more experienced person… it works much like the military). There's no independent thinking when the circumstances call for it.Jul 19, 2009 at 8:58 pm #1515062
@robertm2sLocale: Lake Tahoe
Thanks for the more detailed newspaper reports. I wouldn't blame the Japanese culture for all the problems, although I don't doubt that blind obedience is a strong current in that culture. Don't forget that people of other cultures can also be stupid unto death: Probably most people have heard about May 11, 1996, when eight people died on Mount Everest during summit attempts. The disaster gained wide publicity and raised questions about the commercialization of Everest. Journalist Jon Krakauer, on assignment from Outside magazine, was in one of the affected parties, and afterwards published the bestseller "Into Thin Air."Jul 20, 2009 at 4:36 am #1515098
"I wouldn't blame the Japanese culture for all the problems, although I don't doubt that blind obedience is a strong current in that culture. Don't forget that people of other cultures can also be stupid unto death:"
In this case I suspect that the problem was caused by a combination of social circumstances, which are in my view unique to Japan.
As an example of the "sensei (teacher) says" attitude – on one winter walk I did with the guide I mentioned in an earlier post we found ourselves walking in deep, fresh snow with heavy snow falling and strong winds in -14 C temperatures. That was alright, but at one point the guide – who was 30 kg lighter than me – decided that from this point on we would switch from snowshoes to crampons. The problem was that whilst he and the other walkers weren't postholing in the fresh snow, myself and a couple of the bigger Japanese guys (who were a fair bit bigger than me, for the record) were postholing. I queried why we were switching but got a lot of outraged looks because I was questioning what sensei was commanding us to do. When I was living in Japan I tried to not cause too many ructions so complied. Myself and the other two then spent an hour struggling through hip deep snow, until I pulled the plug when I started to get uncontrollable leg spasms. The guide and shop owner (my friend) were not pleased about me going back (shades of the group stays together attitude) but I did anyway, with one of the other two guys.
Re groupthink, on another trip, to Hokkaido to climb two Hyakumeizan mountains (does that sound familiar?), I pulled out halfway through a trip when it began to look as if a typhoon would isolate us on the island we were on. I had to be back at work the day after – and I'd've probably lost my job if I hadn't been back – so I changed my flights and got out on the last ferry to the main island. As the shop guide said to me – and he was really p…ed off, this is not what we do in Japan.
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