Where James Kim walked: a cautionary tale

Bear Camp Road sign placed by pilot who found Kati Kim and her children

Bear Camp Road sign placed by pilot who found Kati Kim

last updated August, 2009, however, valuable additional information and discussion can be found in the comments.

Very little new information on the Kims has emerged since the previous update, Feb, 2007.

The signage along the road has received some attention, although it seems clear (see below) that putting up more signs like the ones that the Kims and others have ignored is futile. The reality, still denied by the BLM, the Forest, and local and state governments, is that a “Road Not Maintained…” sign means next to nothing. Many people don’t think of a road as needing “maintenance”, and don’t see how a lack of “maintenance” might affect them.

Bear Camp Road was closed for a while during summer, 2007, because of a landslide.

Bear Camp Road prior to Kim turnoff, 2007 landslide

Bear Camp Road prior to Kim turnoff, 2007 landslide

For more photos of the road, go here, or go to bolty.net.

Bear Camp Road on Peavine Ridge, from bolty.net

Bear Camp Road on Peavine Ridge, from bolty.net

This was interesting, an effort to make a sign that might get some attention:

The helicopter pilot who spotted three members of the stranded Kim family in the Rogue River Canyon of Southern Oregon put up an urgent warning for drivers, but a federal agency says it is in a federal right of way and must come down.

“You could get stranded and die!!!” read the bright red sign, warning drivers headed for the mountain passage connecting Grants Pass and the Oregon Coast.

“I’ve had the idea for several months,” John Rachor, a Medford restaurant owner, told the Grants Pass Daily Courier. “I thought the (Bureau of Land Management) was going to be able to do something.”

The sign was initially placed on BLM land, and had to be moved, but is now up.

The signage story continued in 2008:

Now the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service plan to add six new large signs, two informational kiosks and a series of mile markers along the route from the Galice access to Gold Beach.

The project should be complete in August.

“Any improvements to that area is a step in the right direction, no question about it,” said Josephine County Emergency Manager Sara Rubrecht, who worked on the search for the Kims. “It’s a fairly confusing area for anyone.

“You can’t guarantee the Kims would have seen the new signs considering the snow and darkness they faced, but I think any improvements are a good step.”[note: Ms. Rubrecht, the person in charge of the Kim Search and Rescue effort is seemingly unaware of the fact that it was not snowing when the Kims passed the four warning signs. ]

The signs and markers will clearly designate the correct route from Galice Road to Gold Beach and inform drivers that the road is not maintained from November to May, when there might be snow drifts.

Two information kiosks also will be added to the road. The first kiosk will be located at the beginning of BLM Road 34-8-36 near the junction of Galice Road. The second will be located at the road’s spur on Bear Camp Road, where the Kims took the wrong turn.

The signage at the western end of the road, near the coast, has also been improved:bearcampwes

Even long haul big rigs are still trying to get over Bear Camp. April 18, 2009:

GALICE — A tractor-trailer owned by a Nebraska trucking firm got stuck and caught fire on the eastern end of the remote Bear Camp Road early Tuesday morning.

The incident marks the second time this month that a truck owned by Omaha-based Werner Enterprises, Inc. became bogged down on the narrow mountain road, and suggests the Bear Camp Road is still being mistaken as a main road to the coast by people who have no knowledge of the area.

Driver Ricky Johnson, 44, of Portland, told the deputy that his 53-foot trailer was too long to travel Highway 199 so his dispatch center told him to take Bear Camp Road to get from Interstate 5 to Brookings, Gilbertson said. When the driver realized the road was too winding and narrow, he attempted to back up and got stuck, the sheriff said.

“The deputy called Werner and advised them of the perils of that road,” Gilbertson said. “They said they would remove the road from their (route) list.”

Gilbertson said it wasn’t feasible for the department to contact all the trucking companies in the country about the road’s hazards nor all the motorists who may try to use it in winter.

While the winding road is passable during the summer months, it is blocked by snow throughout much of the winter well into spring.

Following the Kim search, the sheriff’s department contacted the Rand McNally map company and advised them of the hazards posed by the road during the wet season, Gilbertson said.

“A lot of maps project it to be a travelable road and it’s not,” he said, referring to winter and spring when it is blocked by snow.

Also in April, 2009, a woman from Grant’s Pass got stuck in the snow on Bear Camp Road and had to walk out. Fortunately, she had only a dog with her.

A very good map of the Kim routes and landmarks along the upper Bear Camp Road area can be found here.

Not included on this map are the maze of FS roads east and west of the Kim’s turnoff. These roads are important in trying to understand James Kim’s thinking. Firstly, he thought he could get to the coast by turning off Bear Camp Road. There is, in fact, a way to do that, but the turnoff is to the west, well past the Kim turnoff. Days later, Kim thought he was only 4 miles from Galice. This would indicate that he thought he had turned on one of the roads east of where he actually turned off.

The numerous missteps by Mr. and Mrs. Kim, and the reasons they were not found earlier, have been documented below. I think that it is worth highlighting a few points, not as criticism of those involved, but rather as advice for the traveler:

  • Always plan for an unexpected accident or mechanical failure, particularly when traveling with a family, or in the time of year when night-time temperatures are not compatible with prolonged exposure, or when traveling in rural and especially mountainous areas, and at night. Of particular importance are carrying a charged cellphone and charger that can be used along the road. Having said all this, it must be said that the Kims started on their day’s travel at the time of day when they should have been checking into a motel for the night.
  • make sure that someone knows where you’re going, how you’re getting there, and have a “check-in” time, so that someone will know if you’re in trouble, and where to look for you. If your plans change, you can always find someone to leave a plan with.
  • searching for missing people must always include contacting businesses and persons along the possible routes taken by the missing persons.
  • several days of near starvation makes for poor physical condition and for susceptibility to hypothermia, which produces irrational behavior. Better to make the walk-out effort early on.
  • it is astonishing to me that the person in charge of Search and Rescue for Josephine County is still the emergency services manager in that county.
  • the other astonishing thing about the Kim tragedy is the number of people who don’t understand that, by definition, tourists don’t know the country or the hazards; who somehow don’t understand that when they themselves travel to New York or Miami or Jamaica, THEY could get themselves in trouble, and need help.

    Last /updated at 1500 Pacific, Feb 28, 2007, to reflect the fact that the helicopter heard by the Kims on Friday was apparently a Carson helicopter, and to provide link to the BLM report, here. Notably the BLM report confirms that the gate on 34-8-36 was locked open by a non-BLM lock. No blame was assigned for this condition. Warning signs have been enhanced. No policy issues were identified.

    Considerable information can be found here. Of note are the following:

    The Josephine County search coordinator reportedly had some sort of condition which would require surgery.

    The helicopter pilot who found the vehicle and James Kim’s tracks was then excluded from the search.

    The idea that a bear followed James Kim seems to be without basis in fact.

    A 4 wheel drive going down 34-8-36 as part of the search slid off the road, and could not get back on the road.

    Remarks on the search:

    Spencer Kim has posted a letter in national media, reproduced at the bottom of this post, in which criticizes certain aspects of the air search and the unlocked gate; I think it is important that Mr. Kim recognize that:

    1) the considerable publicity generated by the news media resulted in the rescue of Mrs. Kim and the children, by a private party who was not officially connected with the search.
    2)the three Carson helicopters hired by Mr. Kim apparently delayed the deployment of a National Guard helicopter over the Bear Camp Road area, because the Guard did not want to risk a collision. This was early in the day on Dec. 1, at a time when the Kims were creating black smoke with a tire fire. The Kims noted that their smoke was getting up over the trees, but then the fire went out later in the day, after which The Kims heard the sound of a helicopter, apparently one of the Carson helicopters returning for refueling, not searching, reportedly because Mr. Kim did not think that the Kim family was there. The Kims were unable to signal this chopper, because their tire fire had gone out. It was apparently at this point that James Kim made his decision to attempt to walk out the next day, which resulted in his death.

    3) while it is true that a locked gate across BLM Road 34-8-36 would have stopped the Kims from going that way, it is also true that the Kims ignored a number of warning signs along the way, and went down Road 34-8-36 in spite of the fact that they saw the sign that the road to the coast was the other direction. What would the Kims have done if the gate had been locked shut? They were apparently desperate to get to the coast, and made several irrational decisions in the hopes of doing so, including not stopping at any one of about 10 motels within 7 miles of Merlin. If the gate was locked, would they have simply tried Road 35-8-5, with the same eventual result? I think we don’t know the answer.

    Spencer Kim made a tremendous effort to find the Kims, as did many others. It is entirely appropriate that he voice his concerns. Why he decided to inform the entire United States of these issues is not clear, but he, and the rest of the country, should also recognize that there are two or more sides to every story.

    An edited version of the governor’s timeline is appended to the bottom of this post. There is considerable information in the Sheriffs’ Association report concerning the search, most of which I cannot comment upon in detail. However, it does seem clear that the performance of one or two local officials appears to have been critically unprofessional. The entire search effort was very fragmented. Volunteers unconnected with the search effort provided the most critical pieces of information, while the official search effort appeared to be a black hole into which important information was fed, often with great difficulty, only to subsequently disappear. Certainly it was difficult for them to sort the wheat from the chaff, but they should have done better.

    Of greatest concern is the apparent unsatisfactory performance of one of the individuals involved with Josephine County’s Search and Rescue program. Specifically, it seems that this person provided a lot of attitude and not a lot of performance; that this person failed to mobilize certain resources from a neighboring county for personal/ego/competitive reasons, that this person did not properly search spur roads, but represented that it had been done; that this person failed to request helicopter search resources in a timely fashion; that this person failed to canvass local businesses open when the Kims passed through Merlin; that this person resisted good advice from other individuals and agencies. It could be argued that these failures were instrumental in delaying a proper search of the appropriate terrain until it was too late to save James Kim.

    I strongly urge the officials of Josephine County to immediately find a responsible, honest, mature and capable individual to head their search and rescue program. Winter is not over. I see that there is some sort of budget crisis in the county.

    Josephine County is preparing major cutbacks in government services that will be discussed at a series of town hall meetings next week.

    County commissioners will ask residents if they favor new fees or taxes to sustain existing services as the county loses an annual twelve million dollars, in federal safety net funding.

    The fate of the Josephine County library, fairgrounds, and Sheriff’s patrol services is at stake.


    This may force their hand.

    Why did authorities not canvass gas stations between Roseburg and Bear Camp Road? Clearly, there is a gas station employee in Merlin who has important information about the Kims.

    Why did the search and rescue teams not have the mix of fourwheel drive trucks, snowmobiles, and ATV’s that would have enabled them to explore 34-8-36 in a proper fashion?

    There are many other questions, as well, but those are not my primary focus. This aspect of the Kim story is a sad one, but hopefully one which can result in great improvement.

    Kati Kim interviews:

    I have chosen instead to focus more on what the Kims did, as my interest is more in survival skills and strategies, than on search and rescue. For several weeks we had little information about what the Kims did and why. Finally, we have more. I have inserted here material from Mrs. Kim’s interviews, which sheds considerable light on what they did, and why. One of the most notable issues is that she does not mention anything about the vehicle becoming stuck.

    STINSON asked her for a description of what James was
    wearing when he left the vehicle. A partial list of what Kati KIM provided included tennis shoes, jeans and a heavy coat with no hood.

    Kati KIM further stated that James had left about 7:45 a.m. on Saturday December 2,
    2006. Kati said she did not want James to leave but he stated he was only going to walk until about 1:00p.m and if he did not find anything he would return to the vehicle.

    Kati KIM stated that James KIM had taken his cell phone, which James knew had a dead battery, and the A/C charger in hopes of finding a power source. James KIM had also taken clothing and some flagging he had found in the area. He was going to mark any turns with those items. Kati KIM was unsure if he had taken a “large” camera strobe with him. She did not recall seeing it in the car but she was unsure if he had it with him.

    Kati KIM also said that she had told her husband not to drink out of the streams but to use the water bottle he had taken (unknown color, but thought it was blue) and if he ran out of water to just melt snow in his mouth.

    Kati KIM advised that their intended route was going to be Highway 42 but they somehow missed the turn off. Once they realized that they had missed the turn off, they did not want to turn around and elected to try and cut over to Gold Beach at Grants Pass.

    Kati KIM advised that during the time they were stranded they did not have much food and at one point James KIM was eating the berries out of bear scat.

    Kati KIM did mention that “things were very stressful” towards the end of the week just before James left for help. Kati KIM went on to say that the morning James left that “he had a somewhat wild look in his eyes.” Kati was questioned further on this issue and she just went on to say it was stressful as she had been angry about James getting the family in the predicament they were in and that he was intent on “doing something” to help.

    Kati KIM also advised that on Sunday she tried to walk out with the two kids but did not get very far before she realized it was not a good idea and returned to the car.

    Kati KIM was questioned about James’ outdoor experience and if he had camped or hiked very much. She indicated that he had little to no experience in the outdoors and that he was technically adept.

    Kati provided the following investigative information gleaned directly from HARRIS’S report to assist in the continued search for James KIM:

    • The KIMs did not stop in Wilsonville and get a map or directions (After spending valuable time to track this tip, law enforcement later learned this was false information.)
    • The KIMs left Roseburg at approximately 9:00 p.m.
    • They missed the Highway 42 exit to Gold Beach
    • They had an Oregon road map and decided to take the Bear Camp Road to Gold Beach
    • They realized at approximately 2:00 a.m. on November 26, 2006 that they were lost
    • They stopped in an area that they thought would be traveled by passing
    • James left on Saturday, 12/2/06 at 7:30 a.m. in an attempt to locate help. James was wearing jeans, a heavy jacket and tennis shoes
    • James walked away from the car toward the sound of the river. He was
    supposed to leave notes along the route. James told Kati that he would turn around by 1:00 p.m. if he did not find any help and return to the car.
    • Kati heard and saw a helicopter flying over her on Sunday, 12/3/06, however, was unable to get the attention of the helicopter pilot
    • Kati and kids were located by helicopter pilot on 12/4/06.

    He had barely eaten over the past week, “saving the
    food for the babies”. James took lighters, scissors
    and extra colorful clothes with him. Kati remembers
    that he left at “exactly 7:46” Friday morning. James
    was going to cut strips of clothing and tie the strips to
    trees so that he could mark his way back to the car.
    James was to turn around by 1 o’clock that

    On Monday morning, January 15, 2007, Kati Kim telephoned Sheriff Tim Evinger and granted an interview to share her family’s story in an effort to help others from repeating their experience.

