The Covid-19 pandemic sent hordes of Hongkongers exploring the city’s wide open spaces, but many suffered mishaps and needed rescuing while hiking on unfamiliar, hilly terrain. The number of Fire Services Department operations to rescue trapped hikers tripled to 426 in the first four months of this year, compared with the same period in 2020. In separate tragedies, four hikers died during that period. In the most recent incident last Thursday, a 33-year-old man was found dead below a remote trail in Pat Sin Leng, in the northern New Territories, five days after he went missing while on a hike. Of those rescued, 243 were injured, an increase from 83 injured hikers from 155 mountain rescue missions in the first four months of last year. Aside from suffering heat exhaustion or twisted ankles, trekkers have been getting lost or falling from heights, making rescue operations difficult. The numbers suggest that many are venturing out without adequate preparation or understanding of the challenges awaiting them along hilly hiking trails. The fire service advised people against relying on social media posts or online video clips that make it seem easy to head out along some routes. “Just because someone says he finished a route in 90 minutes does not mean you can do it too,” said Law Man-kit, senior station officer of the High Angle Rescue Team. “Maybe you have no hiking knowledge, cannot read maps and have no idea of the terrain. Following a YouTube video clip blindly is very dangerous.” Search and rescue mission finds missing Hong Kong hiker dead He urged hikers to check official sources, calculate the risks and ensure they had the skills and gear before setting out, and stick to hiking trails maintained by the government. He said it only took one or two tricky spots along a route, where trekkers needed to exercise greater care or stretch their climbing skills, for mishaps to occur. Law said with more Hongkongers taking to the city’s hiking trails during the coronavirus crisis, those with some experience had been heading to less popular locations to avoid the crowds. In one of the more complicated rescue missions recently, a woman in her 60s was hiking with four others when she fell 15 metres off a cliff on May 1. They were climbing the Hunchbacks, a peak which offers stunning views of Ma On Shan and Sai Kung. The rescue mission took seven hours, from evening to almost midnight. Recalling the rescue, senior firefighter Wong Siu-ming said he, Law and seven others climbed down 40 metres from the mountaintop to reach the woman and her companions. The group had met online before getting together for their climb, setting off from Sai Sha Road, and were on a cliff when the woman fell. The group only knew they were heading towards Ma On Shan and did not bring any climbing ropes, Wong said. Hongkonger drowns while diving in Sai Kung Just when the rescuers strapped the semi-conscious woman onto a stretcher and began moving her to a safe spot for a government helicopter to pick her up, a sudden brief landslide sent rocks raining down on all of them. Wong said he covered the woman with his body and used his hands to fend off falling rocks, while Law was hit on the head. In the dark and with a strong wind blowing, they eventually moved the woman to a spot from which they were airlifted to hospital. The woman suffered multiple bone fractures, while Wong hurt his leg. Last Thursday, hiker Chan King-fai, 33, was found dead on a steep slope below a Pat Sin Leng trail. More than 300 search-and-rescue officers from police and fire services had been scouring the area for five days looking for him. A surveillance drone finally spotted Chan’s body in bushes about 120 metres down an incline from the Wong Leng Au hiking trail. Officials described the location as isolated and far from the regular trail. In April, a 42-year-old woman fell 50 metres to her death at the most popular hiking section of Sai Kung’s High Island Reservoir. The woman was said to have grabbed a loose rock while scaling a steep wall near the reservoir’s East Dam after leaving the main route to take a short cut. The other deaths this year were of a 58-year-old man found unconscious on a slope near Kowloon Peak in March , and a 51-year-old woman who felt unwell and passed out while trekking in the Sai Kung East Country Park in February. Overall, the number of mountain rescue incidents in Hong Kong tripled to 602 in 2020 from 215 in the previous year. The number of hiking deaths dropped to 11 in 2020 from 13 the year before, but the number of injuries rose to 323 from 121. The number of helicopter rescues by the Government Flying Service doubled from 421 in 2019 to 885 last year.