Special to the Mountain News
Yong Chun Kim, a 66 year-old Tacoma man, has gone missing this weekend while snowshoeing on Mount Rainier in the Paradise area, Lee Taylor, Chief of Interpretative Services at Mount Rainier National Park announced today. Ms. Taylor’s press release follows:
Search Underway for Missing Snowshoer on Mount Rainier
January 15, 2012
There is a search underway for a snowshoer who failed to return from an outing in the Paradise area of Mount Rainier National Park on Saturday.
Yong Chun Kim, 66, was leading a snowshoe walk for a hiking group from Tacoma when he slipped down a steep slope. He was unable to ascend back to the group and told them he would go around and meet them. His hiking companions returned to Paradise, and when Mr. Kim had not returned by 3:00, the NPS initiated a hasty search, which continued until 9:00 pm.
Mr. Kim is an experienced snowshoer who has done many day trips at Mount Rainier. He is well equipped for day travel but does not have overnight gear or experience. He is carrying a radio and last spoke to his companions yesterday at 2:30, saying he was OK and on his way out.
Weather conditions at Paradise were severe yesterday afternoon, with winds gusting 30-50 mph, blizzard conditions, and about 5″ of new snow overnight. Snow showers are expected to continue on Sunday.
There are 25 searchers on the ground today, from Tacoma, Seattle, and Everett Mountain Rescue units, as well as NPS staff.
Update –3 pm, Sunday, January 15, 2012
Conditions worsen for missing snowshoer
After a tough night on Mount Rainier in blizzard conditions, missing snowshoer Yong Chun Kim is facing a worsening ordeal as dusk falls today, Sunday, January 15.
Mr. Kim went missing yesterday in mid-afternoon after falling down a slippery slope near Paradise and became separated from his hiking group.
In a phone interview with the Mountain News this afternoon, Lee Taylor, spokesperson for Mount Rainier National Park, gave the following update.
About 45 searchers have now joined the hunt for Mr. Kim, and have been joined by three canine teams.
By all accounts Mr. Kim is an experienced snowshoer, with at least ten years on the slopes.
“His hiking group said that he came out to the Mountain almost every weekend,” Taylor said, adding that most of his experiences were day trips.
As noted above, Kim was equipped with a radio when he fell, and had communicated with his group, saying he was “okay.” However, he did not have any gear to spend the night in the elements, which have been extreme. Ms. Taylor said that the snow has drifted to 30 inches in the search area due to the heavy winds, which topped 50 mph on Saturday.
Taylor said that although the winds are calmer today, the NPS has not been able to launch any aerial surveillance, and as a result they are relying solely on their ground search, which has expanded from the Edith Creek basin near Paradise to now include the Stevens Creek drainage area further east.
“It’s pretty rugged out there,” Ms. Taylor said. “And we haven’t been able to get any helicopters up in the air to look for him.”
In addition, she indicated that search teams now believe that Mr. Kim may have become disoriented and lost.
“They’re looking for any of his tracks,” said Taylor.
Although sounding an upbeat tone, Ms. Taylor also acknowledged that rescuers are now anticipating a third day in their search for Mr. Kim, and she voiced the obvious:
“We’re hoping to find him alive – it’s still very possible at this point. But we are racing against the clock and the chances of a positive outcome are reducing.”
Update II – 4 pm: Paradise area may close to visitors on Monday
A second press release from Mount Rainier, issued at 4 pm on Sunday, has announced that in the event that Mr. Kim still has not reached safety by tonight, then the road from Longmire to Paradise will be closed on Monday to expedite rescue efforts. Visitors will not be allowed in the Paradise area so that rangers can be re-assigned from Snow Play supervision and other duties so that they can join the search.
“Time is of the essence in a search like this and we want to focus everything we’ve got on finding Yong Chun Kim,” said Park Superintendent Randy King.
In addition, The Tacoma New Tribune is reporting that searchers have learned from backcountry campers that tracks have been seen leading down the Stevens Creek drainage heading to the unplowed Stevens Canyon Road, which is a common route off the Mountain for disoriented high-country snowshoers and climbers.
Update III – 5:15 pm, Sunday, January 15, 2012
Spokesperson Lee Taylor early this evening that searchers have received reports of an unidentified hiker making tracks along Stevens Creek and leading down towards the Stevens Canyon Road.
“It was pretty late in the day, so they weren’t able to follow up on the infomation as much as they wanted to, but it will defintely be a priority for tomorrow,” said Taylor.
Ms. Taylor indicated that search teams long-familiar with these types of rescues say that hikers often get confused and think they are in the Edith Creek basin when they are actually in the Stevens Creek area, and thus find themselves eventually on the Stevens Canyon Road.
Taylor cautioned that searchers do not know if the tracks found belong to the missing snowshoer, but she did say the information makes her “guardedly optimistic.”
Nevertheless, Mr. Kim is about to spend his second night on the Mountain without a tent or sleeping bag, and presumably without adequate provisions.
In related news, the Pierce County Alert System has issued an advisory of winter conditions in the Seattle and Tacoma urban areas, with up to 3 inches of snow predicted, and accompanied by icy road conditions throughout today, Sunday, January 15, until 10 pm.