    Kati and James made the reservation at the Tu Tu Tun Lodge near Gold Beach while traveling south from the Portland area. Kati remembers that it was about five o’clock P.M. when they left Portland. She believes that they made a total of three cell phone calls to the lodge. James had talked to Kati about having inquired with the lodge about staying there earlier.

    Kati called the lodge and identified herself as James Kim’s wife and continued a conversation that James had started earlier in the day about staying. It was a on a third call back that Kati made the reservation and advised the lodge that they would be arriving late. Kati and her husband, James, did not see any indication that the roads to the coast from Merlin were not being traveled. There were several indicators that led them to just the opposite conclusion.

    The Kim’s stopped at a gas station in Merlin after exiting Interstate 5. After missing their exit near Roseburg, they pulled out an Oregon map that they carried in the car that showed a straight shot to the coast. James went into the gas station with his map to get some clarifications about directions while Kati stayed in the Saab with the girls. James came back to the car frustrated. He thought that the attendant gave “strange directions” and that the man was acting like he didn’t understand what James was asking. Kati felt that he definitely didn’t communicate that it was a dangerous route.

    The Kim’s continued towards the coast following their map and the road signs. At first, it was very dark but the weather was dry and not even raining for the first part of their journey. Kati remembered seeing a snowplow parked along side the road as they continued and made a mental note that the road must be one that is maintained.
    Kati also noticed that the road was narrowing and thought that it might be challenging to pass an oncoming car with the amount of space available. They continued following small signs that directed them to the “coast.”

    She also remembers in this rural area seeing an olive green mailbox with a reflector on it. This made her think there must be a ranger station or some residents in the area. A short time later, they made a turn that went “up,” and noticed a sign that stated “Road may be blocked by snowdrifts 6 Miles Ahead.” Kati advised that this was the very first indication that the roads they were on are not traveled like they initially thought.

    At nearly the same moment that they started past the sign, it began snowing and they ran across snow on the road. James wanted to turn around on the road but Kati thought it was too dangerous given how narrow the road was combined with the darkness and the steep sides.

    Both James and Kati noticed tire tracks in the snow but could not distinguish if they were fresh. Kati was certain that they were going to be headed down the coastal side of the range any minute, but then they ran across a hill that took them up into more snow.

    James opened the driver’s door of the car and carefully backed down the road to the intersection below the warning sign. It was at this point that the Kim’s attempted to call 9-1-1 on all three of the cell phones they were carrying. They were not able to get a signal on any of them. Two of them were their personal phones and the third belonged to James’ employer. They had it with them because it was believed to have better roaming coverage and service.
    It was starting to snow harder so they made a decision to take the road that went lower. Thinking that lower road would get them out of the snow zone, they continued on. The road became so narrow that turning around became more difficult. The paved road turned to gravel.

    The Kim’s initially took the road up to the left, backed down in the snow and then took the lower road down to the right. Both are paved at this point.

    At about 2 o’clock in the morning, the Kim’s knew they were definitely disoriented and chose to park their car at a “T” intersection. They thought there was a good chance that one of the plows might be by during the night or in the morning. When they awoke, it was raining at the altitude where they were parked. They knew that to get back out, they would have to go up through the snow zone. They could hear a noise in the distance that they believed to be snowplows at work.

    They later realized that is was the sound of the water in the nearby Rogue River. They used more of the remaining gas in the car to stay warm. They used the heater and turned on the heated seats in the Saab. Weighing the fact that they would have to travel back up in altitude and that they were lost in a maze of roads, they chose to stay put and conserve the remaining gas for heat. The Kims were confident that a ranger would be along soon.
    Kati and James found an open gate near where they had parked. In crayon, James wrote out a note that said: “Low on Gas, Low on Food, 2 Babies”. They put the note in a ziplock bag and stuck it in the gate. Since the gate was on a side road, just beyond where the car was, they worried that since it snowed, someone would be by to close the gate and they didn’t want to get closed in. Kati believed that while it took sometime to get to where they stopped, the driving was slow and she thought they couldn’t be “that far” from civilization.

    While in Washington state on Thanksgiving Day, the Kims drove to the forest to play in the snow with the family. They found that the gates were closed because of the conditions. It was the Washington experience that led them to conclude that someone would be by to close the gates.

    No one showed up and the Kims stayed their first full night parked on the road. The Kims awoke Monday morning, November 27th, to heavy snowfall. Kati described the snowfall as having “bent the tree branches nearly to the ground.” Kati told of her survival plan that she made as soon as her and James knew they were lost for an extended period. She planned on having the food in the car last for two weeks, even if it meant “one mouthful a day”.
    n fact, Kati stated that there was some rice cereal left when they were rescued. Kati put snow into bottles and warmed them in the sun for drinking water and she breast fed the two girls. She also related the three rules that she and James agreed on while at the car.

    1. No getting wet.
    2. No getting hurt.
    3. No getting sick.

    James and Kati moved all their belongings to the front seat and laid the seats down in the back of the car. They were all able to sleep together, keep each other warm and sleep more comfortably than in the seats. The Kim’s were able to listen to a distant radio station which they thought was out of Seattle. They couldn’t pick up any local stations as they tried to listen for weather forecasts. Kati stated that they only had household wall chargers for the cell phones with them.

    The Kims then worked on putting out signs and signals near their car. They would walk to the open gate to check on it about five times a day and they stomped out “SOS” in the snow. They thought of who might report them missing and worried about those back home who counted on them. Kati and James also honked the car horn often and yelled for help.
    Four days after getting lost and eventually snowbound, James and Kati were studying the Oregon map in their car. They noticed “a tiny box” up in the corner of the map that had the message: “Not all Roads Advisable, Check Weather Conditions”. Kati went to college in Eugene and was reflecting on a drive between Eugene and Florence on the Oregon coast. She believed that the route to the coast they took on this trip would have similar terrain.

    This route was significantly more mountainous and the road much more narrow than she expected. The car completely ran out of the rationed gas by Thursday, November 30th. Kati related that at this point, James was keeping a fire going everyday. They decided to take the spare tire out of the car and burn it on their warming fire in hopes of signaling help.

    James punctured the tire and put in onto the fire. The smoke was black but the trees were so tall that the smoke seemed to dissipate before it got above the timber.

    On Friday, November 1st, Kati and James decided to build a bigger fire and burn more tires to again try to get someone’s attention. They first took two tires off the car and got a good deal of black smoke going. They then furthered their effort by putting the other two tires on the fire as well as finding anything “caustic” in the car to burn to create black smoke. Kati walked down the road a ways to get a look at the plume.

    She said that this time it was getting above the trees and might be visible to someone. Kati stated, “If they won’t come save us, maybe they will come save their forest,” referring to the rangers who still had not come by. The Kims were still expecting someone to be by in a four wheel drive “anytime.”

    The signal fire had just “fizzled” out when Kati and James heard a helicopter in the area. James frantically tried to relight the fire hoping those in the helicopter might see it. It was so damp and wet that he couldn’t get the fire going again. Kati describes that afternoon, near dark about 4:30, as one of the toughest moments of their ordeal. They realized they had another night in the car.

    James and Kati discussed a plan where James was going to set out on foot to look for help. Kati recounts “James left us with the belief that there was a town called Galice only about four miles from our camp.

    He thought this town would have amenities, and would be located next to the river. There were, in fact, signposts with numbers posted directly in front of us and to the right of our camp, but we could not discern the meaning of these numbers.”

    He had barely eaten over the past week, “saving the food for the babies”. James took lighters, scissors and extra colorful clothes with him. Kati remembers that he left at “exactly 7:46” Friday morning. James was going to cut strips of clothing and tie the strips to trees so that he could mark his way back to the car.

    James was to turn around by 1 o’clock that afternoon. He never returned. James had a watch on when he left. Kati states that it was not working when the watch was returned to her later, after Roa James was found. d number sign picked up from bushes near car

    Kati made an effort the next day (Sunday) to walk out with the children. She states that she strapped them on her body and walked for about two and a half hours before she returned. She was too weak. Kati again heard a helicopter on this day.

    Kati stated that she had taken the visor out of the passenger side of their car. She had practiced directing the mirror, mounted in the visor, at passing airplanes. On Monday, December 4th, Kati again heard a helicopter in the area and started signaling with the vanity mirror.

    As she did, the helicopter came closer and closer until it started circling. She put down the mirror and started waving a pink umbrella. Kati stated that almost immediately two more helicopters “swooped” in and started dropping food.

    She said that she started feeding the girls chocolate. She said that they were very thirsty and the helicopter crews started dropping Gatorade bottles but they kept exploding open. Within 10 minutes, a helicopter landed nearby and loaded her and the girls for their ride to safety. It was then she learned that they had not found James.

    Kati expressed her gratitude for the efforts of all the searchers and law enforcement officers who worked diligently to find her and her family. She acknowledged the many who put her family first and put themselves in harm’s way to help.

    These statements seem to clarify some issues, but not others, and raise new questions, as well.

    It remains unclear why the Kims did not attempt to drive out. It now appears that they did not become stuck the first night, or at all. On the first morning, it was raining. Then snow came that night. How deep was the snow on the road? With all-wheel drive, why did they not go up the road? There seem to be several answers:

    • first, the Kims were definitely afraid of snow.
    • Secondly, they seemed to have an aversion for trying to turn around.
    • Thirdly, they felt they were lost.
    • Fourth, they thought that “a ranger” would come to shut a nearby gate.

    It is now clear that the Kims were not outdoorspeople at all, and apparently had little or no experience in a mountain or snowy environment, even for purposes of driving. To cite one important example: eating snow is a very bad idea when at risk for hypothermia. The heat loss is more than double that which would result from drinking cold stream water. The issue of contracting giardia from stream water was hardly an issue of importance, given their situation. I find the berries/bear scat story fascinating; it shows a clever but inexperienced person trying to find safe food. I give him credit for that. I am not familiar with the flora of the micro-environment in which they found themselves. In general, toxic berries are found on larger bushes and trees. On the other hand, confusing the sound of the Rogue with that of snowplows is absurd.
    The issue of why James Kim went off the road on Dec. 2 still cannot be resolved with certainty. However, it does appear that he left markers along the way, which speaks against hypothermia-induced loss of rationality. Mrs. Kim’s interviews do not give any more information about why they thought they were close to Galice, aside from the fact that they weren’t paying much attention to their odometer or distance travelled.

    As will be seen below, however, the facts seem to support the view that Kim was irrational when he went off the road; and that this was probably due to hypothermia. One could argue otherwise, and suggest that Kim simply made another big mistake, like the one he apparently made at the fork in the road; but it is my opinion that the decision to leave the road was beyond rationality.

    Mrs. Kim’s interview hints strongly at another source of irrational behavior: the need to overcompensate for prior mistakes.

    [click on image to enlarge]
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    Warning sign on Galice Road, at the outskirts of Merlin, one of four warning signs the Kims may have passed on their way to disaster.

    James Kim and his wife and two children were stranded in their vehicle along a remote Oregon logging road, becoming stuck at about 2AM on Sunday morning, November 26, 2006. On Saturday, Dec. 2, James Kim tried to walk for help. After hiking for 10 miles he reached the point where Big Windy Creek crossed the road. Here he left the road, began to shed his clothing, and died after making his way almost to the mouth of the drainage. Mrs. Kim and the children were rescued on Dec. 4. James Kim’s body was found 4 days and 5 miles from where he had left his vehicle and family. Image Hosted by ImageShack.us(from sfgate)

    A timeline has been released by the governor of Oregon, the Oregon Sheriff’s Association has released a report, and Kati Kim has provided considerable information.

    My initial question was why James Kim ended up so close to where he started? What happened to James Kim? Where was he trying to go?

    I have researched USGS, Google, Yahoo, and Forest Service maps, as well as the (often conflicting) published accounts. This map/diagram is quite helpful in getting an overall idea of the route, here, New information trickled in, all of which basically confirmed my impressions of his route. It remained to explain WHY he went that way. In this analysis, I try answer that question. As the information has trickled in, I have approached other issues, as well.

    This is a difficult puzzle, because at present there are several missing pieces: we do not apparently know where the Kims turned off Interstate 5, and we do not have a copy of the map that the Kims were using, and we do not know the exact weather at the Kims location, not to mention the obvious facts that James Kim is not here to tell his story, and his wife is understandibly in seclusion.

    I write this cautionary tale from the perspective of an experienced outdoorsman who has at times been at the mercy of big mountains, inadequate gear, bad roads, excessive testosterone, vehicular mishaps and malfunctions, tall trees, silly signage, bad weather, inaccurate maps, my companions, bad water, worse food, uncountable deadfalls, widowmakers and legbreakers, miscellaneous maladies and mayhem, things that wail in the night, the occasional intoxicant, poor judgement, bad mojo, the infrequent curious bear, and attempts at dead reckoning. Once or twice, I have had to read minds in order to find people. I am a physician, trained in the physiology and practical issues of hypothermia. I must say, however, that I while I am familiar with ice storms, I have never been stranded in one; if that is what the Kims experienced, if everything was covered in ice, then obviously they had limited options, and some of the comments I will make would not have applied.

    The tragedy of James Kim’s death should not fade from our minds because one official stated (irresponsibly, I think) that “James Kim did nothing wrong.” I think James was enough of a proponent of learning that he would want us to use his mistakes for the benefit of others. His death serves to emphasize several points about the dangers of winter travel, and precautions which should be taken.

    Some would reduce the entire episode to: “He should have stayed put.” It’s not that simple, as you will see, although as it turns out, he would have been saved had he done so.

    It is not the purpose of this piece to investigate or indict either the Kims or those who participated in the search for the Kims. But I would refer the interested reader to this piece in the Oregonian, which raises some VERY serious concerns, particularly about leadership. Furthermore, it seems that some officials are adopting a defensive posture, rather than trying to prevent this type of tragedy in the first place, and improving search and rescue. I was glad to see that on December 22, the governor of Oregon called for an investigation of the search effort. As a result, a timeline has been published, which is appended to the end of this story. Furthermore, the BLM is studying issues of access, and the Oregon Sheriff’s Association has issued a report.

