James Kim was found dead yesterday. Lion in the Snow

His life, and his untimely death, were generally overshadowed by the harrowing Baker-Hamilton report on Iraq that, while intriguing, will go nowhere fast because the president and his policy henchmen refuse to confess a mistake or do the right thing.

James Kim was found alone and frozen in the backwoods of Southern Oregon by a search and rescue effort that had previously found his wife and two young children alive in their car.

James Kim set out on his own — like a lion in the snow, uncertain and unaware, but brave in an element that was not his own and strong in the face of nature as he sank into the teeth of the unknown — to seek help for his family.

The Kim family had all been stranded together in their car without much food since Thanksgiving. His wife breastfed the children.

They burned tires for warmth when they ran out of gasoline to heat the car.

Lion in the SnowThere is a fine line between disparaging the dead and educating others in order to prevent another untimely decision that leads to the depths of the same end; so forgive me now if the rest of this article feels insensitive or unfortunate as we try together to stop something like the death of James Kim from ever happening again.

Sometimes the best ideas are the most deadly to the unwitting and the inexperienced and the result is a tragedy from which no one can ever recover.

If you are ever stranded in the snow and you have shelter — a cave, a cove of fallen trees, a car — stay with the shelter you have. Do not give up protection from the elements unless you are wholly certain something better is within half a day’s walk. If there is doubt, sit down.


If you die in the shelter you have, you all die together in the warmth of each other’s arms. There is no nobility in tempting death and finding it conveniently waiting for you circling an 8-mile crevasse. I realize what I’m suggesting — stay together at all costs — goes against the notion of reaching out to be heard, to make a final mark, to die trying instead of dying sitting down, but cold weather has an insidious way of draining your energy and playing tricks with your mind as you wander aimlessly without a predetermined way out.

Make your future decision right now from the warmth and cogent reasoning of your own mind: Stay together! Perhaps I know these things in the core of my DNA because I was born into the harsh weather of the Nebraska plains where you don’t need a weatherman to predict what’s coming because you feel the land and sky tethered in your bones. You learn to read the sky.

You learn to fear the land.

You learn to respect the stormy relationship between the heavens and the earth. You quickly understand swirling grey with golden streaks in the Western sky means rain; you tremble with you see olive green patches in the same sky because that’s a brewing tornado. You give a grave respect to the elements because they cannot be pinned down or settled on more than a prediction.

There are some, harsher than me, who will claim James Kim earned his untimely death by foolishly challenging the unknown by wagering claimed safety against unreasonable hope. I take a kinder view that James Kim did the best he could with the information he had. He likely fought his instincts for wandering into the wilderness, but decided he had to try to bravely defend his family like a lion in the snow. In the end, James Kim never knew what killed him.


  1. Hi David,
    It’s a sad story.
    I didn’t realize he was connected with CNET, until I read the news article about his life.

    Indeed, he was praised for his resourcefulness by authorities in Grants Pass, Ore., who organized the search and described his efforts as “superhuman.” According to interviews with Kim’s in-laws, he lifted his family’s spirits by acting as if they were all just on a campout.
    Friends say that they couldn’t think of anyone who could have fared any better than Kim in the same situation. He was known as a problem solver and a man with unlimited energy who never lost his cool. Kim was raising a family and holding down a full-time job as a product reviewer for CNET, while operating two retail stores with his wife and working on a book for McGraw-Hill about Microsoft’s new digital-music player, the Zune.

    It also shows the power of nature.
    It’s easy to forget that nature can overpower even the strongest and wisest of men and women outfitted with the latest tools.

  2. Right, Chris! Nature is more powerful and vicious than any man made bomb and that’s why Storm is the most powerful X-Man/Woman.
    As I understand it, the rescuers found his wife and children by setting up mini cellular towers in the valleys and triangulating the signal she would send out when she turned her phone on and off during the day and a hopeful call for help. It’s really a quite ingenious way of identifying yourself and for the rescuers to find.
    He stayed with his family for most of the time they were stranded. Then, for some reason I do not yet understand, he decided to set foot out alone with two lighters two days before his family was rescued.
    When I heard they found his wife and children, but not him because he had gone out on his own, I knew he was dead. There’s no way he could’ve survived out there on his own wearing tennis shoes and regular clothing for two days in sub-freezing weather. I’m sure his death was quiet and pain-free.

