Mapping The Route of the Kim Family

I’ve always been a “map person,” so I found this story captivating. How could a family on vacation, with a map, lose their way so badly? The Kim family got hopelessly lost in November 2006 while trying to get to a coastal Oregon resort. They struggled to survive alone in the cold for nine days. Mother Kati Kim and her two children were rescued; James the father was lost when he left them in an attempt to get help. Mr. Kim was a familiar face on the internet because he worked at CNET and did many small gadget reviews.

ABC’s 20/20 recently covered the Kim story and upon watching it, I had a few questions: what was the road they planned to take, where exactly did it take them, and how did they end up so lost? The story is compelling because we all make wrong turns, we all get lost. But somehow in this case it turned out deadly. Whether we use paper maps, or GPS, or even just ask for help, how do we know the directions we get are correct? How do we know they won’t be dangerous?

Exit sign for Route 42 blocked by tree.

The Kims were still on track as late as November 25, 2006 at 8PM when they stopped for dinner at a Denny’s restaurant in Roseburg, Oregon. They had already been driving for many hours. When they got back in the car, they missed the exit for Route 42, which they had intended to take to the coast. This is where the trouble began. One reason they may have missed the exit is poor road signs. Blogger William Long took the the picture on the right, showing a Route 42 exit sign blocked by a tree branch. The only part of the sign visible was for route 99, which may have led the Kims to believe it was not their exit.

Bear Camp Road looked to lead the Kims right where they needed to go.

Somewhere down the road, the Kims then decided to take Route 23 (or Bear Camp Road) to get to the coast. You have to look at the map from their point of view to understand why. From Grants Pass, they wanted to get to Gold Beach, and on the map Bear Camp Road looked to be the perfect road to take. The Kims’ map did not show it was a seasonal, narrow access road.

How many of us would also have decided to do the same thing? As humans we always want to make the “best” choice. We wouldn’t want to think we walked away from a great short cut when we were right near it. Bear Camp Road looked like it could save them 60 miles of extra driving. Also, to turn around feels something like admitting defeat. If I had been in the Kims’ shoes, even if I had somehow found it within myself to pass up the tempting Bear Camp Road route, I still would have felt cheated out of what I thought might have been the better way to go.

The fateful turn. It's easy to go the "wrong" way.

The very last time the Kims stopped for directions was 10 miles before the beginning of Bear Camp Road, at a gas station in the small town of Merlin, Oregon. James asked for help, but the attendant didn’t understand where he was trying to go. A simple warning from that attendant could have saved James Kim his life and the family their tragic ordeal.

Unfortunately for the Kims, they made enough correct turns to get themselves to Bear Camp Road. If they had not been able to find it, they may have turned back sooner. Once on Bear Camp Road, James Kim drove for approximately 10 miles before he came to the point at which he became forever lost. What is troubling is how easy it was to go the way he did. In fact, if you look at the picture to the right, you can see that at the fork, Bear Camp Road appears to go to the right, when in fact it goes to the left!

This would be hard enough to navigate correctly during the day, but the Kims were here late at night. I have NOT seen it reported anywhere about how easy it is to get lost here. AND, once you go to the right, you enter a maze of several intertwining long narrow roads, none of which lead you back to Bear Camp Road or anywhere else. On the map on the left, I detailed where the Kims’ car probably traveled after it went right at the fork. The car went about another 12 miles, essentially going straight on the same road. Getting back even in the best conditions would not have been easy: the small road crossed paths with another four roads, all of which went nowhere. For all we know, they may have even tried one or more of these roads before giving up.

In the end, the Kims were let down by maps, signs, and people. A warning from any might have saved James’s life. The Kims should have conducted more research as well. Just because a road is shown on the map doesn’t mean it’s safe. They also should have been more alert. If a road doesn’t look safe, think about turning around. Sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason, and the shortest distance between two points is not a straight line.

There are some life lessons I will try to take from what happened. 1. Don’t assume every road on every map is safe to drive; remember that the map is made by humans. 2. Don’t trust every road sign you see; humans make those, too. 3. Sometimes driving 60 miles out of your way is the best way to go. In a world where we are accustomed to immediate gratification, there are still things we can’t get done right away. We may need to choose the path that seems to be taking longer to accomplish our task. 4. It’s okay to turn around, backtrack; ultimately you will get to where you should be safely. Getting to your destination is part of the trip, so don’t rush the journey.

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  1. Scott Berkun

     /  February 18, 2011

    Good analysis. I remember the story since it happened in the Northwest and it was on the news for days.

    The pictures you have don’t show what it looked like in snow, and it had been snowing or was snowing before their fateful day (wikipedia page mentions it, but no details on how much snow there was)

  2. Christina

     /  May 25, 2011

    This is an excellent post. We moved from New York City to Portland years ago, and later to San Francisco, so we have traveled back and forth many times and know the area where the Kim family got stranded. With snow added it is unbelievably confusing (and many people on the west coast don’t have a lot of experience with snow). You have given a very good explanation of how the whole tragic situation happened. Your post is better reporting than most of the news sources. Well done.