    2005 Saab station wagon

    The Kims were traveling west over the coastal mountains in a silver 2005 Saab all-wheel drive station wagon, from Roseburg OR to Gold Beach OR, at night, in rain and snow, on Saturday, the 25th of November, on a series of linked roads. They last purchased gas at I5 and highway 228, over two hundred miles from where they became stuck. The conventional route from I-5 to the coast would have been Highway 42. Just south of Portland, according to one report ( denied later by Ms. Kim), they had picked up an Oregon state highway map, and at that time were told about alternative “scenic” routes to the coast that were “not on the map.” This report later proved to be false information. The Kims subsequently drove past the Highway 42 exit. Mrs. Kim states that this was unintentional, and says they found the Bear Camp Road route on their map. Bear Camp Road (Forest Road 23), which crosses the coastal mountains at Bear Camp, elevation 4300 feet, then descends into Agness and then to their destination at Gold Beach. In an editorial published in the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, Spencer Kim strongly suggests that the Kims were:

    misled by a map that depicted the road they chose through the Coast Range as a major thoroughfare…

    It is important to understand several issues about the road names in the area:
    1) Forest and BLM Roads are numbered; some are also named, for part or all of their length. Some are paved for some or all of their length. Every road the Kims travelled from the time they left Galice was SINGLE LANE. Though sometimes described as “scenic,” these roads would better be described as “recreational use only.”
    2) The Galice Road is a county road which runs north and south through the unincorporated community of Galice, a hub for river rafting on the Rogue River. This road can be reached by any one of four exits from Interstate 5. Galice is the starting point for the two “scenic” routes heading west over the mountains to the coast, one of which was chosen by the Kims.
    3) The two routes to the coast from the Galice Road begin within a few hundred feet of each other in Galice; the best way to understand these roads is to “Google map” Galice OR, and zoom down until the numbers and names of the roads west of Galice become apparent:
    a) the Galice Access Road to Bear Camp Road, over the summit to Agness, and then to the coast.
    b) Peavine Road to Serpentine Springs Road, to the Galice Access Road, to Bear Camp Road, to Agness, to the coast.
    4) The Galice Access Road is actually the easternmost 12 miles of BLM Road 34-8-36, an approximately 30 mile long one lane road which is paved in some areas. Its eastern terminus is in Galice at the Galice Road. It then runs about 12 miles west from Galice part way up the mountains to connect with the eastern terminus of Bear Camp Road (Forest Road 23). BLM 34-8-36 continues from that point (though no longer called the Galice Access Road) and begins a long, generally northwest descent toward the Rogue River by switchback turns, following the Big Windy Creek drainage for several miles, and giving off a spur which runs one mile north to the Black Bar fishing lodge on the Rogue River. Its northwestern terminus is in a maze of logging roads several miles past the spur road.
    5) Bear Camp Road (Forest Road 23)(This term is also used as a generic description of the summit area): Its eastern terminus is at the Galice Access Road (which is the easternmost 12 miles of BLM Road 34-8-36) a few miles east of the Bear Camp summit, then up over the summit and down the other side to Agness. The Kims reached the eastern terminus of Road 23, and started up it, but encountered snow. They then backed down the road, back to Road 34-8-36, and drove west on that road, instead of on Road 23.

    As noted above, the Kims could have reached Galice by any one of four turnoffs from I-5. All four of these roads are shown as “other roads” (but not named) on the Oregon map in the Rand McNally 1994 Road Atlas of the United States. Lower Wolf Creek Road or Leland Road would have put them on the northern end of Galice Road. The other two possible turnoffs from Interstate 5, well past the first two, are Monument Road and Merlin Road, which both lead to Merlin, and thence to Galice, from the south. According to the Sheriff’s Association report, Mrs. Kim said they stopped in Merlin, so they must have taken either Monument Road or Merlin Road off the interstate.
    The Kims stopped in Merlin somewhere around midnight, where James obtained unclear information. Subsequently they started up either Peavine or Road 34-8-36 (the Galice Access Road), late at night, with two small children, and apparently with less than a half tank of gas. According to the Sheriff’s Association report:

    They stopped at a gas station in Merlin near Grants Pass for clarification, but James Kim was confused by the attendant’s directions and did not come away with an understanding that it was a dangerous route, Kati Kim said.
    Although earlier reports described the night as stormy, Kati Kim said it wasn’t raining when the family started up the road.

    As one leaves Merlin, the warning sign is posted here. Mrs. Kim stated that they did not see this sign. Why not? It wasn’t raining, it wasn’t snowing. At Galice, in this scenario, the Kims, again, would have had their choice of turning onto either Peavine Road or the Galice Access Road to get to the coast.
    The Galice Access Road has already been described. This road sometimes becomes blocked by landslides/rockslides.
    Pea-vine Road (BLM 34-8-27) has recently been improved and does not yet appear on many maps, other than those designed for recreational users; and the Kims seem to have been told about it at the same time they were told about 34-8-36: Pea-vine Road eventually joins Serpentine Springs Road (BLM Road 35-9-1.2), and joins Galice Access Road, (34-8-36) via a right turn, before Bear Camp Road is reached. Along Peavine Road, however, it is possible to take a wrong turn, to the right, and end up on a maze of logging roads to the north.

    Whether the Kims actually turned onto the Galice Access Road 34-8-36 or onto Peavine in Galice, it seems clear that they would then drive some 30 miles. Yet week later, James Kim thought they were quite close to Galice, because he did not think they had gone very far. I am frankly amazed by that fact. Apparently they did not have a map that showed the maze of roads to the north of Peavine or that along 34-8-36. So he had no objective reason to think he was close to Galice. And he wasn’t. And this misimpression was one of the factors that resulted in his death. We will probably never fully understand this important issue. The take-home lesson, however, is obvious: when in unfamiliar territory and uncertain about directions, take careful notice of miles traveled, turns made, and elapsed time.

    Regardless of which route they chose in Galice, they should have recognized the significance of turning onto a BLM road: you MUST ASSUME it will not be maintained for travel in the same way that county or state roads are. “BLM” stands for “Bureau of Land Management.” “Forest” means National Forest. Feds do not (you should pardon my opinion) do not consider point to point travel as a priority, ie these roads are for recreation or logging, not for efficient family travel. They are certainly not “major thoroughfares.” Under these conditions, the Kims NEVER should should have turned off the Galice Road onto any BLM or Forest Road. It has been contended that the highway map did not indicate the nature of the road. But the Kims were THERE. They could see it. Mrs. Kim stated they were reassured by the presence of a snowplow along the road. The Galice Access Road, BLM 34-8-36, in particular, has a history of closures at all times of the year. Web-based maps would not have this important kind of information. Mrs. Kim denied that they had used web-based maps. Did they know about the weather forecast when they stopped in Eugene, around lunchtime? Had James Kim been drinking or using substances? How did they happen to miss their intended turnoff to the coast? why did they not go back along I-5 to get back to that turnoff? Why did James Kim seemingly pay so little attention to his driving? Did he have a record of traffic offenses? of drug or alcohol abuse?
    They apparently did not get gas in Merlin. Their supply of gasoline can be calculated from their last credit card gasoline purchase at I-5 and Highway 228, approximately 220 miles from the point at which they became stuck. The tank capacity of the Saab is 18.5 gallons. This vehicle may have averaged about 23 miles per gallon in those conditions. By this calculations, they had about 8 gallons left when they became stuck. Had they thought about getting more gas? If they had no trouble they would have ended up a the coast still with a quarter tank of gas.. Did their all-wheel drive vehicle give them a false sense of security? What sort of tires did they have?
    Back to the night they got lost: Whether they had turned onto Peavine or Galice Access Road in Galice, according to Ms. Kim, it did not start snowing until they reached a sign warning of snow drifts six miles ahead.

    They had to stop at one point because of rocks which had slid onto the road, a not uncommon occurrence on that stretch. [In fact, as of Dec. 21, the road has been closed because of landslides.] About 5 miles past Road 35-8-5, they reached a point on the road just short of Bear Camp Summit where a confusing fork can easily fool the traveler. At this point, we have the beginning of Forest Road 23 (“Bear Camp Road”) which branches to the left toward Gold Beach, while the BLM Road 34-8-36 continues to the right. At this point, the designation “Galice Access Road” is dropped, and accounts begin to refer to this route as simply Road 34-8-36, or “a logging road.”

    Free Image Hosting

    the fork: Bear Camp Road (Forest Road 23) to the left, 34-8-36 to the right

    Below: looking along 34-8-36

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us(source: sfgate)

    below: looking up Bear Camp Road (Forest Road 23)

    Free Image Hosting
    Look closely at these three images, taken at the fork in the road, to understand how confusing the signage is. The sign is between the two roads: Forest 23 (Bear Camp Road) going up and to the left, BLM Road 34-8-36 (continuation of the Galice Access Road) going to the right, where the vehicles are. According to Klamath County Sheriff Tim Evinger, who led a review of the search by the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association:

    They took the left fork, staying on Bear Camp Road, but backed up to the fork after seeing snow ahead.

    Fearing they could run off the road by trying to turn around, they took the fork to the right, thinking it would lead to the coast and the lodge where they had reservations, Evinger said.

    “The road to the right is paved as well, and actually wider than the correct road,” Evinger said. “So they chose to get to a lower elevation to get out of the snow. So they went to the right.”

    They followed that logging road 21 miles but stopped at 2 a.m. to use their gasoline for warmth while waiting to be found, Evinger said. …

    Kati Kim did not recall seeing three signs warning that Bear Camp Road could be blocked by snow but did see a parked snowplow that led her to believe the road was maintained, Evinger said. The first sign she recalled warning of snowdrifts was at the fork.

    According to this story, the Kims made a terrifically bad choice; it is difficult to even believe that they did this. They simply invented the idea that 34-8-36 would take them to the coast without going over the mountains…one hates to believe that they were so foolish….did they think there was a tunnel? a river road that no one had told them about? Why were they so determined to reach the coast at all costs? Was it because they had booked and paid for a room at the swanky Tu Tu Tun resort? Although there are several levels of accommodations there, it would seem that one could obtain a room for around a hundred dollars at that time of year, but they may have paid more; the two children would have added another 50 to the room rate.

    It had seemed much more likely that, in the snow, they had just missed the sign. Look how tiny the sign is pointing to the coast…Did they not see the sign? or did they see it, and not understand which way it was pointing? From Mrs. Kim’s comments, they apparently understood the sign. You can see a video of the sign here.

    There was supposed to be a gate across 34-8-36, which would have forced them to turn left onto Forest 23, and initial reports stated that someone had cut the lock; but on 12/13, a government spokesman admitted that the gate had not been vandalized; it was never locked.

    “The idea was our BLM engineer, the lead engineer, had directed the staff to go out there and lock the gate on Nov. 1, Campbell said. “Basically what they found was, when they got out there, they were unable to confirm no one was trapped behind the gate. So they made the decision not to close it.”


    At around this time, the Kims called 911 THREE times and got no response. If they were that concerned, why did they not go back to Galice/Merlin? Why did they go down a road that did not go to the coast, by the sign? It defies explanation.

    Notice also the small amount of snow; at the lower elevations where James Kim walked, the road was clear of snow, as of the day before he left. But at higher elevations, ie Bear Camp summit, the snow was very deep.
    At any rate, the Kims continued on BLM Road 34-8-36. A mile later, they made a left turn, here, and continued another 20 or so miles, snaking around the head of Big Windy drainage (this point is not far from where he left the road, a week later), and down past a road which led to the Rogue River and a Black Bar fishing lodge. Six miles past the turnoff to the lodge, at about 2 am, they finally stopped.

    At about 2 o’clock in the morning, the Kim’s knew they were definitely disoriented and chose to park their car at a “T” intersection. They thought there was a good chance that one of the plows might be by during the night or in the morning.
    When they awoke, it was raining at the altitude where they were parked. They knew that to get back out, they would have to go up through the snow zone.

    They were about here. At about that time, their cell phone registered twice within a few seconds, to the Glendale tower, about 20 miles east of their location. Records of this transmission were not analyzed until late afternoon the following Saturday, but did give a good clue to the Kims’ location:

    In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Fuqua said he and his co-worker, Noah Pugsley, were able to trace a “ping” from the Kims’ cell phone when it received text messages.

    They located not only the cell tower in Glendale, from which the messages were relayed, but a specific area west of the town where the phone received them.

    With the family’s possible location narrowed down, the pair used computer software to create a map predicting what parts of the mountainous region received any cell phone coverage at all.

    Fuqua said he then relied on his experience traveling the forested back roads to guess the course the family may have taken. He guessed quite well.

    Fuqua pointed out that, based on his experience and training, he estimated the Kims’ cell phone was most likely in the vicinity of Bear Camp Road,” the detective’s report stated.

    More detail:

    Each tower has three antennas pointed in different directions. Edge’s records would say which antenna transmitted the call, narrowing the search area to a wedge on the map.

    More detail on the pings:

    The phone “pinged” — or registered — two quick blips on the tower. The first lasted one second and then was gone. Four seconds later, the phone registered again just long enough for the network to send the phone a notice that there were voice or text messages waiting, Fuqua said.

    The signal quickly faded, and didn’t last long enough for the family to check the message. It was also too weak for the family to make a call, he said.

    The critical detail here seems to be that the Kims may or may not have been aware that they had passed through an area where text messaging might have been possible. Their cell phone battery was running down, and they did not have a DC charger.

    Unfortunately, the cell phone information seems to have been misunderstood by the authorities. Perhaps the engineer provided too much information about the technical details, and the “MEAT” of the story was lost. The story, however, seems to have been part of the reason why state authorities shifted the search to the Bear Camp Road area. See the search summary appended at the end of this posting. We do not yet have information about what caused the private helicopter pilot to search the area where he found the critical tracks which led to the rescue of Mrs. Kim and the children.

    Additional detail:

    Fuqua, the wireless engineer, first called the state police tip line on Friday, Dec. 1, saying he thought he could track the Kims’ cell phone. He called again the next day and eventually told Portland police Detective Mike Weinstein he had discovered data on the phone’s last contact with a cell tower.