  3. It’s strange, but the people who burned up in Chicago’s heat felt like they were too cold and that’s why they didn’t open their windows as the heat rose.
    I heard a news report that said that someone in freezing cold weather can sometimes feel too hot and thus remove clothing.
    It’s strange how the mind works that way.
    It’s also interesting how the rescuers found the family by triangulating the cell phone signals. That’s very ingenious.
    Of course, there are reports that “THEY” can track anything that is done electronically. Send the right combination of words from a Blackberry, and “THEY’LL” come and find you. 😉

  4. Hi Chris!
    Yes, the pair of pants they found in the wilderness suggested he might have taken them off because he thought he was too hot instead of freezing to death.
    The triangulation was smart but they had to “wire up” the valley and the forest because there were no towers there to pick up the signal from her phone.
    His wife and children were rescued when his wife saw a helicopter above — a helicopter that their family and friends had hired to search for them! — and she took an umbrella they had decorated with reflective tape and spun the umbrella to catch the eye of the helicopter. It worked and they were soon rescued.
    The search teams also used heat imaging to look for the family. I wonder if satellite technology came into play at all? You know they can see everything now from space!

  5. I’m going to have to read the whole story about what happened. It’s hard to believe, but there are still places in America that are very remote and far from civilization.
    And, cell phones don’t put out that much radio energy.
    There’s a “Wilderness Protocol” for amateur radio operators in areas outside of repeater coverage.

    The Wilderness Protocol is a suggestion that those outside of repeater range should monitor standard simplex channels at specific times in case others have Emergency or priority calls.
    The primary frequency monitored is 146.52 MHz; secondarily or alternatively 52.525, 223.5, 446.0 and 1294.5 MHz respectively. The idea is to allow communications between hams that are hiking or backpacking in uninhabited areas, outside repeater range an alternative opportunity to be heard.
    NOTE- This is NOT just for hikers, back packers, or similar situations….it is for ANYONE to use at ANYTIME…that you need assistance. YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOOSE BY NOTING THIS “WILDERNESS PROTOTYPE” AND USING IT IF YOU NEED IT.

    Someone has published a map showing Mr. Kim’s path. It makes understanding his travel in the wilderness a little easier. Map.

  6. That’s an amazing map, Chris! You can see when he decided to leave the road is when his mind must have left him and his pants soon followed.
    He was walking into a dead end of a river. Stay on the road. Don’t go off into the woods if you’re lost. A road is a known pathway. A road always leads somewhere.
    Gosh… if he’d only gone the opposite way at the start…
    It’s good to know there are ears out there listening to help. A lot of American is unpaved and dangerous. We are lucky to have such easy wireless communication in the cities. There are sill giant masses of land in flat Nebraska that have no cellular service at all.

  7. Even when you are near cities, things can get rough in the snow. I heard reports of people getting stuck on I-80 in Illinois getting stuck in a snow storm and having to be evacuated when they ran out of gas.

    Illinois State Police could not handle the situation alone, so late Friday afternoon several other state and Federal agencies chipped in to help. …
    “Once something would happen, once a truck or a car would jackknife and block the interstate then we have to respond, IDOT has to respond and it takes time to get to that vehicle. And while that time is elapsing, everyone behind that vehicle is stopped,” said Capt. John Morcheiser of the Illinois State Police.
    Morcheiser says hundreds of vehicles were stuck, some for half a day, as one problem turned into another.

  8. Chris!
    Snow is rough. I still prefer it to heat, though, because you can eventually drink your snow.
    Cars on the road are dangerous in heavy snow. Some slide off the road and into a ravine. Others are killed when their cars get plowed into/over by Snow Plows speeding down the road clearing the way. It’s good to always have some flares and other signaling stuff with you in your car at all times.

