HK hikers warned as death toll exceeds 2016 total in just four months

HK hikers warned as death toll exceeds 2016 total in just four months
Hikers at Eagle's Nest. Source: South China Morning Post
Published: 7:40 PM, April 21, 2017

HONG KONG — A spike in hiker deaths in Hong Kong has prompted experts to warn the public to take extra precaution when venturing on the city’s trails.

Five people died in hiking-related incidents on the city’s trails over the first four months of the year, exceeding the total of four deaths in all of 2016, according to the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

The latest casualty was a 60-year-old man, who collapsed last Sunday while trekking through Plover Cove Country Park in north-east New Territories. He was with a group of eight hikers when he complained of feeling dizzy, before losing consciousness.

Mr Dan Van Hoy, a leader with the Hong Kong Hiking group on social networking platform Meetup, said he was particularly worried when he saw hikers not carrying provisions such as water, food or suncream.

He said he did not want to dissuade people from hiking, but urged beginner hikers to start by attempting easy trails with plenty of shaded areas and water springs before building up to more challenging ones.

“My suggestion would be for people who have not been hiking recently or who are over the age of 50 to just pay a little visit to your doctor. It seems to be prudent to check your health beforehand,” he said.

“In our groups, you always have people who are not experienced in hiking and who do not come really prepared. Some people will tell you they ran the Standard Chartered Marathon last year, but I ask them what exercise they have done in the past six to eight weeks. I advise people to start small and build up over a period of weeks.”

Hiking-related accidents and injuries have increased in Hong Kong, as the pastime has become more popular. The activity has also been promoted to tourists who are attracted to pristine forests, unusual rock formations and the quiet coastlines of bustling Hong Kong.

Hiker numbers steadily rose from 12.2 million in 2005 to 13.3 million in 2015. Meanwhile, the number of mountain rescues more than doubled from 138 in 2005 to 357 in 2016.

Mr Tony Basoglu, another leader for the Hong Kong Hiking Meetup group, said he was not surprised that hiking accidents were on the rise. He also emphasised that preparation was key to avoiding injury.

Lack of preparation, and a desire to take the best photo for social media, have been blamed for the worrying trend.

“As there are more and more people on the hills, it’s only normal that more accidents and health issues will happen,” he said.

“You always need to carry plenty of water and drink, drink, drink. You just need to take appropriate precautions and go out and have fun.”

Mr Basoglu said hikers should be particularly careful to assess their physical limits before attempting difficult trails during hot weather.

“In (the latest) case, it was not an accident – it was an older gentleman and it seems he suffered some kind of health issue,” he said.

“I guess it’s due to heat and exertion, as it was quite hot at the time.

“It could also be that he was not in the greatest of shape and the stress on his body caused his heart to give out. When we get to that age, we need to be much more careful about (exerting ourselves).”

Mr Shum Si-ki, who founded the Hiking Meetup group in 2005, called on the government to start recording the number of hiking-related deaths in country parks to better monitor the situation.

“Particularly on hot days, not many people can cope in these conditions,” he said. “I think the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department could start monitoring the death toll. Hiking is a major pastime of Hong Kong people and because it is getting more popular, the number of people getting injured it going to go up.”