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14 hikers missing in mountains of Sichuan

(Shanghai Daily)

08:49, October 12, 2011

A 14-member team of hikers, including three from Shanghai, have been missing in the Siguniang Mountain area of Sichuan Province for 12 days, apparently after having ventured into a forbidden area.

The team, including nine hikers, a guide and four luggage carriers, camped at the Haizigou area of the mountain on October 1. Three days later, as planned, they hiked out and have not been heard from since. Weather in the area has been mostly calm.

Six rescue teams are searching the steep, high-elevation terrain in southwest China, but heavy fog last night hindered the effort, the local government said.

Rescuers said the team planned to go from Haizigou to the Longyan and Wolong area, which is closed to hikers. The Sichuan Province Mountaineering Association and the Siguniang Mountain Management Bureau blocked the area on June 24 because of the forbidding landscape, but the team ignored the ban.

Several hikers have died or gone missing in the area in the past few years, which made authorities finally decide to close the region to hikers.

The leader of the team is 35-year-old Xu Ning, an experienced mountain climber from Hangzhou. Three Shanghai members are Liu Bo, Xu Min and Ji Liuran. Others are from Guangdong and Zhejiang provinces.

"Yesterday, the family of three Shanghai members rushed to Sichuan to meet the rescuers," said an official with the Shanghai Outdoors Rescue Volunteer Center who would give only his online code name, "Blueice."

According to the team's original plan, it was to finish hiking last Thursday and go to the Wolong Town. As almost all the members are experienced hikers, they hadn't left any special message to their families, rescuers said.

Treacherous area

Blueice said the team likely lost its way. Most of the area lies at very high altitude - 4,200 meters above sea level and up - and is unmarked, without trails and contains many sheer cliffs. Little of it is covered by cell phone service.

Hikers say the landscape is gorgeous, but just as the authorities have warned, it can be dangerous.

"It is a basin surrounded by grand snow mountains, and waterfalls pour down from all directions," said Li Huaijie, a hiker who has been to the area several times.

Last year a team, also arranged by Xu, attempted the same hike but failed. All the members managed to withdraw safely.

"We all knew Xu failed, and he wanted very much to try again this year," said Blueice.

Since 2005, at least four hikers have lost their lives in the area, including two Russians. This May, two hikers from Nanjing City got in the area and were never found.

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