  9. Oh, and Dave —
    Animals have a sixth sense we don’t sense. When the Indonesian Tsunami was still out to sea and hadn’t hit land yet to kill thousands of people, the birds in the trees were going crazy making noise and flying up the mountain.
    Villagers who were sensitive to the birds noticed their frenzied flight and followed them up the hill to safety.
    Those villagers knew something awful was coming their way because those birds were practicing selfish evolutionary preservation and the people accepted as fact the animal instinct is reflexive and involuntary and that is why the birds’ flight was so powerful and compelling.

  10. Hi Chris!
    I didn’t know they made natural gas generators. The folks I’ve known who spent big money to run their houses on a generator also have diesel tanks installed in their backyards to ensure they can run their house as they wish.
    Inviting the neighbors over is a good ploy for safety!

  11. Dave —
    Yes, the Mormons are required, as I understand it, to have enough food to feed their families for a year. Their garages are filled with extra freezer storage and cured meats.
    I don’t know if they expect to meet rapture in the End of Days or not — or if they are intending to survive it to re-propagate the world.
    I wasn’t a towel snapper, but I do agree a woman grooming herself is much more attractive than a man cleaning the same bits!

  12. Hi David,
    The natural gas generators are pretty nifty. I wonder if they aren’t used as much because heating oil seems to dominate on the East Coast?
    Here’s a chance to get back on the Lindsay Lohan blogging bandwagon again. 🙂
    Lindsay Lohan has made the news again threatening to sic Al Gore and Bill Clinton on the media.
    From the New York Post:

    “Al Gore will help me. He came up to me last night and said he would be very happy to have a conversation with me,” Lohan wrote last week in a rambling, semi-literate e-mail to her friends and lawyers. …
    Invoking what she puzzlingly calls the “way of the future-Howard Hughes,” her desire is to “release a politically/morally correct, fully adequite [sic] letter to the press.”

  13. Hi Chris!
    The “End of Days-ers” I know don’t want to rely on the city infrastructure or an outside company when things go dry and backup. Having a 12,000-gallon tank of diesel fuel to run their houses are all part of the thrill of their living.
    I have decided I hate all celebrities and the media that thrives off their stinking carcasses! I wish they would all fall off the end of the earth and become, one day, useful to humanity as natural gas reservoirs!

  14. Hi David,
    I assume there’s always an exception to the rule and you don’t mind niche celebrities and those who thrive as a result of them. 🙂
    I wonder how much Stabil those “End of Days-ers” have to use to keep their fuel from going bad as it sits? Or, does diesel fuel last longer than regular gasoline?

  15. Chris!
    Right! We love your Vixens/Honeys site as a break from the everyday ordinary.
    As I understand it, these “Days-ers” routinely test their systems. They see how long 12,000-gallons will last and what they can run and what they have to turn off. So they’re never really ever in “storage mode” with their fuel because it’s always about to be used in a test.

  16. Dave —
    Ugh, yes! There are so many media outlets dedicated to celebrities and their burps and farts and useless peccadilloes.
    The other day the most searched term on Yahoo! was “Britney Spears” — and not “Iraq” or “Bush” or “Death” or “Torture” or “War”… my how far we’ve fallen as a country of values…

  17. David, I can attest to what can happen out in a blizzard.
    We had one in Omaha around 1972 that I got caught in. I and another person had to abandon our stuck vehicles and walk about a mile to where we lived.
    The wind was blowing the snow so hard that it was difficult to see 15 feet ahead of us. After walking for 10 minutes we discovered that we were walking down an interstate ramp onto I68O. We had to back track to where the cars were and start over.
    The drifts we had to cross before we got to our houses were waist deep. I honestly didn’t think I was going to make it. I stopped at a neighbor’s house because I didn’t want to scare my 8 month pregnant wife. They immediately put me in a bath of warm water and it took 45 minutes before I could feel my extremities.
    Had we stayed with our vehicles it would have been 3 days before help would have arrived. I could not recover my car until 5 days after the storm ended. It took that long to get the drifts cleared on the road out of our subdivision.

