James Kim

So, for those who have either been following the James Kim saga or have been forced to because it was every other item on digg, you likely know he has been found dead. We won’t know a final cause of death until an autopsy is performed, but I have no doubt that it will show he died of hypothermia and exposure to freezing temperatures.

This is going to sound insensitive, but I’m going to say it because it needs to be said: if there is a poster child for having done every possible thing wrong in trying to survive in an emergency situation, James Kim is it. I’m sorry that he died, but he went into a situation unprepared and once there made the absolute wrong choices. I just hope everyone else learns from his mistakes.

When I was a park ranger in Yellowstone last time I worked for the park service in 2002, we had a man and his son go out canoeing on Shoshone Lake in the south of the park. This is early June, when the always cold Yellowstone water is still barely above freezing (the ice doesn’t completely clear from Lewis for another month).

When they failed to check back in, SAR was summoned, and I was working the radios that day. The next morning near 8S5, we found the overturned canoe up against the bank. A few yards away were the bodies of the father and his son floating face down in the water.

Folks, nature is no joke. This is not Disney World with anamatronic talking trees and deer. Nature is serious and nature will kill you if you don’t take the proper precautions. How many times can I say this?

If you were in James Kim’s situation, there are some common-sense (at least I think they are) things you should have done that would have drastically increased your chances of survival.

  • Tell someone your route of travel. This is so simple and yet it is something that hardly anyone dies. In James Kim’s case, SAR lost valuable time because no one had any clue what route he took, so no one knew where to start looking. They had to search thousands of square miles of Oregon backcountry because he literally could have been anywhere.

  • Check the weather before you leave. If you know the it’s going to be a ten-hour drive, think twelve hours into the future. Will that front have moved through, dumping feet of snow on our route? If so … don’t go. It’s better to be delayed out of caution than to be caught in it.

  • Dress for the weather, even if you’ll be in the car. Plan for the worst and assume that you’ll have to walk somewhere in the freezing cold and snow. Remember that most heat is lost through the head, so wear one or more thick head coverings, and that wet skin loses heat faster, so try to stay dry.

  • If you are caught in a snowstorm a long way from anywhere, stay where you are with your vehicle, unless there is eminent danger (like an avalanche or something) involved in you doing do. If you have followed rule #1, the first place SAR will begin searching is along your route of travel. It will not be comfortable (in fact, it will be very cold), but this is the fastest way to be found. If you leave your car, you risk hypothermia and disorientation. And why we’re talking about vehicles…

  • The following items should be in the possession of any car owner during long travel in the winter months:

    • A heavy blanket or two.
    • First Aid kit.
    • Emergency food rations (Powerbars taste like crap, but are great for this kind of thing; you should have enough for several days; candy also works well).
    • Emergency water (it may freeze and in the worst case you can warm snow up)
    • Toolbox containing routine simple tools as well as a small garden shovel
    • Duct tape.
    • One or more plastic trashbags.
    • Check out a full winter list at: https://uwadmnweb.uwyo.edu/fleet/Carpohints.htm
  • Keep the windows clear of snow as best as you are able (use the garden shovel). Open a door occasionally to keep from getting trapped inside.

  • Use body heat and blankets for warmth. Do not run the engine any more than necessary because carbon monoxide can build up inside.

  • Once the snow has stopped, if you are able to leave your car and it is safe to do so, make markings that SAR will be able to see from the air to indicate where you are. Do not leave the immediate vicinity of your car.

  • If you absolutely must leave your car for whatever reason, **make markings that SAR can see from the air **(such as arrows indicating your direction of travel made from sticks, rocks, or trenched into the snow) **and travel along your route towards the closest human settlement. DO NOT GO CROSS-COUNTRY, even if it looks faster. **It is safest to travel along the route you told someone about (remember rule #1) or at least along a roadway of some kind.

  • Break the rearview mirror off the windshield and take it with you. This can be used to signal airborne SAR or other responder units. It can be replaced - your life can’t.

The key thing to remember when is that, unless your life is in imminent danger, do not leave your car. Jame Kim did not do any of the things listed above: he didn’t tell anyone his route, didn’t yield to the weather, didn’t stay with is car, and wasn’t prepared for what he faced. He underestimated the danger he faced.

His wife and kids didn’t leave the car and were found unharmed after only a few days.

About the Author

Hi, I'm Rob! I'm a blogger and software developer. I wrote petfeedd, dystill, and various other projects and libraries. I'm into electronics, general hackery, and model trains and airplanes. I am based in Huntsville, Alabama, USA.

About Me · Contact Me · Don't Hire Isaiah Armstrong

Did this article help you out?

I don't earn any money from this site.

I run no ads, sell no products and participate in no affiliate programs. I do not accept gifts in exchange for articles, guest articles or link exchanges. I don't track you or sell your data. The only third-party Javascript on this website is Google Analytics.

In general I run this site very much like a 1990s homepage or early 2000s personal blog, meaning that I do this solely because it's fun! I enjoy writing and sharing what I learn.

If you found this article helpful and want to show your appreciation, a tip or donation would be very welcome. Feel free to choose from the options below.

Comments (0)

Interested in why you can't leave comments on my blog? Read the article about why comments are uniquely terrible and need to die. If you are still interested in commenting on this article, feel free to reach out to me directly and/or share it on social media.

Contact Me
Share It

Interested in reading more?


On Changes

It’s amazing how quickly time can fly when you are having fun. Almost fifteen years ago I started working at DealNews as a Junior Developer. I was in my mid 20s, less than two years out of Auburn. I even remember it was mid November because I left my previous job on a Wednesday, went to the Auburn-Georgia Game, then started at DealNews the following Monday. It was just before Black Friday even. I still even remember what that first day was like: I didn’t have SVN access yet and I had to email my code to my boss! To give you an idea of how long ago this was: when I was hired on at DealNews, I announced it to my friends on my MySpace page and my LiveJournal blog. Neither of which exist anymore. Fifteen years is a long time in tech, where changing jobs rapidly is the norm and staying in a position for three years can be seen as a serious commitment to a company. But the only constant in the universe is change. Which is why it is definitely very bittersweet for me to announce that I will be leaving DealNews on September 16, 2022.
Read More

Stop Asking Me About Guest Articles

I am getting this request more and more often - to the tune of multiple emails a week at this point. It usually starts friendly enough - friendly enough to that I know the sender isn’t a robot, they’ve very clearly looked at some of my pages. But then the pitch starts: “I’d like to contribute to your website an article on X” or “I’d be delighted to contribute to your website on this topic.” Usually promising to do so for free.
Read More

Some Thoughts on Ukraine

This is just sort of a stream of consciousness, so apologies if it doesn’t make a lot of sense. I still remember the first time I realized I was directly talking with someone in another country. It was the mid 90s and I was a teenager, hooked on playing MUDs. When most people in my high school could barely turn a computer on, I felt like a wizard who knew about an entire secret world, and it was awesome. I was playing, every day, with people from Scotland, Denmark, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, and so many others I can’t even remember now. And we talked. I learned so much about other cultures just by talking directly to people. And I remember thinking, in my own young, idealistic naivete, that if just everyone could be online, and could have these experiences, we might actually achieve world peace in my lifetime. We could see that we are all human bothers and sisters, separated only by artificially drawn borders. I believed free information will result in the most educated population in human history. And the Internet would bring the whole world a new age. I look back on myself then and mourn the world that we could have had. Humans apparently just aren’t ready for world peace and togetherness.
Read More