    Weinstein said Fuqua had used a “probability program” to narrow the phone’s location, based on the tower’s coverage area and the fact that no other tower in the area registered a hit. Fuqua concluded that the Kims’ phone had been “in the vicinity of Bear Camp Road, a considerable distance west of Interstate 5.”

    Weinstein said he quickly related this description to state police Detective David Steele, who was running the tip line in Salem. But Steele, in his report, remembers hearing something quite different.

    The cell phone tower — not the Kims’ phone — was “near the top of Bear Camp Road,” Steele wrote, reversing the antenna’s location with where it pointed. He forwarded the erroneous information to searchers in Southern Oregon, records show.

    Despite the miscommunication, state police officials decided to reopen the search on Bear Camp Road the next day.

    Let me say in their defense, however, that the inherent difficulties in searching the area were huge. And the terminology “Bear Camp Road” meant different things to different people. The cell phone information was probably obtained too late to save James Kim, even if it had been acted upon immediately.

    UPDATE: In an interview, Jackson County sheriff’s lieutenant Rowland

    acknowledges that there might have been some missteps, such as ignored cell phone records of calls made by the Kims near Grants Pass that could’ve helped crews develop a better sense of what direction the couple was heading.

    It is hard to know whether this represents continuing misunderstanding of the cell phone data, or a leak of information which had not previously been known. Certainly it would be a blockbuster is there was data out there that could have immediately located the Kims in the vicinity of Grant’s Pass earlier in the night.

    All orginal reports before the Sheriff’s Association report suggested that the Kim’s vehicle had became stuck; the Kims were reportedly able to free it, but used a considerable amount of gas in so doing. The Sheriff’s Association report, however, stated:

    Weighing the fact that they would have to travel back up in altitude and that they were lost in a maze of roads, they chose to stay put and conserve the remaining gas for heat. The Kims were confident that a ranger would be along soon.

    On Friday, the day before James Kim hiked out, the owner of the Black Bar fishing lodge (and his brother) would drive on a snowmobile down BLM 34-8-36 toward the river about a mile from the infamous fork in the road, and see tireprints going in, but not coming out. Because of the lack of snow cover at the lower elevations, he was not able to go farther on his snowmobile. He reported his observations to local authorities, but they were misunderstood, and not followed up. In fact, the local authorities proclaimed Bear Camp Road to be “clear!”This is the single most important mistake made during the search efforts. Here, again, it should be noted, that substantial confusion can arise if one party is using the term “Bear Camp Road” to refer strictly to the right of way also called Forest Road 23, and the other party is taking “Bear Camp Road” to mean the area around the summit.

    For seven days, Kim family survived. We have as yet little information on their decision making.

    The Kims awoke Monday morning, November 27th, to heavy snowfall. Kati
    described the snowfall as having “bent the tree branches nearly to the ground.”

    One must wonder at their reported decision not to attempt to drive out because they felt they might be too low on gas. How low? A rough calculation suggested that they had 8 gallons of gas when they reached the point where they stopped. Did they fear getting stuck? But what would they lose if they did get stuck? why did they use the gas to get unstuck in the first place, if they weren’t going to try to drive out? could they not turn around? would they have had to drive in reverse? It was snowing, though there should not have been a great deal of accumulation at that elevation. How much of the snow and rain had turned to ice?

    We know that by Friday, Dec. 1, much of 34-8-36 was free of snow. Instead of moving back up the road as far as they could while running the engine for heat, they stayed where they were. Undoubtedly their decision saved some gas, but…

    If they had received notice of the text message on their cellphone, and if the cell phone battery was charged, it is incomprehensible to me that James Kim would not have either driven or walked back up the road at least far enough to find the hot spot where he could use his cell phone.

    How much fuel did they use while running the engine for heat?

    The only statistic we’ve ever seen for the amount of fuel used at idle is from the Ohio Air Quality Development Authority. It says that the average car uses about 0.15 gallons of fuel per hour of idling.

    Assuming they had 8 gallons of fuel remaining after getting “unstuck,” and omitting the fuel used to start the engine each time, they could run it for about 55 hours. If they ran the engine about 1/2 of the time, this would mean they could keep the car warm for 100 hours, 3-4 days. This fits quite closely with the facts as told by Mrs. Kim, that they ran out of gas on Wednesday, the 29th.

    The Kims evidently had difficulty starting a fire:

    On Wednesday, Nov. 29, the family ran out of gas and started a fire with magazines, but the available wood was frozen, heavy and hard to gather. The next day, they turned to a spare tire for an afternoon fire. On Friday, they removed the four tires from their car and, by 11 a.m., had stoked a blaze they hoped would attract attention. By afternoon, their fire was out.

    It is presently not generally known whether or not the Kims had any gloves. In 30 degree weather, exposed hands can quickly become cold, then painful, and then useless, all within a few minutes. Covering the hands with something other than gloves or mittens may delay the onset of pain, but will also impair function.

    Evidently the ice was a significant problem, but for information purposes I think that it is worthwhile to mention an important survival ploy: pine stumps are a fantastic source of easily ignitable wood. I learned this firsthand in the middle of a blizzard. You don’t even need an ax: just kick down the stump, kick it apart to find some relatively dry parts, and the pitch in the wood will make it burn like mad. This fact is the basis of a commercial kindling product: the product is called “fatwood.”


    On Saturday, (the day that the engineers identified the week-old cell phone ping) a decision was made that James Kim would try and walk for help.

    What happened to James Kim? Where did he start his walk, what was he trying to do, and, after hiking so far, how did he end up so close to where he had started?

    The answer seems to lie partly in his confusion about which forest road he was on, but, as we shall see, it is also possible that Kim’s judgment was impaired by hypothermia.

    By the time James Kim left the station wagon, at 7:45 am on Saturday, Dec. 2, he was probably already cold, and in a depleted nutritional state. His normal weight was about 135 pounds. The temperature that day reached 43, with a low of 28. There was a wind of 10 mph, making the wind chill factor close to 32.

    Undoubtedly, he had spent considerable time and thought in an effort to reconstruct the events that led him to his plight. He had a map, and certainly he tried to use it to determine where he was, and how best to get out.

    Kati recounts “James left us with the
    belief that there was a town called Galice
    only about four miles from our camp. He
    thought this town would have amenities, and
    would be located next to the river. There
    were, in fact, signposts with numbers posted
    directly in front of us and to the right of our
    camp, but we could not discern the meaning
    of these numbers.” –Sheriff’s Assoc.

    He was actually on the distant stretches of 34-8-36, 15 miles from Galice, but apparently thought he was only 4 miles from Galice. This had to mean that he thought he was in the maze of logging roads which branch off the Peavine-Serpentine Springs route, previously mentioned. These have been improved in the past two years, for the purpose of shuttling river runners’ vehicles between the coast and Galice. These routes are not shown, in their present form, on many satellite and/or USGS topo maps, though they are known to local residents and are on some recreational maps. It had been reported that a person near Eugene may have showed or drawn some of these roads on their map, but this has proven to be false. Most likely, the Kims had no map or other knowledge of the roads they were on. When he tried to walk out, he thought he was close to Galice, but had no idea of the road numbers, names or locations. He did not know, apparently, anything, other than the fact that Galice was to the east, and (he thought) 4 miles away. According to a police officer:

    … James Kim had wanted to find a road to the nearby town of Galice and possibly a motorist, or to get to the Rogue River as a way to the town…James Kim thought Galice was only 4 miles distant, to the east, although it was really 15 miles away…


    Why did the Kims think they were only 4 miles from Galice?

    Apparently, Kim did not have a map which showed the primitive roads in the rough area bounded by the Rogue River on the east and north and west, and by 34-8-36 and Bear Camp Road on the south. He apparently thought that the Saab had reached a point about here.

    The Kims had no knowledge of the Black Bar lodge, further evidence that they did not have a detailed map of the area. It is interesting to speculate on what was going through James Kim’s mind as he walked along the road. Surely he was counting his steps, to keep track of how far he had gone. He could have been walking at about 3 mph. When he reached four miles, at around ten o’clock, he must have been confounded not to have gotten to Galice. After walking another two miles, sometime between 1030 and 1100, he reached the turnoff which, unbeknownst to him, led to the Rogue, the Black Bar Lodge, and safety. He could certainly hear the river roaring. Why did he not go down that road, particularly since he thought he was near Galice? Most likely it was gated, although we do not know for sure. A fascinating question to ponder. He declines the option of a road which certainly goes to the river, and yet an hour and a half later, 4 miles up the road, he goes off the road, over the edge and down into the rough country where he would die.

    Perhaps he was distracted by the sound of helicopters which may have flown over at about this time. This must have given him a great thrill, followed by frustration. The rational step at this point would have been to go back to the vehicle, since he knew that a search was ongoing in the area. However, he did not do the rational thing.

    Instead, he traveled another 4 miles up the road, reaching the spot where the road crossed the creek around noon or perhaps 1230, giving him a time to stop and rest. There are some parklike areas near there, from which Kim must have been able to look out to the east and south; had he been clear headed, he would have realized that his reckoning as to the location of Galice was seriously in error, and that he was more lost than he had realized. He could see the Big Windy drainage starting west and curving north, more or less paralleling the road he had walked up on. Is it possible that he ventured down into a park to put up his colorful markers, and then was unable to climb back up to the road? I kind of doubt this theory. But certainly he must have feeling rather weak.

    He had told his wife that he would turn back at 1 pm “if he didn’t find anything.” He had therefore planned to walk for about 4 hours, which could have taken him about 10 or 12 miles, before turning back. He actually went up the road for about ten miles. He apparently had a coat, sweater, shirt, (or possibly two grey sweatshirts) and two pairs of pants (gray pants over blue jeans), a pair of running shoes on his feet, but, unfortunately, no hat. [The role of the head in heat loss is always underestimated: “my head doesn’t feel cold.” Well, neither does your vehicle’s radiator. But both your head and your radiator are designed to lose large amounts of heat. If, in fact, James Kim was bareheaded (and balding), I must conclude that hypothermia was the cause of his decision to leave the road. ] The temperature was in the thirties, as he started out, reaching the low forties for a high. As far as we know, he was not wet.

    Most hypothermia cases develop in air temperatures between 30 and 50 degrees. Most outdoor enthusiasts simply can’t believe such temperatures can be dangerous. They fatally underestimate the danger of being wet at such temperatures.


    Many outdoorsmen are probably thinking “shoot, I can walk ten miles easy and i just feel hot and sweaty.” To this I say, take somebody the size of a 12 year old, fast him for a week, take away his hat, put him out in 35 degree weather, and see what happens…

    He was probably still trying to make sense of the terrain and reconcile it with his map, when he reached a decision point: the heavy snow which had fallen earlier had melted off these lower parts of the road, but he had now reached the snow line. To go any higher would have meant continuous hiking though snow. (In one news conference, it was stated that he had snowshoes, but the helicopter pilot stated that there was no snow on the road up to around the point where Kim left it. Given this eyewitness statement, and the absence of any other supporting evidence, I would suggest it is highly unlikely James Kim had snowshoes with him, and there is no evidence at present that he had them at the time he reached the snow line. I believe the snowshoes statement at the press conference was a misunderstanding.)

    Here he was on the horns of a dilemma.

    He wasn’t equipped to walk through the snow, though it may not have been very deep at this time. He apparently had no idea how far it was to the “Y” in the road, or even if he had followed the proper route….was it too far for him to walk through snow? Though it may just be coincidence, the snow line seems to have been a barrier to his advance. The Kims seemed quite averse to snow.

    It was well past time for him to start back to the vehicle, if he had not “found anything.” But perhaps he put off turning back, because he hated the thought of the moment when he would tell his wife that he could not get through the snow. But the fact that he did not turn back on the road may also have been a sign that he was losing his faculties.

    At this moment, around noon, Kim had to make a decision….to go right, left, ahead or back. And his life depended on it. As it turns out, he had three chances out of four to choose survival options. Unfortunately, and irrationally, he chose the fourth, the fatal option: going to his left off the road. It was a decision which almost replicated the choice he had made a week earlier when he was driving up the mountains and reached the snow line: instead of turning back to safety, or going ahead toward his objective, he made a totally irrational choice: he took a route about which he knew absolutely nothing, and a route which any rational person would say could not succeed.

    The issue here is whether or not he was suffering from hypothermia at the time he made the apparently wrongheaded decision to drop down into Big Windy bottom; given his slender build, a week of grossly inadequate food intake, his inadequate clothing (particularly the lack of a hat) and the low temperature, and the duration of his exposure, that would certainly have been a likely explanation for what he decided to do. Initial reports suggested that he had walked only 4 miles before going off road; but it is now clear that he had gone more than TEN MILES. More than enough time for hypothermia to have set in. He had a heavy jacket, with no hood or hat. How about the two sweatshirts he had? if they were cotton, they may not have been very useful, but Mrs. Kim said they were dry.

    But let’s first try to make the case that he was not hypothermic, that, instead, he was acting rationally when he went off road, back down toward the Rogue River: here is the crux: upon reaching the Big Windy creek, he had just walked four miles along the side of a north-south drainage, hoping that he would get to a road going east to Galice?….how could he have the idea that going back down the drainage, through the trees, would get him to such a road to Galice? Some have argued that Kim acted rationally by taking the left turn down an east-going drainage….but couldn’t Kim see that the drainage curved north? couldn’t he see that there was no opening to the east?
    His map and his prior planning may have told him one thing. But the ground was telling him something else. What Kim was looking at from the road was the huge canyon or drainage of Big Windy Creek. This drains

    … to the Rogue River…

    but in no way could it be considered

    …as a way to the town…

    as it drains northeast, and finally, north, rather than east, towards Galice. It is difficult to believe that Kim, even without a compass, would have ignored this obvious fact, unless his judgment was impaired. Furthermore, if he had an up to date recreational map, it may have showed that the way to Galice was ON THE ROAD.

    The only other explanation would be that when he reached the spot where Big Windy Creek crossed the road, he thought that, regardless of where he was, the creek would lead him to the Rogue River, and he could then follow the river upstream to Galice. This seems to be a remote possibility. If Kim had wanted to reach the river, he would have taken the road, four miles earlier, down to the river at the fishing lodge. Or from the head of Big Windy Creek he could have turned around and walked back there on the road. But to try and bushwhack it? Seems too foolish to be rational.