  18. Rich!
    It is so good to hear from you again! I hope you are doing well.
    I agree a blizzard can be a harrowing experience and I know precisely the time and place you are describing, my friend! It was a horrible, killing, storm.
    If you know the area and if you are in familiar surroundings then, YES!, get out and get home. If, however, you are stranded in the Oregon hills with no way home and no way out — STAY PUT!

  19. If you need to go out into the wilderness or anywhere where communications might be limited, it might be good to buy a radio beacon that can be detected by a satellite system.

    The most modern 406 MHz beacons with GPS (US$ 1200-$3000 in 2002) locate a beacon with a precision of 100 meters, anywhere in the world, and send a serial number so the government authority can look-up phone numbers to notify next-of-kin in four minutes, with rescue commencing shortly afterward.

    From sarsat.noaa.gov:

    Around the world…around the clock…NOAA proudly stands watch. As an integral part of worldwide search and rescue, NOAA operates the Search And Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking (SARSAT) System to detect and locate mariners, aviators, and recreational enthusiasts in distress almost anywhere in the world at anytime and in almost any condition.

    There’s an online store that rents these personal location beacons using the 406 MHz system for less than $60 per week.
    Be careful in using the beacon, however. Don’t use it if you get a flat tire and could have called AAA. Or worse, let someone play with it and send a false alarm.
    If the unit is used to send a hoax signal, the fine could be $250,000!
    From sarsat.noaa.gov:

    Finally, realize that the Cospas-Sarsat satellites are very good at what they do, detecting emergency beacons. An activation of a 406 MHz EPIRB for just a few seconds will usually be detected. After a few minutes, it will usually be detected and located. This is good if you’re in distress, but if you’re not, you just generated a false alarm.

  20. Well done, Chris! Outstanding information!
    Have you read about the Breitling Emergency watches that send out a distress signal on the airline frequency? They’re about $5,000. Here’s an older article describing the technology from the NYTimes:
    Here’s some info on the watches from Answers.com:

    The Breitling Emergency version contains a highly protected and powerful radio transmitter for civil aviation use. This broadcasts on the 121.5 MHz distress frequency and serves as a back-up for ELT-type airborne beacons. For military users, Breitling has equipped the Emergency with a miniaturized transmitter operating on the 243 MHz military frequency.
    Under normal conditions—flat terrain or calm seas—the Emergency’s signal will be picked up at a range of up to 90 nautical miles (167 km) by search aircraft flying at 20,000 feet (6,000 m).
    In an incident that demonstrates how the Emergency can be used to save lives, Reuters reports that two British pilots, Squadron Leader Steve Brooks and Flight Lieutenant Hugh Quentin-Smith, crashed their helicopter in Antarctica and were rescued after activating their Breitling Emergency transmitter watches. The two pilots were in their lifeboat when a Chilean Otter aircraft found them after homing in on signals from their watches.
    The Emergency is available for customers who do not hold a pilot’s licence, but they must sign an agreement stating that they will bear the full costs of a rescue intervention should they trigger the distress beacon. The model was heavily advertised by the Breitling Orbiter 3—both Brian Jones and Bertrand Piccard were wearing the Emergency.

    Film director Barry Sonnenfeld wears one!

  21. Hi David,
    Pretty cool watch.
    It’s a great idea.
    If you get one used, make sure it is upgraded because the 121.5 MHz and the 243 MHz frequencies are being phased out by 2009 because of interference, false alarm issues, and to provide digital capabilities (GPS). Russia has already phased out its use of VHF band frequencies in favor of 406 MHz in the UHF band.
    Note that analog TV is going blank around that time also as frequencies get changed to the digital frequencies. A lot of services are being reallocated to take advantage of digital technologies.

