Lost Mt. Rainier Snowshoer Burned Money to Stay Alive

By Maria Nikias

Jan 17, 2012 5:27pm

A 66-year-old snowshoe hiker who had been missing in the mountains of Washington state for two days said he survived because of  the warmth created from burning his own money.

Yong Chun Kim, of Tacoma, Wash.,  was found Monday by a trio of searchers in Mount Rainier National Park after spending two nights alone in freezing temperatures after he became separated from the group of snowshoers  he was leading through the park.

Even though Kim wasn’t equipped with overnight gear, officials said medics cleared him so that he could skip the hospital and head straight home.

“I feel pretty good,” Kim told ABC affiliate KOMO-TV as he enjoyed a cup of hot coffee at a ranger station late Monday.

Kim survived temperatures reportedly in the teens by using fire starters to burn leaves, socks, even $1 and $5 bills. He  later took  cover under a tree during the night.

“The Rangers, they’re good people,” Kim told  KOMO-TV. “I love them.”

Kim, who had 12 years of experience as a snowshoer, was reported missing Saturday after he fell down a steep slope and became separated from the group he was leading to an area called Paradise, located 5,400 feet within the park.

Instead of climbing back up to rejoin the group, Kim continued on to meet the group further down the trail.  When he did not arrive 30 minutes after he radioed the group to tell them he was on his way, the park service launched a search.

The search was hampered by severe weather conditions, including temperatures as low as 10 degrees and snow and wind that prevented a helicopter from joining the search, National Park spokeswoman Lee Taylor told ABC News.

Rescue crews on Sunday went out with a member of Kim’s group who took them to the point where Kim was last seen.  They also noticed snowshoe tracks in an area called Steven’s Creek, which is where they focused their search.

The team reached Kim on Monday afternoon but the icy conditions delayed his rescue.  At 11 p.m. local time he was finally brought down from the snow-drenched, rugged terrain to a road, according to Taylor.

“Searchers had to snowshoe up the river valley to reach him, load him into a kind of a litter that could be slid across the snow, sort of a sled, bring him back down and get him back into the Sno-Cat and bring the Sno-Cat back out to the road,” Taylor said.

Aside from burning dollar bills in his wallet, Kim said he found comfort in dreaming of his wife, and thoughts of a nice hot sauna helped him through the chilling nights.

Kim’s son, Malcom An, thanked authorities and the rescuers in a statement released through the National Park Service.

“It’s a miracle that he is alive,” he said, “but it’s an assisted miracle. I want to thank all the volunteers and the National Park Service staff who worked so hard to find my father.”

ABC News’ Beth Loyd and Katie Kindelan contributed to this report.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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