    The single most persuasive argument for Kim not being hypothermic at the time he left the road was the report that he placed his clothing in a pattern to guide searchers who might be looking for him. I have turned this over in my mind several times and I do not think that the presence of the markers rules out the idea that Kim was mentally impaired by hypothermia. The plan to leave markers was firmly embedded in his mind; so he left the markers. But the route was an actual decision, and he made it very irrationally.

    [Addendum: the helicopter pilot who actually landed at the location where footprints were seen has unequivocally stated that these were actually bear tracks, not the prints of James Kim. The exact location, then, at which Kim left the road is not known. The discarded pants, however, were found, off-road, nearby. ]

    Is it possible that Kim saw a bear ahead on the road and ran away from it? Seems far fetched. The odds of seeing a bear in the woods without doing anything to attract it are negligible.

    Whether his mind was clouded or whether he simply made a mistake, he dropped down off the road and into the woods along Big Windy Creek. Very shortly, his fate was sealed, as he became progressively wetter and colder. He seems to have dropped or placed several items of clothing and pieces of his map as he went. Apparently, or possibly, they were markers.

    He was going right down the center of the drainage, and was not on a trail. He was shaded by the tall trees. It was a difficult hike, one can see how narrow the bottom is. He undoubtedly became more wet from stumbling around in the bottom, from perspiration and from the snow/rain, which had soaked everything. He was wearing cotton bluejeans. He did not discard his coat. But he kept on, even wading or swimming across the creek at times. Something kept him going, but eventually he was probably completely irrational. Apparently none of the searchers would find any evidence that he ever tried to start a fire. He was found in the creek, where he may well have laid down to rest. Searchers suggested he may have fallen, but there is no evidence that he hit his head or injured himself. In fact, a creek, strangely, is not an uncommon final resting place for hypothermic hikers, as their body temperature dips into the 80’s. Death from hypothermia is said to be peaceful, just going to sleep. Let us hope.

    He had walked a hairpin like route, some ten miles long on one side, and a mile wide, then back 4 miles: up and down the same drainage. It was a heroically long slog, but not at all the right thing to do.

    James Kim acted irrationally from the time he left the vehicle until the time he died. Was part of this due to hypothermia? I think so. But guilt and exhaustion and fasting certainly contributed. I have to say, however, that James Kim’s mind is a bit of a mystery to me. The careless and irrational behavior he exhibited while driving his family into this mess is appalling. So when he left the road on his walk, was he just showing more of the same poor judgement? We will never know.

    The next morning, Sunday, a independent helicopter pilot noted tracks in the snow on Road 34-8-36, and that afternoon a four wheel drive truck was dispatched to explore the area, but was apparently stymied by snow drifts… the truck tried to come from the west on Bear Camp Road, which would involve going over the summit, and never got to BLM Road 34-8-36. There is no mention of snowmobiles being involved in that search, though on Thursday, one sheriff reportedly instituted a snowmobile search which was confined to Bear Camp Road. From the photographs of the fork in the road, it seems likely that it WAS possible to reach the scene from the EAST, via the Galice Access Road.

    Ms. Kim was found on Monday, by the same helicopter pilot who had spotted the tracks the previous day.

    Later in the day, a heat-imaging helicopter found two “hot spots” in the Big Windy drainage. On Tuesday, James Kim’s clothing was found. On Wednesday, his remains were located in the creek, a half mile from the river.

    Turn around and drive out. It is unbelievable that the Kims paid no attention even to how far they had driven or time consumed along a totally unfamiliar road, etc. It almost seems like they were impaired. No one was gonna find the Kims within the time frame in which they would have fuel and food. Why would they think that a ranger could get in, but they couldn’t drive out? If the vehicle got stuck, I would have considered the weather, and planned a time to walk out.

    Would I have found the fishing lodge? I don’t know.

    Kim used the conventional “stay put” strategy, which is usually advised for those who are lost. It would have resulted in their all being saved, had they stuck with it.

    But it is important to note that while the Kims did not know where they were, they certainly should have known how to get out: just follow the road back. Furthermore, the Kims could have no realistic hope that anyone would find them within a week. They had essentially driven as far into difficult wilderness as possible, and left no clues as to where they were.

    After a week of fasting, he really walked too far, much too far. At this point, he probably weighed about 125 pounds, assuming a fasting wt loss of 1-2% of body weight each day. And he would have been weak and deprived of vitamins and nutrients.

    If your cell phone cannot make calls because of poor coverage, try text messaging. In marginal situations, the fact that texting uses much less bandwidth is important: text may go through, when a call will not. I have personally seen this work.

    The “stay where you are” rule has to be taken with a grain of salt. A vehicle is a great resource, but if you are not visible to searchers, you may have to leave it temporarily. On this very same road:

    May, 1995

    Oregon teenagers found the body of DeWitt Finley, a 56-year-old salesman, in the cab of his pickup truck. Last seen on November 14, Finley had turned off the main highway to take the back roads through Siskiyou National Forest to Grants Pass. He became stuck in the snow on Bear Camp Road and starved to death while waiting for help.

    Diary entries indicated that Finley had failed to venture out of his truck because he was certain God would provide for his rescue, waiting in his truck for at least nine weeks before he died.

    During that time he wrote letters to his employer, saying, “I have no control over my life. It’s all in His hands. His will be done. Death here in another month or so, so He sends someone to save me. Yet knowing His will, I’m at peace and His grace will prevail. If I’m saved to finish my life here, please know I’ll always be thankful to you and remain your servant. If not — I’ll see you in Glory.”

    The entire nine weeks Finley was waiting and praying, he was no more than a few hundred feet from a clear, paved road which was only a 16-mile walk to a store and safety.


    The rule is when lost and on foot, DON’T GO OFF THE ROAD, BUT DO USE IT: Apparently the Kims did LEAVE MARKERS/NOTES/MAKE SIGNALS, but only close by the vehicle.

    But the other lesson from this tragic story is how hypothermia will sneak up on you, cloud your mind and kill you. The only signs may be shivering or purple lips.

    If you must move, do it with a definite plan and purpose, dress as well as possible, and set very conservative limits on how far you go. Take your shot while you are still in good physical condition. YOU WILL NOT REALIZE IT WHEN YOUR MIND IS BECOMING CLOUDED. Most times, the affected individual will begin to make incoherent statements, without any self-awareness.

    The signage for the turnoff to Bear Camp Road is a disgrace and a proven menace. The Kims were exceptionally careless, but others have previously had problems, as well. It must be improved. At a minimum, BLM 34-8-36 should be marked at the fork as Dead End, no exit, off-road/4WD vehicles only. Bear Camp Road itself should also be marked with flashing lights during hazardous conditions/seasons. A practical gate system should be considered. Anyone who wishes to contact the National Forest about these issues can go here. It is astonishing to me that not a single statement has been issued by January 5 indicative of any sort of regrets or changes as a result of this tragedy. As a result, I am glad to see that Sen. Dianne Feinstein has taken an interest in this situation.
    This guy, who apparently formerly worked search and rescue, has continued to make public remarks which make little sense in terms of how to prevent future tragedies:

    People who have lived around here know that if there’s deep snow on the road and no tracks in front of you, then you don’t continue,” Marek said. “The fact that a gate was there, whether closed or not, should have made them turn around.”

    The point is that it is people who are NOT from “around here” that get into trouble, and they DO get into trouble on a regular basis. If the gentleman wishes to exclude non-locals from the county, he should just go ahead and propose that. Otherwise, I would suggest that he just put a sock in it; everybody knows that the Kims made a lot of mistakes.

    Finally, it must be said that there seem to be serious questions about the qualifications, health status, personal qualities, and performance of key people in charge of the search. These and other systemic issues related to the SAR coordination must be investigated.

    Access to wilderness areas must always strike a balance between the rights of the individual and the protection of the foolish. In the vicinity of Bear Camp Road, that balance has to be shifted toward protection. According to a sheriff, over thirty search and rescue efforts have been mounted in this Bear Camp Road area over the last 8 years. . A personal story:

    My husband and I have been saddened by this news. In July, 2005, we naively took the same road the Kim family did. Our college age son was with us and we were in a mid-size rental car (our first trip to Oregon). What we were told would be a short cut, took us 4 terrifying hours to maneuver with heavy rain threatening to fall on us. Tourists do not belong on this road.

    This pattern has to be changed by a more aggressive approach to warnings, signage, gates, and road closings.


    Addendum: I wonder if there is a technology which would allow an aircraft (or a ground vehicle, for that matter) to carry a cell phone repeater of some sort. My thought is that if a helicopter could carry such a device and fly slowly over areas which were not served by towers, it might be possible to contact a cellphone on the ground. UPDATE: there is such a technology, and it was used in a subsequent rescue attempt on Mt. Hood.

    Cell phone tracking technology

    “If you understand how a cell phone works, you can use it as a survival tool,” said Ron Howard, president and CEO of Iomax Inc., a North Carolina firm that develops cell-phone tracking technology.

    Howard sent a company team to Mt. Hood to search for James’s cell phone, using technology it sells to the U.S. Defense Department.

    If the phone still has battery power and is turned on, Iomax claims it can find it to within 40 or 50 meters. Traditional cell companies have tools that can only locate a phone to within 500- to 1,000 yards, said Howard.
    That type of technology does two things: it pinpoints the location of a live cell phone, and in very remote cases, it creates a coverage grid where one didn’t exist before.

    Howard has the following suggestions for those who get stuck in remote conditions with cell phones:

    •Keep it dry. The warmer and dryer a phone is, the longer the battery life. Keep the cell phone close to your body in survival situations.

    If you don’t know where you are, try to call 911 and describe your general location and situation. If your phone has a very weak signal, save the battery by shutting off the phone.


    The enhanced wireless 911 system can help to locate the origin of a cell phone call.

    Mobile phone users may also have a selection to permit the location information gathered to be sent to other phone numbers or data networks, so that it can help people who are simply lost or want other location-based services. By default, this selection is usually turned off, to protect privacy.


    Addendum: I have appended an edited version of the search timeline released by the governor of Oregon. Several points can be made from this information:
    calculation of fuel capacity, last fill up, and distance travelled suggests the Kims had about 8 gallons of gas when they parked their vehicle.
    the Kims made a number of irrational decisions before and during their ordeal.

    search authoritities had information on December 1 that the Kims were likely in the vicinity of Bear Camp Road.
    at the time when a helicopter might have seen James Kim walking along the road, helicopters were not being used in this area, for three reasons:the Kim family had hired private helicopters; the Oregon National Guard did not wish to fly when these other choppers were operating. Spencer Kim, however, seems to blame other aircraft; see his letter to the Washington Post in the addenda. the Kim family apparently did not have the information placing the Kims in the area of Bear Camp Road; they thought that the Kims were elsewhere, so their helicopters actually were mostly operating elsewhere. the local search coordinator wrongly reported that the Bear Camp Road area and all spur roads had been cleared.
    -The helicopter that found the vehicle tracks on Dec. 3 and Mrs. Kim on Dec. 4 had no connection with the official search or with the Kim family search.
    -The Oregon National Guard helicopters were seemingly discouraged by local authorities from participating in the search. Spencer Kim, James’ father, made a call to Washington DC, to protest media aircraft interfering with the search. See Spencer Kim’s letter, in addendum. A spokesman for Carson flying service subsequently denied that media aircraft interfered. By that time, it seems likely that James Kim was dead.
    -The cell phone ping information seems to have been misunderstood by the local authorities.
    Edited search timeline:

    01 DEC 1050- Oregon Army National Guard Aviation
    – JEOC called, notifying of a family missing since 25 November 2006.
    – Male, James Kim, 35, female 30, daughter 4, daughter 7 months
    – Curry County
    – Driving a 2005 SAAB station wagon, silver in color,

    – Search area is somewhere between the towns of Galice and Agness northeast of Gold Beach near the southern Oregon coast.

    01 DEC 1105- Oregon Army National Guard Aviation
    -Called Curry County Sheriff’s Department,
    Mapquest would put them in the Bear Camp Camp area.
    – Searching in the 4500’ to 5000’ area
    – Josephine, Coos and Curry county’s are assisting in search
    – 2 – 3 personnel from each county searching
    – Snowcats on standby
    – Have no air assets flying on search
    – No idea of a last know location
    – Search area: Galice to Agness area
    – Have people that can ride in helicopter that know the roads- Jet fuel available at Gold Beach and Merlin

    01 DEC 1125 – Oregon Army National Guard Aviation
    – MAJ Coultas called from home. He indicated that Carson Helicopters is launching 3 helicopters from Grants Pass to assist in the search.

    01 DEC 1155 – Oregon Army National Guard Aviation
    – Called Bob Asher, OEM, to inform him of the civilian helicopter agency that is involved. He was not aware.
    – Told him we are on hold due to the civilian helicopter agency flying on the search
    and that we would wait for the county sheriff to develop the situation and further
    define the search area.

    01 DEC 1301 – Oregon Army National Guard Aviation
    Director of OEM, called. – Advised to stay on the ground until the situation develops.

    01 DEC 1316- Oregon Army National Guard Aviation – LT Dinsmore, Curry County Sheriff, called. Family moving civilian helicopter out of Bear Camp area. Carson Helicopters will be searching highways 38, 42, 126.
    – Josephine County may be on State SAR.

    01 DEC 1420 – Oregon Army National Guard Aviation
    – A UH60, #26671, launched.

    12-01-06 4:45 pm – Oregon State Police
    OSP NCC received a telephone call from Eric Fugua, identified self as an Oregon cellular system engineer with advice on using phone detail records to identify last location that a phone was used. Fugua was provided the pager number for PPB Detective Mike Weinstein to report his advice.

    01 DEC 1650- Oregon Army National Guard Aviation
    They are on the ground in Gold Beach, ops normal. They are refueling and returning to base. No sign of any vehicles or personnel.
    02 DEC 0929- Oregon Army National Guard Aviation
    – Call from Carson Helicopters
    – They’ve launched 3 birds.
    – Had visual confirmation on the family at the Denny’s in Roseburg Saturday, 25
    NOV 2000
    – Last cell phone hit was 2030 in Eugene cell tower
    – Waiting for a credit card confirmation.
    – Josephine county SAR teams on the ground. Did drive Bear Camp Road. Highly confident they did not go up there. Bear Camp is clear.

