January 18, 2012 in City

Snowshoer burned cash to stay warm on Rainier

Caught in mountain storm, man relied on military skills
Phuong Le And Ted Warren Associated Press
Associated Press photo

In this photo provided by Yong Chun Kim, of Tacoma, Kim sits in a snow vehicle Monday after he was rescued.
(Full-size photo)

Four overdue

 SEATTLE – Mount Rainier National Park sent rangers Tuesday to check trails near the Paradise visitor center that might be used by two campers and two climbers overdue during a severe storm that is dropping 2 to 3 feet of fresh snow.

 Both groups are well-equipped and are expected to hunker down through the bad weather, park spokeswoman Patti Wold said.

 Rangers are checking trails they can reach safely.

 The campers are a 37-year-old man from San Diego and a 30-year-old woman from Atlanta who were due back Sunday. The climbers are a couple from Springfield, Ore., who were due back Monday. Their names were not released.

Associated Press

TACOMA – A snowshoer who was lost in a blizzard for two days on Mount Rainier said he stayed alive by digging out a snow tunnel and burning dollar bills for warmth.

Yong Chun Kim, 66, of Tacoma, said he carried a lighter and other emergency supplies and burned personal items: extra socks, Band-Aid, toothbrush, packaging, and lastly $1 and $5 bills from his wallet.

Kim, who served in the South Korean military in the Vietnam War, told KOMO-TV in Seattle that skills he learned as a soldier helped him survive. He said he wasn’t scared. He kept waiting for the sounds of the helicopter – though severe weather conditions prevented park officials from using one to search for Kim.

“I’m a lucky man, a really lucky man,” he said in an interview Tuesday afternoon from his home.

With temperatures in the teens and winds whipping on the mountain, Kim said he kept walking and moving to stay warm. He took cover in several tree wells – depressions in snow that forms around a tree – and slept standing for 5 to 10 minutes at a time.

He initially made a shelter near a big rock and tried to stay warm. He tried to keep walking, but at times “the snow was so deep, I couldn’t breathe.”

Kim dreamed of his wife and a nice hot sauna. He talked to himself. He took pictures. He prayed to God. He worried his family and friends would worry about him. He made a fire, drank hot water and ate rice, some Korean food and a chocolate bar.

And even as he burned his personal items to stay warm, the last $6 going up in flames Sunday night, he said: “I worried because it’s a national park. You’re not supposed to have a fire. … I’m worried about that but I want to (stay) alive.”

Money made for the best fire, he said, laughing. Nylon socks and packaging, not so great.

“He could have died,” said Kim’s stepson, Malcolm An. “He was walking around, struggling to find a place, literally not knowing where to go.”

Kim, a U.S. citizen for 30 years, was leading 16 members of a hiking and climbing club from Tacoma on Saturday – a trip he takes nearly every week – when he slid down a slope and became separated. He radioed his group twice to tell them he was OK and would meet them farther down the trail, but became disoriented and went the wrong way.

His hiking partners last heard from him on the radio at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. When he didn’t show up at the parking lot, park officials launched a search. Kim said Tuesday he lost his walkie-talkie as well as his glove and ski pole when he tumbled a second time.

Dozens of park rangers, rescue dogs, volunteers and searchers from several rescue organizations scoured snowy mountain terrain for three days searching for Kim.

“The rangers are nice. The volunteers from all over are nice,” said Kim, who retired six years ago after running his own telecommunications company. He said he was so thankful for the rangers and volunteers who helped look for him.

Kim was about a mile from where he was last seen when he was found Monday by a ranger and two Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol members.

Kim was in such good shape that when he was found, he did not have to go to a hospital and instead went home with his family.

After rescuers reached Kim it took nine hours to bring him from the rugged terrain covered in deep snow to the Paradise visitor center, a popular destination at 5,400-feet elevation on the mountain’s southwest flank, about a 100-mile drive south from Seattle.

Kim said he goes to the mountains for the fresh air and because it’s good medicine for recovering from cancer.

“When I get out there, it’s a nice view. Every time, same location, different feeling though.”

© Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email