'It's still better than golf!' Mount Rainier survivor describes 50 hours alone

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by ERIC WILKINSON / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on January 17, 2012 at 6:38 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jan 17 at 11:07 PM

TACOMA, Wash. -- A steady stream of visitors flow through Yong Chun Kim's Tacoma home. They come to make sure he's okay, after an ordeal that has them shaken - but not him.

"I wasn't scared," he said in broken English. "No. It's okay."

On Saturday, Mr. Kim led a group of friends on a snowshoeing trek on Mount Rainier when he fell 150 yards down a steep slope in whiteout conditions. As he tried to rejoin the group, he fell again, this time getting buried over his head in snow.

"I thought, I no want to die. But I know I will be okay," he said.

Kim, 66, is an experienced outdoorsman, but he only had the bare essentials with him on the day hike. Among them, a lighter that he used to burn his socks and scarf, along with some tree branches for warmth. By Sunday, with no sign of help on the way, he burned the only thing he could spare -- his money. It was only $6, a five and a one.

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

Kim hunkered down beneath a tree, sat and waited.

By late Sunday, Kim's family members admit they had nearly lost all hope -- but not him. Kim stayed warm by marching in place and singing old time gospel - "Amazing Grace" - in Korean.

When search crews finally found him, some 50 hours later, Kim asked his rescuers to snap a few pictures of his latest adventure. They show him smiling as if nothing had ever gone wrong.

"They are pretty darn good," he said. "I am so thankful for them." 

Kim was in such good shape paramedics didn't even send him to the hospital to be checked out.

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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