    02 DEC 0937- Oregon Army National Guard Aviation
    – Call from LT Dinsmore, Curry County Sheriff
    – Snowcat worked along Bear Camp Road with no luck
    – Portland PD called saying they could narrow their search area from Roseburg south. Caller indicated they saw the family at the Denny’s in Roseburg.
    – Had credit card receipt time stamped around 2000.
    – Douglas County sheriff’s office took photos to Denny’s and thought it was the
    – Curry County going to pass the search over to Josephine County.
    – Curry County going to back out of search.
    – Mr. Kim is up w/ Carson Helicopters in Grants Pass
    – If a Guard asset is needed it will need to come from higher.

    12-02-06 9:45 am – Oregon State Police
    OSP advised by OSP Southern Command Center (SCC) that Josephine County had checked Bear Camp Road with a snow-cat, finishing at midnight of 12/01/2006 and had not located the Kim family. OSP informed that Curry and Josephine County SAR personnel were still actively searching.

    02 DEC 1157 – Oregon Army National Guard Aviation
    – 26671 landed in Salem.

    12-02-06 – Oregon State Police
    3:29 pm OSP NCC contacted by Wilsonville Visitor Center employee who stated that on 11/25/2006 she provided the Kim family with an Oregon map and gave them scenic routes not on map

    5:00 pm OSP Kim’s credit card was used 11/25/2006 at a Shell station on I-5 at milepost 216 at ~5:45pm and at a Denny’s in Roseburg approximately 2.5 hours later

    5:51 pm Eric Fuqua telephoned OSP NCC to report last date/time and region of Kim cell phone use. NCC forwarded tip to OSP Salem Patrol Office fax and Portland Police Bureau.

    7:15 pm OSP Detective emailed image of map received from Wilsonville Visitor Center employee to OSP

    7:20 pm OSP forwarded map to OSP Southwest Region lieutenants via email

    7:24 pm PPB Detective telephoned OSP Detective to report the information received from Eric Fugua of Edge Wireless.

    9:05 pm OSP spoke with Josephine County Search and Rescue Coordinator Sara Rubrecht and was informed that Bear Camp Road and all of the spur roads had been searched. Rubrecht stated that she had been in contact with Curry County and that both Curry & Josephine counties were confident that the Kims were not on Bear Camp Road. Rubrecht stated that she had been told that Curry County had ended their search on 12/01/2006 and Josephine County planned to end their search also.

    During conversation OSP Lt. told Rubrecht of the new information he had regarding the Denny’s purchase and the cell phone “ping”. He stated that based on the reported destination of the family, the new information and the history of people being lost on Bear Camp Road, he was confident that the Kims were somewhere on Bear Camp
    Road and could be in Coos, Curry, Josephine or Douglas counties.

    10:00 pm OSP Lt. spoke with Eric Fuqua regarding the cell phone “ping” and received the
    following information: Fuqua stated that he was certain that the Kim’s cell phone had traveled through the area covered by the Glendale tower; additionally, the sector of the tower that was “pinged” looked toward Bear Camp Road and Powers, OR.


    Dec. 3:
    8:00 am OSP attended meeting with Sara Rubrecht, Jason Stanton and Undersheriff Brian Anderson of the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office.

    During meeting OSP Detective contacted Eric Fuqua and confirmed the cell phone “ping”
    information. She asked if Fuqua would meet with investigators and provide a map of the area. During this conversation Fuqua stated that the “ping” was not specific in location, however, the “ping” indicated that the Kim phone was within a 26-mile radius of that specific tower on 11/26/2006.

    11:00 am Eric Fuqua arrived at the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office and provided a map indicating the zone of the cell phone “ping”. The zone covered a 26-mile radius from the cell phone tower, which was located in Glendale, OR.

    1:00 pm OSP was notified that OSP Fish Wildlife Senior Trooper had attempted to drive to the summit of Bear Camp Road from the Agness side but was unable to reach the summit because the road surface was covered by ~18 inches of ice.

    1:45 pm OSP Lt. Gregg Hastings notified of possible sighting of Kati Kim and vehicle by Carson Helicopter
    … Kati’s statement that they had not stopped in Wilsonville

    04 1454 DEC 2006 SGT Larivee – Oregon Army National Guard Joint Emergency
    Operations Center – Georges Klinbaum from OEM requested air assets for the Josephine county to look for the father of the missing family the wife and 2 children have been found. The request is for a helo with FLIR capability. Near the Bear camp area.

    04 DEC 1622- Oregon Army National Guard Aviation – OH-58, #540, launched.

    12-04-06 7:00 pm – Oregon State Police
    National Guard advised the command post that there were two “hot spots” of interest they had observed,

    04 DEC 2133- Oregon Army National Guard Aviation
    – Mr. Brown called and said they’ve been released from the scene by Josephine County.
    – They will be flying home to Salem tonight and may be called back tomorrow
    12-05-06 10:43am – Oregon Emergency Response System News Release- Search efforts have continued around-the-clock for James Kim who was last seen leaving the location where his vehicle was found by searchers Monday afternoon. Kim was reported by his wife to have left their car Saturday, December 2nd, at 7:45 A.M. in attempt to obtain help. He failed to return at the pre- determined time of 1:00 P.M.
    – Approximately 100 individuals are involved with search efforts focused on the big windy creek drainage about 30 miles of Grants Pass north of bear camp road. Elevation in the area is about 3,000 feet. According to Josephine county sheriff’s office, the section of focus is a 5 mile long canyon and is about five miles from where the car was found.

    05 DEC 1440- Oregon Army National Guard Aviation
    – Called Wayne Stinson, assisting Josephine County.
    – Last he heard, they were trying to insert people in a steep canyon. They’ve found his tracks. The canyon has no access.
    – Sarah Rupreck, Josephine County SAR Coordinator,
    – Josephine County Sheriff’s

    05 DEC 1445 – Oregon Army National Guard Aviation
    – Called Sarah Rupreck, Josephine County SAR Coordinator.
    – She indicated that Josephine County had not requested any support from the Oregon Guard.
    – She indicated that Spencer Kim called Washington D.C. direct. Spencer Kim then told Josephine County that the Guard is launching 2 helicopters to assist in the search.
    – Sarah Rupreck then asked if we could launch an OH-58 with FLIR to assist in the search and launch a Blackhawk to position closer if needed for a hoist rescue.
    – They called the Coast Guard to airlift one of their searchers out.
    – Carson and Jackson Counties are flying on the mission.

    05 DEC 1539- Oregon Army National Guard Aviation
    – OH58, tail # 540 departed SLE. Time en route 1+40. getting ready to launch in 10 min. Also to assit in the search.

    05 DEC 1612- Oregon Army National Guard Aviation – UH60L, tail # 724, departed SLE. Time en route: 1+10
    06 DEC 0803 Oregon Army National Guard Aviation
    – Called Sarah Rupreck, for any mission updates.
    – It is all fogged in down there.
    – Carson was going to insert teams but the fog is keeping all aircraft on the ground.

    12-06-06 12:00 pm – Oregon State Police
    The body of James Kim was located in Windy River Creek by helicopter crew

    Addendum: partial text of a letter of Spencer Kim to Washington Post:

    First, it is crucial that measures be adopted to ensure against mistaken access to potentially hazardous logging and private roads. Those responsible for the maintenance of such roads must be required to post clear signs warning against access. Governments should allocate sufficient resources to regularly monitor roadblocks designed to prevent access, and it should be a federal crime to tamper with such signs and barriers.

    Such measures might not have stopped James and his family from being misled by a map that depicted the road they chose through the Coast Range as a major thoroughfare, but they would have prevented the ill-fated turn that led them into a maze of logging roads and across treacherous terrain that travelers never should have had access to in the first place.

    Locals say mistaken access to the road in question is common, although a gate is at the entrance to the logging roads specifically to prevent unsuspecting travelers from wandering onto them. The appropriate federal agencies failed to perform their duty and lock the gate for the winter. James was not the first victim of an accidental detour in the same area, but with a few changes, he could be the last.

    Second, Congress should change the law so that most recent credit card and phone-use records can be immediately released to the next of kin in the event of an emergency. Privacy laws are important to safeguard personal information, but there needs to be provision for exceptional access to information by relatives when it is critical to a family member’s survival.

    Four days passed before we even knew James and his family were missing. But because my family was unable to confirm credit card and phone-use information until days after their absence was discovered, the start of the search was needlessly delayed. Precious time and a precious life were lost. Privacy concerns kept both the hotel where James and his family last stayed and the restaurant where they last dined from sharing credit card records, thus denying us for days important clues that would have helped narrow the initial search area.

    Similarly frustrating was that we did not know about a transmission into James’s cellphone on the night his family became stranded until the evening of Dec. 1 — three full days after the San Francisco Police Department was notified that James and his family were missing. Remarkably, this information was confirmed not by authorities but by conscience-driven cellphone company engineers who saw fit to volunteer their time. This information proved critical to significantly reducing the search area, and it allowed for the discovery and safe rescue of James’s wife, Kati, and my granddaughters, Penelope and Sabine, less than two days later.

    Had this information been confirmed sooner, rescue teams could have immediately focused the search operation, and James probably would have been rescued with his family and spared his doomed 16-mile quest to save them. What a difference a day would have made!

    Third, steps should be taken to ensure that authorities are adequately trained for search-and-rescue operations, have a clear sense of their available resources and fully understand the procedures necessary to conduct an effective, well-coordinated search-and-rescue operation.

    We are eternally grateful for the heroic efforts of the search-and-rescue teams and volunteers who risked their lives to save James and his family. But the search was plagued by confusion, communication breakdowns and failures of leadership until the Oregon State Police set up a command post. The media widely reported that leads that could have led to more timely discovery of the car were not pursued. Misinformation was rampant, diverting scarce resources. Air National Guard helicopters with sensitive heat-detecting technology languished on the tarmac for days, even after the cellphone-use information provided a better picture of where James and his family probably were.

    Meanwhile, James hiked through the forest for two long, cold days and nights, and Kati and her children waited through two more days of freezing temperatures until private helicopters discovered and rescued them.

    Finally, the Federal Aviation Administration classification code for Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR) to limit media presence during a life-or-death search-and-rescue operation should be more strictly enforced. A TFR is used to restrict aircraft operations within designated areas to separate “non-participating” aircraft from those engaged in official activities, including search-and-rescue operations.

    Unfortunately for James, aviation authorities acquiesced to media requests to relax restrictions and allowed low-altitude media flights in the area while the aerial search was still underway. This untimely and irrational decision caused many rescue helicopters to abandon their operations for one full afternoon due to dangerous conditions created by media airplanes. It took personal pleas to Washington to get restrictions reinstated. The search, not media interest, should be the top priority.



Filed under healthcare, James Kim, Outdoors, travel

49 responses to “Where James Kim walked: a cautionary tale

  1. Pingback: James Kim’s Route « Adventure Watch

  2. Thanks for a very informative post. Great research.

  3. jon2bec2

    James Kim may have not yet been suffering the mental affects of hypothermia when he decided to leave the road and enter the Big Windy Creek drainage. From where he left the BLM road the drainage heads east even a little south of east for a couple of miles, which is probably where he thought the river and road was. So he saw no need to stop or go back or make a camp, he was almost there…

  4. to jon2bec2:
    thanks for the comment. I can’t say for sure, and initially I was tempted by that thought. I believe that was in his mind when he set out.

    But I think you neglect that fact that James Kim had walked along that drainage for 4 miles. He knew which way it ran: north. For him to suddenly decide that it ran east, simply because he came to a branch that ran east for a short distance, is not a rational conclusion. It is irrational.

    As I tried to show in the piece, I think he was probably nearly undecided as to what to do, and that hypothermia tipped the balance.

  5. Pingback: Unless the Media Says Something Stupid, This is the Last James Kim Post From AW « Adventure Watch

  6. Pingback: The James Kim tragedy: updated « Over the line, Smokey!

  7. Jason

    I just came across your site. Excellent job. Traditional journalism has fallen to a new low. I don’t know what is taught at journalism colleges these days, but the end product I see in major media outlets these days is nothing less than personal agenda and emotional release disguised as fact. A journal (journalist) does not defile the facts with persuasive argument, it reports. Of course, opinion can also take place, but are kept separate from the original reporting and the facts as they are known. You’ve done a great job of presenting facts, and then clearly identifying your opinion or personal view.

    Few people seem to understand that decisions have to be made far before those decisions take place. We have to maintain our mindset and knowledge in a way that they can be adapted to whatever situation is presented. DeNiro said in “Ronin” that he never went into a place he didn’t know how to get out of. We might not know exactly where we are going, but if we keep track and where we’ve been, we never get too lost. Once we’re not sure where we came from, that’s the point of know return.

    A typical vehicle gets 350 miles to a tank of gas? I’m shocked that none of the “journalists” doing a hatchet job on the SAR effort have even mentioned when the Kims last got gas or checked weather forecast. I’m thinking they didn’t even get gas at their 3 hour stay in Roseburg. It’s hard enough to find a complete timeline of events, with actual times.

  8. Thanks for your thoughtful comments.
    Firstly, I must say that the entire episode smacks so much of New Orleans/Katrina. As a result, we have multiple players covering their (and others’) butts. As a result, a timeline of search efforts is hopeless at this point. Several reporters seem to have tried, and they look rather foolish at this point. As a blogger, I have been able to update; print/broadcast journalists do not have that option. And a timeline of the Kims’ activities obviously can only be told by Mrs. Kim, who is not available. But I very much agree, a timeline is really very helpful in this kind of situation.

    I was really put off by the comment that Kim did nothing wrong; while that might be nice as a eulogy, it is completely irresponsible when coming from the mouth of a public official. That was what prompted me to write about the walk and about hypothermia.

    I stayed away from the “preparedness” issue because I have almost no data on what they carried with them, and because so many others have published “survival kits.” I would add a compass to the items that have been recommended. I do think that the full tank of gas is an important part of preparedness in the winter.

    People will continue to make foolish decisions, but we don’t have to encourage them by failing to criticize the Kims’ actions.

    And we certainly need to look closely at those who are tasked with saving the fools of the world. As someone who has worked with experienced and competent SAR people, I was disgusted by the apparent failures on that end. Of course, it is inappropriate to jump to conclusions.

    Thanks again for your thoughts.
    Best wishes.

