20/20 Hindsight

This has got to be the saddest story I’ve seen in a while. It breaks my heart to no end.

I was watching it a bit on the local and national news, last night, and thinking to myself: no chance they’re finding him alive. Sad story, especially when you consider that had he just sat tight, he’d be warm at home with his wife and two daughters this moment. And now, for all the four of them, that will never happen again for the remainder of human history.

Mistakes, even slightly to perfectly innocent ones, can be extremely costly. I don’t know where on the scale I’d put the error that caused this tragedy, but the error was a long time (a week) before James Kim set out on his doomed trek to find help for his family. But setting out, as he did? It was the only decision a man could make, in that moment. He had no idea that rescue was forthcoming, within two days. It wouldn’t have mattered if rescue had come 10 minutes after he’d set out. He knew that if they were not rescued soon, his children would freeze to death and he and his wife would follow. They had been there for a week (just imagine that) when he set out. He had no real basis to believe that a rescue would take place before it became a four-body recovery.

He had no good options. He choose the best one of the lot of awful alternatives. It might have worked out, but it didn’t, for him — or for his family, where husbands and fathers are concerned.

The error came a week earlier, when they either took a wrong turn, or attempted a "shortcut" to get over the coastal range and onto I5 in order to make their way more quickly home to San Francisco. There’s a lot of elements, but essentially, the mistake that cost him his life was to proceed on when he’s climbing, without opposing traffic, no snow clearing equipment, and no civilization. Temperature drops an average of 5 degrees per thousand feet, and being a coastal range, the air is going to be laden with moisture, which means that the precipitation (snow) will only become more severe the higher you go, will stick better to the pavement, and you can soon find yourself beyond any ability to turn back. But in a nice warm car with headlights on, the radio or iPod blaring, kids laughing in the back, it’s actually hard to come to the realization that you have just passed the point of no return and have entered a death trap.

Be careful out there.

James Kim can, should, and I can’t but suppose will be remembered as a real man who made a mistake, but then did only what such a man would do.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More


  1. David Nikoley on December 6, 2006 at 21:05

    I belive the reason the rescuers found the family, is that they found Mr. Kim's footprints and followed then back to the car. If he would not have left they might have all been dead by now.

  2. Kyle Bennett on December 7, 2006 at 04:42


    Wow, if that's true it makes it all the more poignant, in that he did save them, and (most likely) died never knowing it.

    I had a scary thing, though by no means anywhere near this severe, happen to me last June. I was driving from Arizona to San Diego and decided to take a "long cut" over the mountains to see some scenery. As I climbed, there was a sign that said "Tire chains required beyond this point". I laughed at the incompetence of the highway department to leave the sign up so late into the summer. I should have wondered a little more about that sign, especially given that there was a light intermittent drizzle in the air.

    I was in a tiny rental Hyundai, and you can guess what I encountered a bit further up the mountain. There were a few spots where I actually became scared. Even at too slow a speed to register on the speedometer, the front wheels were sliding, only feet from a sheer drop. And no way to turn around without risking sliding off the cliff, or using the oncoming lane on a series of blind curves.

    Luckily, there was other traffic, there was a town at the top of the pass, and the road on the way down the other side was being plowed (else I would have holed up in the town till the roads cleared, there's no way my car could have made it safely downhill under the conditions I encountered going up). Unless I slid off the cliff, I wasn't going to die from the mistake, but I had put myself into a situation where luck mattered, and it got my attention.

    It's easy to forget, with California's generally amazing climate, what it can be like in the mountains, even on a warm summer day. The Donner Party happened in California, afterall.

  3. cube on December 7, 2006 at 19:20

    It's a sad story & a cautionary tale. People shouldn't go off into the wilderness unprepared.

  4. Salihah on December 8, 2006 at 10:54

    Oh this story is so sad. I'd been following it on the news and it broke my heart when I found out he was dead. So sad.

    Enjoyed your blog, though, I'm an individualist, too….I took the same quiz lol! I'm also 58% "strange"…what the heck does that mean??

    Peace, Salihah : )

  5. Kurt on December 9, 2006 at 18:16

    For some reason, this story has touched me deeply. The whole picture was, some vandals cut a lock and left a fence to a private road open. Mr. Kim did not know he had turned off the main road because the visibility was so bad. Had the fence been closed, this tragedy never would have happened.

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