Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Man burns money to keep warm while lost in Mt. Rainier blizzard

Yong Chun Kim was lucky he had money to burn.

For Kim, a 66-year-old who became lost in a blizzard on Mount Rainier in Washington, burning money became the last resort to keeping him warm as he waited for more than two days to be rescued.

King 5 News has the amazing story about the man who burned money to stay warm:

Kim is an experienced outdoorsman. He snowshoes Mount Rainier nearly every week, and was leading 16 members of a hiking and climbing club on a snowshoeing outing Saturday when he slid down a slope and became separated from the group, according to The Associated Press, King 5 News and CBS News.

He radioed the group twice, telling them he was OK and that he'd meet them farther down the trail. When the snowshoeing group reached the parking lot, Kim wasn't there. Nor could the group reach Kim on the radio. The snowshoers last communicated at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

Park officials were called, and a search and rescue was launched.

Kim had become disoriented in the whiteout conditions and slid a second time, losing his walkie-talkie, a glove and ski pole.

The Associated Press picks up the story:

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

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

"I'm a lucky man, a really lucky man," he said in an interview Tuesday afternoon from his home.
With temperatures in the teens and winds whipping on the mountain, Kim said he kept walking and moving to stay warm. He took cover in several tree wells — depressions in snow that forms around a tree — and slept standing for 5 to 10 minutes at a time.

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

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

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

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

Kim told KOMO-TV of Seattle that he first burned leaves, then his extra socks and then the two bills from his wallet -- a $1 bill and a $5 bill.

"I don't care. I have money at home," he laughed, recalling to the decision to burn money. "I had to make it home!"

Kim found refuge beneath a tree, sat and waited.

Without the aid of a helicopter, rescuers resorted to a Sno-Cat to reach the search area, and searchers set out on snowshoes to find Kim.

By Sunday night, Kim's family had nearly lost all hope, though Kim remained positive and warm by marching in place and singing "Amazing Grace" in his native Korean.

Finally, on Monday afternoon, after more than 50 hours in a blizzard, Kim was found by search crews, but it took nine hours traversing rugged terrain to find a road off the mountain.

Kim was in such good shape, he didn’t even need to be taken to a hospital. He happily returned to his family, vowing to return Mount Rainier.

From King 5 News:

With a song in his heart and a fire in his belly, Kim plans to return to Rainier as soon as possible, just as he has done almost every weekend for the past 10 years. He says even with the occasional brush with death - it beats golf.

"Golf is too stressful. Hard on the mind. You get angry. Stress no good!"

Kim says at the insistence of his family he will take this weekend off, but there is something about that mountain that keeps calling him back.

"It takes me close to God," he said.
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