  9. Jason357

    FYI I added 357 since there’s another Jason around here.

    Investigation is not a bad idea, as long as it’s not a witch-hunt, tossing bound SAR coordinators into the lake to see if they can save themselves. They need to realize that we can’t childproof and idiotproof the world. I hope the investigators also interview Mrs. Kim for her timeline.

    I find it odd that the media outlets pretended they were not aware of conflicting accounts. Persuasion and selling advertising are their priorities. I’d like to see someone write a series about the media’s coverage of this. I think their coverage was shameful.

  10. I wholeheartedly agree. I hate to bring up Katrina again but I do think there is a basic skill set that an SAR coordinator should have. If we are employing people who don’t have those skills, then we ought to look at who is doing the hiring and what criteria they are using, and what sort of supervision they are providing.
    Another point which is self-evident to anyone who has done SAR: the fact is that people need SAR during snowstorms. That is the pure fact. A system which is not designed to work in the worst conditions is really just a waste of money. I have seen SAR programs which are just political patronage; get the mayor’s brother in law a job. Donuts and coffee. It’s a disgrace to those who are committed to SAR.
    Another fact: you cannot do SAR without mobilizing volunteers and other agencies/manpower.
    I could go on and on, but the point is that SAR is not an office down at the City/County building. And I hope that Kim’s death gets the ball rolling.

  11. Jason357

    I’m afraid emergency services is one of those areas, like the FCC, where the government sticks political favorites, people who really don’t have applicable skill sets for the job.

    But, in all fairness to the SAR coordinator in this case, I sure wouldn’t have wanted to be in the position of trying to track the bizarre behavior of the Kims and determine where they were. She can’t just risk the safety of searchers on wild hunches. That was wild country out there. I won’t say what I’m thinking, but there’s usually a reason for everything, and irrational behavior (such as the Kims) usually has a cause. There’s just too much that doesn’t make sense. And, I think it’s asking a lot of a SAR coordinator to try an d predict where a bouncing rubber ball wound up. If that loudmouthed lodge owner and helo pilot thought it was so obvious, why’d the pilot not find Mrs. Kim until Dec. 4, and he said he almost missed her then. The CNN crew said the brush was so thick in that area, it was scraping the sides of their SUV. It was a tough search.

    Robert DeNiro, in “Ronin” also said that a suspicion is usually true when the pieces just don’t fit. Nature’s lie detector.

  12. Just reading the news reports, it is difficult to know whether the SAR coordinator was out of her depth, but it certainly seems as if she was. I was glad that the governor asked for a report. Hopefully that will clear the air.
    Virtually every single person who needs to be found or rescued will have gotten themselves into the scrape. So that is not in debate. (I would add, however, that there were at least two innocent children in the vehicle). As I tried to point out, if you are not capable of doing anything but finding kids who wander off at the carnival, then you really aren’t needed, nor do you have the skill set to do SAR.
    So I don’t think that the Kims mistakes are relevant to evaluating the SAR.
    I really think that a real reorganization of SAR in Oregon will result from this episode. That is more important than praising or firing the individuals in this case.

  13. Jason357

    I’d like to see who’s hiding behind the SAR coordinator. IMO, all of this ultimately leads to another bunch of politicians hiding under layers of bureaucracy who promise everything and don’t even assure decent emergency plans for the localities under their jurisdiction. A coordinator is just the conductor. they don’t write the music.

    I know we’re both eager to see the conclusions on this.

  14. Pingback: You want clueless? How about this guy, who failed to find the James Kim family? « Over the line, Smokey!

  15. Steve

    James was rational when he left the road mistaking Big Windy Creek for the Rocky Gulch, the most direct route to Galice off of 35-8-5. In his state, I dont think he knew much of directions, the sun may also have been covered. He put all his faith in his map and his conviction that he was on 35-8-5.

    Very sad.

  16. I think it is possible. But looking east from where James was, on 34-8-36 where it crosses the creek, one sees the Big Windy drainage starting east but curving north, and a big canyon wall to the east. Whereas if one were on Peavine Road, one would see the Rogue River canyon. Was he not able to tell direction? possibly. Was he not able to judge distance? was he not able to see that the drainage would just parallel the road he had just walked up on? You have to postulate a real greenhorn, and a foggy day, I think. I don’t know for sure about either, but my understanding is neither was the case.

    And any sort of map that showed Peavine Road would show that it went down to Galice. Was the snow sufficient reason for him to leave the road that he thought was, in his mind, taking him to Galice? I have used drainages to walk out of wilderness areas but never if I had a road, even if the road was much longer. Was he just that, well, naive about black timber and a deep canyon?

    The most cogent argument we have at present, for him acting rationally, is the story that the clothing he discarded was placed in a pattern directing searchers in the direction he went. That does not sound to me like the work of a mind muddled by hypothermia.

    The lessons to be learned are probably not terribly different whether or not he was hypothermic when he left the road, nor will his legacy be any different.

    I certainly hope that the locals will figure out a way to keep people like the Kims off those roads.

  17. Jason357

    He went charging into the winter wild and snow with no hat and wet tennis shoes, thought he’d reached a town by walking the way he came in and somehow did know he’d driven 21 miles without seeing any town at all, eventhough the car had an odometer.

    He ripped up the only map he had and left entire pieces of clothing instead of tying colorful strips at the edge of his trail and breaking branches while wearing what he could to keep warm, lay down on bare snow, didn’t even start a fire where he lay down. Not to mention the previous 100 stupid mistakes he made that put him there in the first place. Yeah, he was a clever one all right.

  18. Steve

    clever post, Jason357. noone’s advocating him for cubscout of the year.

    seesdifferent, gotta think that after a week in their car mulling over the map, James made up his mind as to where they were – 4 miles from Galice, on the logging road you mentioned.

    He planned the most direct route possible – road to Rocky Gulch to Galice – directness being ‘the way’ in the city (often not in the country).

    He followed his plan to a T, irrespective of whatever environmental/external cues would have told him. I dont think they would have told him much (including canyon to East, creek forking back in same direction) especially considering his prior record of judging environmental stimuli, and making choices.

    I dont buy that he was hypothermic either at the point he left road. If he were, he could have wound up anywhere. His choice to leave the road and take the creek had a semblance of sense in it. (if he had been where he thought he was, it may have saved him)

    Really liked your work here. Very well thought out, great analysis!

    They definitely have to do something about those signs, especially that one at the fork in your photo. Brutal!

  19. Jason357

    There are now several programs: Man vs. Wild, Survivorman, Extreme Survival, and Everest: Beyond the Limit that discuss the various causes and effects of hypothermia and other risks from overexposure to the elements. Extreme Survival is really heavy on scientific study and very interesting, for anyone who hasn’t stumbled those shows yet.

    Also, new article on Kim father whining about search effort. Still, not one question anywhere in media about whether Kims has used alcohol or drugs that day, or any possible explanation to explain the series of bizarre decisions they made.

    The last account I read said the Kims did not turn on the logging road until after they started trying to back up. The was a printed account that no one talks about anymore, about the Kims intentionally driving down that road to try and get below the snow line.

    • KC

      I know this was a long ago entry, but I just came across this and wanted to point out one thing: Kati Kim was a staunch supporter of breastfeeding. She breastfed both children from birth. The Kims had the means to pay for formula so her efforts to breastfeed were not a necessity but a passion….something she strongly believed in. There is no way, as a devoted breastfeeding mama, that she was drinking in any way on this trip….not while she was breastfeeding Sabine. As a breastfeeding mama, I know this. So, please keep that in mind.

  20. I hope more people get the idea of hypothermia. I appended Spencer Kims letter to the bottom of my story. Ironically, if you read my edited version of the governor’s timeline, what emerges is that the National Guard refused to fly because of the three helicopters hired by Spencer Kim.

    I have not seen the accounts you refer to about when they turned. If this refers to the fork in the road at the eastern terminus of Bear Camp Road, I cannot imagine any circumstances in which they would intentionally drive in the direction they did.

  21. Jason357

    There’s a lot I don’t know about hypothermia, but I keep hearing how it’s not always obvious until it has a severe grip on someone.

    I found the account of how they got down the log road. It’s sort of a long link. You want me to post it, or email it? It’s a bit different story than the one the father keeps telling.

  22. Jason357

    You’re still on this? You hear about this? So now, Ms. Katie did say they were seeking lower ground to get out of the snow, not some fairytale about thinking the logging road was the main road. I still to see how they kept thinking they were in an area with urban services, like snow plows. They really do act sort of dumb. They were in the middle of a wild area for crying out loud. I know that was on the map. Did they not understand what “national forest” and names like “hellsgate” indicate? Did they seriously think that was a densely populated area. Did they have any clue of life outside of San Fran?

  23. kabababrubarta

    Nice site! kabababrubarta

  24. Kent C


    You did an excellent job on compiling the facts.

    This story leads to an analytical conclusion that cannot be avoided.

    Our society has reached a point that we are very near to the society imagined by H.G. Wells in The Time Machine.

    We have bred a subclass of humanoids who are incapable of taking care of themselves. They amuse themselves with gewgaws and baubles, bright, shiny, noisy toys. They write reams of nonsense about things that don’t matter. They are unable to care for themselves in the real world, such as on a logging road in the Oregon mountains.

    When the Time Traveler meets the Eloi in the future, “He supposes that the lack of intelligence and vitality of the Eloi are the logical result of humankind’s past struggle to transform and subjugate nature through technology, politics, art and creativity. With the realisation of this goal, the Eloi had devolved.”

    Sadly, Kim’s experience shows what happens when the Eloi venture out into the realm of the Morlocks.

    Again, sadly, we may have witnessed a bit of natural selection, weeding out the unfit among the Eloi.

    • Kent C, no need to insult and act so condescendingly… FYI, at the very same time as Kims were lost, me and my friend had been nearly lost in Mendocino National forest under very similar circumstances (poor routing/driving decision). Luckily for us, there were no snow/weather was clear, otherwise we could have met Kims’ fate. So, I guess we were “Eloi”s, according to you? Well, my friend would probably make YOU like one, because he grew up in the forest, living off hunting and fishing, as his entire family did, hunting was their sole occupation–sometimes subsiding on nothing but squirrels; they had been trapping all kinds of animals, hunting in the swamps at nights, etc. These mistakes can happen to ANYONE. So, no need to condescend and hint that people got what they deserved and that they are, somehow, inferior. People who get lost sometimes enter the state of shock and make very poor and irrational choices–lost people had been known to cross large trails without realizing it, descend near-vertical rock walls without harm, etc. When person experiences extreme fear from realization that they had been lost, they may experience shock. This can happen to you as well. And all those who brag how safe the black bears are…. sure, black bears are pretty harmless animals–but if YOU were lost and UNARMED, I want to see how YOU would act faced with this powerful animal in the wilderness–so don’t act like if you’re ah so brave from behind a computer screen.

  25. Pingback: The James Kim story: turn-off sign obscured by tree « Over the line, Smokey!

  26. tbolt


    It appears that you’re using one of my photos in this article (the one with the motorcycle on Peavine Ridge). While I don’t mind you using the photo, I would appreciate proper photo credit, preferably in the caption of the photo.

    Thanks much,


  27. Outstanding recording of the facts and events of this case. I watched the 20/20 special and was dumbfounded. When the Kims got lost I was still living on East coast and recall being horrified. As a lifelong sailor with many blue water miles under my belt I was puzzled by many parts of this story when it occurred. One year later I moved to the west coast, the PNW, and traveled the very areas where the Kim’s had gone missing. I liken their series of bad decisions and poor judgement to those of a day sailor who imagines that sailing offshore will require little more than extra food. It is a lack of respect for the wilderness, a hubris, and undeniably an unrealistic expectation of a nanny state that will sweep them up into it’s bosom soon after something goes wrong. There will always be unanticipated emergencies but we must behave in ignorant and cavalier ways and put needlessly endanger others trying to save our asses.

  28. snoboy

    A lot of good input here. IMHO we can save more lives with alot less money by teaching and learning that every action we do or take has some sort of consequence. I believe that finger pointing after the fact will accomplish very little. If all we take from this is… Oregon’s SAR program is weak and needs improvement then we’ve already lost the battle. Push the story back to a point where James Kim began making decisions that were so incredibly irresponsible that he put SAR at a disadvatage from the begining. This is not a scenario that can be compared to Katrina, this was NOT a natural disaster. This tragic event was created by one persons personal agenda and that person turned his family into victims. Fortunately the victims here all survived. In flying we sayJames Kim had “get there itus”. James Kim was overly anxious to achieve his goal to the point that he killed himself and almost killed his family. Did James Kim have training for this scenario, you bet he did. He lived in America where one is exposed to a life of constant advertising and reminding of other people’s mistakes. Granted he was not “trained” for the mountains BUT all along life we encounter small tidbits of training to help us avoid 90% of what occured here. Does the SAR in that area need improvement, probably. Do we need lawmakers to make a series of changes because of one person’s really poor desicion making, I hope not.

    • If you are making the case that he got what he deserved I have to disagree. If we only search and rescue for the blameless, we wouldn’t be paying for it. Further, we should learn from every experience and so be able to do better going forward. The malfeasance on the part of one SAR person (not following up on the report of tracks seen by the Lodge owner) seemed gross to me, and seemed to have sealed the fate of James Kim. Mrs. Kim and the children were saved by the work of private citizens not by SAR. The citizens of that county have presumably spoken by now on their perception and on what performance they will demand for their families and by whom.

      Sent from my iPhone

  29. Rob12498

    Caught the 20/20 report and found your site. Excellent analysis and really fair in my opinion. I think this site will help others not make the same mistakes. Thanks.

  30. snoboy

    I guess that for me to label James Kim’s decisions as “incredibly irresponsible” is a bit harsh and presumptuous. I am not making a case that James Kim “deserved” to die. I also believe that everyone regardless of how they got into a situation deserves SAR’s efforts. I however think we reside at opposite ends regarding the moral of the story. You appear to focus on the tragic failure of the system to have saved someone comparing it to the Katrina boondoggle. As I stated before this was not a natural disaster where no one gets a choice in the matter.This was not an extreme sport which triggered an avalanche. This was not lost hikers this wasn’t even a campfire out of control. This story isn’t even about one lone unlocked gate failing to do it’s job. Unfortuately this story is more comparable to somone getting a flat on the freeway and attemping to lay on the ground to change the left rear tire while pulled over on the right shoulder and not understanding that it’s not a good thing. This story was 4 or 5 flat tire scenarios one right after another. Except for catastrophic failure of equipment (which was in no way a factor here) normally these situations have negative outcomes because of an entire series of decisions which have been made (typically based on emotion) without analyzing the outcome. I side with you that SAR was less then effective. I do however maintain that this was truly one story that never ever should have been.

