Prolific Climber Becomes The Sixth Fatality In 15 Months On Mt. Baldy

An avid hiker who had reached the 10,064-foot summit of Mount Baldy more than 700 times and was the unofficial record holder for the number of times scaling the peak perished on the mountain either late last or early this week, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.
The sheriff’s search and rescue team had initiated a search for 78-year-old Suek “Sam” Kim, of Culver City on Sunday after he was reported missing that morning. His car was found in the parking lot near the Manker Flats campground, which is proximate to one of several trailheads to Mount Baldy.
Kim, who was an experienced and robust hiker, had come to the area on Friday to summit the mountain and remain at or near the peak that evening. It was a tradition with Kim, who emigrated to the Unitied States in 1981, to climb the mountain and spend the evening there on a full moon as a way of honoring his ancestors. Kim’s habit was to hike with adequate food, water and weather-appropriate clothing.
Officially known as Mount San Antonio, Mt Baldy straddles western San Bernardino County and western Los Angeles County within the Angeles National Forest. It has two peaks, with the one on the Los Angeles side of the divide at an elevation of 9,988 feet.
Kim did not return home on Saturday. The weather Friday and Saturday, especially at night, had been inhospitable, with the temperature at the 4,000-foot level not quite reaching 60 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and dipping to just above freezing at night, accompanied by very light precipitation on Saturday and Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.
At 8 a.m. Sunday, Kim’s son reported him missing. After Kim’s vehicle was located at Manker Flats, a search was begun in earnest, with a sheriff’s search and rescue team scouring the rugged area and aviation units making passovers of the mountaintops, the multiple approaches to and descents from them.
When Kim was not located, the effort was intensified, and search teams from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department became involved. No trace of Kim was turned up through Monday and the search was intensified on Tuesday morning, with tracking dogs being brought in to complement a contingent of both professional and volunteer search-and-rescue teams, including ten San Bernardino County Sheriff’s personnel dropped off at the summit with instructions to work their way down the mountain and eight others climbing from the trail head to the top.
At 2 p.m. Tuesday, according to the sheriff’s department, what was later determined to be Kim’s body was found on the north side of the mountain.
Kim was an experienced hiker who once said that he felt “closest to God” when he was on the mountain. Despite his skill, climbing power and gregariousness on the trial as evinced by his spirited interaction with those he encountered during his treks, Kim routinely violated a cardinal safety rule in that he engaged in solo climbing, that is, he often hiked alone and without a companion.
Treacherous Mt. Baldy has proven particularly deadly in 2016 and 2017, with six known deaths of hikers having been logged there in the last 15 months.
On February 2, 2016 Daniel Nguyen, 23, was walking along the Devil’s Backbone Trail around 7 a.m. with a friend when his companion slipped. Nguyen tried pulling his friend to safety but as he did so, he himself slipped off the trail and down the mountainside, with fatal consequences.
The Devil’s Backbone is a seven-tenths of a mile-long trail that stretches along a rocky ridge east of the Mt. Baldy summit. This trail, which starts at its east end roughly 1.3 miles from the 7,800 foot level Baldy Notch, boasts some of the most spectacular views in the Mt. Baldy area. Most of the Devil’s Backbone trail is between four and five feet wide, though at spots it narrows to little more than 18 inches across. Along one stretch of the Devil’s Backbone, the drop-off on one or both sides is very precipitous. Under dry conditions in the late spring, summer and fall, a hiker who happens to fall from that portion of the trial would most likely be able arrest his descent after a few yards and, with some effort, climb back up. In the winter, however, with both the top of the ridge and its sides coated with ice and buffeted with strong winds that at times gust to 100 miles per hour, even the strongest or the most skilled of climbers might lose footing or fall from the parapet, only to be hard pressed to stop the ensuing downward slide and, having done so, climb the steep icy grade back to the top of the ridge.
Four days after Nguyen’s rendezvous with fate, on February 6, 2016, Dong Xing Liu, 47 of Temple City, was hiking with his wife at a level much further down the mountain in the Icehouse Saddle area when both slipped on the icy terrain below their feet. Liu’s wife suffered a broken arm but Liu succumbed to his injuries, which included severe head trauma.
A 45-year-old San Diego man whose identity was never released by authorities fell to his death while hiking across the Devil’s Backbone on Saturday February 20, 2016.
On February 4, 2017 Yucheng Jia, 26, of Torrance, came to the area to attempt scaling Mt. Baldy. On February 7, he was reported missing. On February 8, his body was spotted near the Devil’s Backbone. A sheriff’s department helicopter crew recovered his body on February 9, having been delayed because the helicopter that originally located the corpse wasn’t equipped to recover a body and attendant dangerous conditions.
On Saturday, March 11, 2017, Lloyd Charton, 69, died after he pitched off the Devil’s Backbone and tumbled approximately 300 feet down from the trail to a very steep and rocky portion of the mountain.

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