  22. Wow, Chris, that’s good to know about the frequency changes for the watch! I don’t plan on getting one, but I do love the idea of having a distress beacon right there on your wrist.

  23. Hi David,
    Actually, you can probably get PLB for your belt that is the size of a cell phone for around $600!
    I like the ACR TerraFix.
    If you’re in the city, the GPS in the cell phone should let E911 operators find your location.
    I read in one of the stories that the Kim family was taking a scenic road on their way back home after vacation.

    (N)o doubt lured to explore the beauty of the Coast Range more closely, the Kims opted for a road far, far less traveled. It was a road that, even in summer, is both breathtaking and remote enough that few people use it.

    Thinking this story, if I had been in that area, I might have been tempted to take a back road to do some sightseeing, rather than the busy but boring interstate highways.

  24. Hi Chris!
    $600 is a good price for that sort of emergency signal protection.
    I agree the E911 stuff is great. I’ve used it before. The 911 Operators can actually lock your phone so you can’t use it to make another call if they don’t want to let you hang up.
    I agree scenic routes are wonderful. The only danger is if you’re a stranger and you don’t know how to get out of the wending ways. When you’re in strange surroundings — stick to the main road in the Winter so you can get help if you need, especially if you have young children aboard!

  25. This story has touched a nerve in me and indeed in many across our country and across our world. I am saddened by the torturous days the Kim family spent on the snowy backroads of Oregon, and by the ugly conclusion to the saga. Your writing and photograph, however, are beautiful …”a lion in the snow, uncertain, unaware.”
    Thank you.
    Shirley Buxton

  26. Hi Shirley!
    You are such a terrific person and I thank you for your comment. You provide wonderful messages in the WordPress forums and blog and your energy here is appreciated!
    You are quite right this is a modern day tragedy and morality tale. Just turning around at the start of his journey would’ve saved his life and bumped him directly into the lodge in probably less than a days’ walk.
    But that’s the lesson in living, isn’t it? If not for one choice over another we tempt death instead of life. But for one thought to move this way instead of that we dodge death and live a little while longer.
    James Kim was a lion in the snow — out of his element and intellect — but still determined to live and fight for the future of his family all the way into the depths of eternal darkness.

  27. David, thank you for your kind remarks and the opportunity to link to such a fine site (even though I would say we drastically disagree on several crucial issues. But then, does not one learn (teach?) more by sporting with those of opposing views?).
    Are you willing to expound on the last line of your response to me: ” (James Kim)…all the way into the depths of eternal darkness.”? Is your thinking that each of us at death descend into “eternal darkness?”

  28. Hi Shirley!
    I appreciate your open mindedness when it comes to sharing views that may not match the someone else’s intent or system of beliefs.
    In the James Kim sense you quote I meant the “eternal darkness” of the forest surrounding him — but if you were wondering about an afterlife — it is something we cannot know until it hits, us while the darkness of the forest is a fact and doesn’t need the wondering of faith to make it true.

  29. So then, David, your use of the words eternal darkness was merely a figure of speech, referring only to the physical forest in which Mr. Kim met death. Got it. Thank you.

  30. Hi David,
    A minor correction to one of my comments: Mr. Kim was found fully clothed, according to a news report. He must have been leaving clothes to mark his trail and so that rescuers could follow him.
    Also, a comment on Scobleizer raises a scary point of how technology can mislead:

    What really scares me — if you miss your turn and keep going on I-5 all the way down to, say, Grants Pass, then ask a GPS unit how to get to Gold Beach, it will send you over a forest service road. In November. …
    Given that James was a gadget guy, driving a new Saab, I assume there was GPS in the car.
    Something similar happened last winter to a family in an RV.
    Comment by Aaron — December 1, 2006 @ 11:15 am

  31. Hey Chris!
    Thanks for the update.
    I agree relying on technology too much can be incredibly dangerous. Reading the sky and a compass can be your best friend. Eyes and magnets have been around for a long time.

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