  31. If a road is named Bear Camp Road (or anything similar) — it is NOT the road to take in the dark and stormy, cold conditions. Never…
    There’re so many judgmental attitudes towards Kims.. while the same idiots who like to spread those around often… smoke cigarettes (more stupid decision), live near a freeway… etc. They should look into the mirror and see a sequoia-sized log that in their own eye.

  32. KC

    I know everyone thinks the Kims were ill prepared and out of their element and should have been more responsible, but I really don’t think that they knew the terrain they were venturing into when they chose what they thought was a simple detour. When they entered Bear Camp Road at Merlin, I don’t think they thought, for a second, that they were putting their children’s lives (or theirs) at risk. Everyone is making such a huge deal out of what roads they took, etc. The fact is, they got lost. Who hasn’t at some time or another, got lost on a trip? (Men, I will remind you that most of you are notorious for getting lost and not asking for directions.) I got lost in the hottest time in summer on my way to visit Wounded Knee, coming out of Mount Rushmore in broad daylight. The road I was traveling on started as a 2 lane highway, after about an hour, it turned into a one lane road and then a dirt road that required the assistance of a signal car! I was already 2 hours into the ride. I proceeded forward based on my map…I knew it had to come out somewhere…but I was on Indian land and had no idea what the roads were like. However, as it started to get dark I felt lost and I had a full on hyperventilating panic attack. Some people just panic and lose all sense of direction. They lose their bearings. They have no idea how they got where the are and the thought of going back seems worse because you don’t know how you even got to where you are…especially in the Kims case…in the dark, in increasingly bad weather. I wish people would see that they were just two humans who got lost instead of analyzing every aspect of their decisionmaking.

    • KC,

      The mistakes made by the Kims are detailed in the post, along with the mistakes made by others, and the bad luck that befell them.

      They certainly didn’t know what they were getting into, while they were in Merlin. That doesn’t mean they acted prudently from the beginning of the drive, and that they shouldn’t have exercised ordinary caution, and that they shouldn’t have recognized the danger once they got on Bear Camp Road, and afterwards. It does not appear that they did any of those things.

      There is no evidence that there was a detour sign anywhere they went.

      If you don’t want to read about the Kims, that would be easy to do. To reduce the whole thing to “getting lost” deprives us of the cautionary aspects of the story. Just for a couple of examples: carry a charged cell phone, and ensure you have lots of gas, start early enough that you can reach a strange destination before dark, listen to local people who caution you, etc etc, etc. and a hundred more….some of which have changed the way I travel, and probably many others.

      Even if you decide to just treat it as getting lost, there are lessons to learn, so that when people do get lost, they have an idea of what to do, what the dangers are from hypothermia and starvation. I would think that someone who panics easily would do well to study this case.

      thanks for your discussion, seesdifferent.


  33. KC

    FYI – Again, I’m following this story 5 years too late, but there are alot of questions about why James would have gone down into the drainage. Here’s our answer, found in a blog post (joeduck.com) by one of the pilots on the SAR team:

    “I would like for Kati and her daughters to know that two weeks ago I flew Sheriff Winters of Jackson County to where their car got stuck in the snow and then backtracked the entire route that James walked in his attempt to find help for his precious family. We flew low and slow for a full view of the long winding walk of nearly twelve miles on a narrow, icy, cold and lonely road to the point James went off the edge down into the steep and very rugged Big Windy Creek drainage. Having been on scene a few minutes after John Rachor found you and the girls Kati, I knew that Scott Dunn (Carson Helicopters) would be able to rescue you in his helicopter, so I immediately flew to where John had first spotted James foot tracks in the snow and began directing the ground operations from my helicopter and coordinating the other Carson Helicopter aircraft and well as John Rachor in his private ship. I am fully convinced that the reason James went off into that rugged virgin wilderness canyon was because he encountered a large black bear coming down the road he was walking up. James would not know that black bears are basically harmless to human beings. As I requested that two of our Jackson County searchers nearby (a SWAT deputy and a SAR volunteer) follow James’s tracks down the canyon I constantly inquired as to whether the bear followed James and the answer was consistantly yes, the bear tracks walked over James’s tracks numerous time for at least a half mile down the canyon. Once committed on this course James would not know that had he gone uphill at the first stream fork he encountered he could of return to the road he was on with a much shorter transition than his orginal track into the canyon. James, like most of us in his situation at that time continued downstream thinking he would eventually get to the river and possible help for his family. What he couldn’t know was that there was no remotely possible way to exit that canyon safely. ”
    Randy Jones

  34. Thanks for that account. The days were above freezing, so there would have been melting, so the interpretation of tracks would not necessarily been easy. While I don’t necessarily take issue with the identification of the bear tracks, I must point out that melting makes all tracks look bigger, and so I must question the statement that this was a “big” bear.

    Further, and more importantly, I must say that to say James met up with a bear would be to go well beyond the evidence presented. In the first place, the timing of the two sets of tracks is unknown, and was unknown then. It may be that the people on the ground could tell that the bear followed the tracks of James, rather than the reverse, but there are times when some stretches of bear tracks resemble those of a man, and it is not inconceivable that James followed the bear tracks, rather than the bear following James’ tracks. But even conceding that they may have been correct that the bear followed James’s tracks, it is certainly not true that they could say that James ever saw the bear and thus was frightened into leaving the road.

    In fact, it is more likely that James never saw the bear. Speaking from a probability standpoint, if they moved randomly, it is much more likely that they did not see each other. But there is more to it than that. Black bears are not interested in confrontations with man, as a rule. When confronted with a standing or walking man, they almost uniformly exit the scene with as much dignity and haste as is practical. This is not to say that there aren’t reported exceptions. But exceptional behavior is by definition rare, and hence, unlikely. It is much more likely if James saw the bear then the bear would have seen him, and the bear would have gone the other way. In that case, James might have been frightened, but we would not have seen the two tracks together going down off the road.

    It is thus more likely that the bear, if it was a bear, came across James tracks,not James himself, and followed them for a while, because James had the smell of food on him. There are a number of reasons to believe this is the case:

    First: James had been living in squalor for several days, his clothing and his body must have smelled of food. That is the sort of scent that bears are interested in. So it is logical that a bear might follow the scent of food or just out of curiosity. But the bear would be easily sidetracked by some berries or a rotting log or some other food source that he came across. Secondly, if James saw the bear, then the bear saw him, by all odds. In that case, since bears do not follow visible men out of curiosity, the bear would only have followed a visible James if he intended to kill him. If a bear is that close and follows a man with the purpose of killing him, he would have killed him.

    It’s that simple.

    In those few cases where bears pursue unarmed people, (the visible person, not a food scent) the ending is usually definitive. No man can outrun a bear or outclimb a determined bear. James was exhausted, physically weak, with depleted energy stores. He would have been easy mark for a bear who was chasing him in order to kill him.

    In summary, logic and probability and evidence and experience with bears all tell us that it is most likely that James did not see the bear that followed his tracks, nor did the bear see him.

    While the bear sighting is a tempting one at first glance, the alternative explanation is still the best one, imo; James acted irrationally and without any particular logic other than what his physical condition made his brain believe was the best course. He had walked twelve miles upslope, had grossly violated his agreement with his wife, he was dehydrated and in starvation; none of these factors are related to the bear. He pitched his clothing, a paradoxical sign which often accompanies hypothermia, which, to me, can explain his behavior without involving bears or other factors.

    If the ground searchers could be interviewed, we might be able to obtain a more complete description of the evidence, which could sway the probabilities strongly in one direction or the other. Did the tracks indicate James was running? or that the bear was running? how far did the bear follow the tracks? was there any sign of a confrontation? what if anything was seen where the bear stopped following the tracks? where were the shed clothes relative to the bear tracks?

    In the end, it doesn’t matter one way or the other. The cold/bears of the wilderness, and the family’s mistakes, and James’s, killed him. Whether it was the irrationality of hypothermia or an irrational response to seeing a bear, it’s all of a piece. James made his last walk trying to save his family the best way he knew how.

    In spite of all their mistakes, all the bad luck, all the mistakes by the searchers, he still had a chance until he walked past the gated road on the left, leading to the lodge.

    • raftman

      I followed this story extensively and closely as it was unfolding on the blog “Joe Duck”. I cannot answer why James Kim left the road to go down Big Windy, but as someone who has traveled the area numerous times over 35 years, I can attest that bear sightings in that area are common. Bears in that area are far more habituated to humans than they might be otherwise because of all the folks who raft down the nearby Rogue river, and they don’t always run off – especially in the waning days of late fall when they’re foraging for scarce food in anticipation of hibernating. It could easily have been hypothermia, it could have been a bear; everything at this point is speculation based on numerous assumptions, none of which can be proven one way or the other.
      What I can say, from having been on Bear Camp road many times, is it is clearly not a road remotely resembling a main thoroughfare. It is a primitive wilderness road, unlit, single lane, with sparse signage, and one that a father – with an infant and young child in the back seat, should have immediately had grave misgivings about traveling on – regardless of what the map showed. I lend some credence to the pilot who earlier stated they had “get there itis” and that their overwhelming desire to arrive at their destination overwhelmed good judgement and common sense. That others have made this same mistake perhaps makes it more defensible, but for those familiar with Bear Camp you can’t help but wonder why they didn’t turn around immediately.
      Great and thorough narrative – this story still haunts me these many years later.

      • thanks for the comment, and particularly for the description of the roads. Having never been there, I agree with most all of it, though I think the shedding of clothes tips the scales toward hypothermia as opposed to a bear scare, as disrobing and irrational behavior are classic for that disorder. My experience with bears is that they don’t usually view humans as food, regardless of the season. Furthermore, if by some chance a bear decided he was a meal, then the outcome would not have been a successful escape. So in order to attribute his total change of direction to the bear, we have to believe that he encountered a bear and just seeing a bear made him totally gave up on his somewhat rational plan to survive and bring help to his family, thereby condemning them to death….instead of trying to scare the bear away or just waiting for him to go away, which is what I would have done.

        Hypothermia would also be more likely to develop in a somewhat starved person, which he certainly was at that point. He simply ran out of gas, first in his car, and then in his body.

        The importance of this distinction may not be insignificant. The bear explanation makes it seem like he was going to make it out and just had the colossal bad luck to run into a bear. In my opinion, the bear had nothing to do with it. He waited too long to try to reach help, and he couldn’t make it out. That is the lesson. You can’t just sit when you are nowhere to be found, and waste away until you are too weak to escape. He made a number of bad decisions, some of which seem inexplicable. But the clothes-shedding and deviation down-canyon are explicable, imo.

        The classic advice for someone lost in the woods is to sit down and stay put. This has it’s place, but only if someone knows your general location and can be counted on to find you before your resources fail you. This is a rational judgement, though obviously there are always imponderables. They were hardly lost in the woods. They were on a road.

    • Student of Bears

      Black bears can be compelled to follow GROUPS of humans, let alone a single human, if they react incorrectly: “That’s when they split up and ran away in separate directions, they told police. Four of them later regrouped, noticed that Patel was missing, and called police.”


      Outdoorsmen would never start running from a black bear, but an emaciated civilian at his weakest point, without that knowledge of black bear behavior, would likely be terrified. They call the instinct “fight or flight” for a reason.

  35. The signage along the road has received some attention, although it seems clear (see below) that putting up more signs like the ones that the Kims and others have ignored is futile.

    • I agree that people will continue to put themselves in harm’s way, intentionally or unintentionally. Our best hope is that people keep their cell phones charged.


  36. Ana

    Mistake no 1: Starting a long journey AFTER DINNER with small children.
    Mistake no 2: Not turning back to find 42. From the map, it looks like they were just 15-20 miles away from that exit.
    Mistake no 3 : Entering a dark SCENIC route at MIDNIGHT in a mountainous terrain to reach a destination at sea level while low on gas! Any road that has to cross mountains and lakes and natural formations will be meandering.

    We have once entered a forest area (The Kaibab national forest between Grand Canyon and I-17) while low on gas. It was a scary 55 mile drive. We switched off the engine and rolled down on neutral whenever we got a chance. The weather was perfect, it was day time and there were no children on board. My husband was so upset and was apologizing. I was so upset that failed to remind him.
    It was a well learned lesson.

    Once they were stranded, I guess they panicked and made other poor choices to reach safety ASAP only to go deeper into a maze of dirt roads. That was really sad.

    It seems like they didn’t work well as a team. For example, when the husband has made the right decision to turn around the wife has stopped him because she thought it was too dangerous to make a three point turn in the dark. When the wife told him not to leave the car, he leaves them and gets lost in the wilderness
    If they could get out of the car to remove boulders, they might as well have gotten out to read the signs properly at the fork and realize that the only way out of this mess was to drive back to Merlin.

    The authorities are doing a disservice to us by saying that James Kim and his wife didn’t make any mistakes.

    After everything us said and done, It is sad that they paid such a big price for their mistakes.

  37. I do accept as true with all of the ideas you have presented for your post.

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  38. Arch Stanton

    seesdifferent(no, just sees with both eyes open), a Big TU for all your efforts on this blog. It is the best info on this subject.
    Thanks to raftman and ana for FINALLY mentioning points that still baffle me about these parents and their decision making: How do you travel in near- winter, young children in tow, at night, down an UNLIT road which includes boulder removal duty? You don’t, period, end of tragedy.
    The thought of wasting money on an unused hotel room over-road any rational decision-making process. ‘Get-there-itis’, indeed. As responsible parents, one of them needed to step up and do what was right for the family: Scream at top of his/her lungs to turn around, get a room, and avoid any further mistakes! It was an absolute miracle that the whole family didn’t perish.
    As to JK and his final hike: He was determined to get immediate help for his family in any way possible within a narrow time frame: IMHO, sacrificing himself was his mindset at the start. If you look at it from that POV, all his actions make perfect sense.

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