  3. Dave Casey

     /  December 29, 2011

    GPS PEOPLE. IT’S 2011

  4. Phil C

     /  September 15, 2012

    Great post and well written.
    I am shaking my head, laughing at Christinas’ post “and many people on the west coast don’t have alot of experience with snow” Maybe she is speaking of hard core urban dwellers, S.F. Bay Area, L.A. folks etc. but that hardly covers the West Coast. When it comes to nasty Winter conditions. Perhaps she should check the snow/ice stats for..oh I dunno, maybe Lake Tahoe, Truckee, Sierra City, Mammoth Lakes, Tioga Pass, Bridgeport, Blue Canyon, Susanville, The Siskiyou Range. and then there is Shaver Lake, Ebbetts Pass, Sonora Pass, Kyburz and on and on and on…funny thing is, these are all California locations, where according to many “snow experts” from back East, it NEVER snows or gets cold.!
    She should try driving the North Cascade Highway and tell us about how the West Coast lacks Winter driving conditions.

    What a bunch of self inflating crap these East Coasters drag around, Im pretty sure that 9ft snow drifts dont hinder the highways anywhere South of New England, here on the “wimpy weather” West Coast you had better be carrying chains and overnight gear in your car if you plan to drive a major mt pass in Dec, Jan, Feb. When your car grinds to a halt in a white out in 3ft of fresh powder while crossing the Northern Sierra on Hwy 89 or 36 for example, your gonna feel the wrath of ol man Winter, no cell phone coverage, 95 miles to the next gas station, no lighting, no phone booths, no salt or sand on the road, and the one thing East Coast people cant deal with..drastic incline, roads that are NOT flat!

    • Gene

       /  February 7, 2015

      You are not a typical Californian. You are not even a West coaster. You livebin the mountains, far removed from the nice, safe city. I’m sure Christina was referring to city folks who live near the ocean who never witness any extreme seasonal changes. I live in the bay area and I agree with her. I would have a very difficult time dealing with the weather extremes that you mentioned in your post. I have a great respect for people like you who can survive in those extremes. On the other hand, I do realize my own limitations and would never have trekked into unfamiliar territory so close to Winter with my wife and kids. I would have gotten a hotel room a d dealt with the problem in the morning.

  5. While GPS is great, the thought that it makes you impervious to getting lost, or killed while driving because you have one is naive. Today we have the ability to go almost anywhere we want with our cars and feel like we wont get lost doing so, but many places where we might travel do contain hidden dangers that a map or GPS might not show. Remember that GPS data is entered by humans, so it may contain mistakes of its own.

    I think at its best GPS should be but one tool in your traveling arsenal, and not to be relied on solely. GPS can’t save you from falling asleep at the wheel, GPS cant show you the truck darting out in front of your car, it can’t show you the debris that fell on the road in front of you, or the deer crossing your way. It’s not such a bad idea to once in a while not be completely embarrassed if we have to ask for directions, the locals may know something GPS does not.

    • Gene

       /  February 7, 2015

      If James Kim had a GPS unit with him or a cellphone car charger on that fateful trip he would still be alive today. GPS may not protect you from all hazards but you will always know where you are if you have one. He would never have taken that logging road if he had one with him. Hard to believe a tech guy would not have one with him.

  6. Interesting to stumble on this post – I remember following this incident pretty closely because James Kim was someone I had known from his TechTV days.

    I must say that I don’t agree with some of your points and I think it’s important to explain why. I recall being frustrated when this tragedy occurred, that the national media was not using this opportunity to educate viewers properly about travelling in the wilderness, and instead were dramatizing the story as being caused by errors by others, rather than the result of poor decisions. I think its important, when preventable tragedies occur, to point out exactly how they could have been prevented, so that others will learn.

    What I want to correct is that the Kims didn’t take a wrong turn. According to Kati Kim’s description of the events in the sheriff’s official review, the family came to the fork in the road and correctly followed the signs pointing towards the coast. However, as the road to the coast started to slope up, they did not consider it safe to proceed in the snow at the higher elevations. They reversed back to the fork, but instead of continuing back to town to rest and try again in the morning, they decided to take the lower, unknown forked road in the blind hope that it also lead to the coast through a lower elevation and less snow. This extremely poor decision is ultimately the cause of their tragedy, and it is not, in my opinion, the result of poor signage or inadequate warnings.

    Furthermore, there were four warning signs about snow conditions on the road they took, including one near the fork in the road. The fact that their road had become a single lane road (which at several points, they had to manually move rocks out of the way to proceed) with no other motorists encountered for miles and miles should also have been a sign that, with two children in the backseat in the middle of the night, continuing on the road with two children in the backseat was not a good idea.

    The event was certainly an unfortunate and tragic incident, and James Kim should be commended for his bravery in abandoning his car in a last effort to find help. However, I think its equally important to point out that the main lesson is never to take risks when in a situation like this. There were more than enough warning signs.

    • Spiderman, are you saying the fork provided clear easy to understand instruction on the right way to go? Or was there any doubt? Because if there was doubt about which was the right way to go, isn’t that the point regardless of which way they went first? It wasn’t clearly marked, and the road to the right, (the wrong turn,) appeared to be a wider, better paved road.

      That same sheriffs report you mention says that the Kims did not see the warnings, but that Kati Kim did see a snowplow which led her to believe the road was maintained. You can read part of the sheriffs report here.

      I do not see any mention of getting out of the car to move rocks out of the way. The sheriff’s report is discussed here. I did not absolve the Kim’s from responsibility in the tragedy. But let’s not deny that what they did are things we all have to be careful about doing ourselves. If we lay all the blame on the Kim’s and nobody else, I consider it a convenient way of getting ourselves off the hook, of saying this could never happen to us because we would never make such decisions. Then we don’t have to look at ourselves and make sure we don’t make the same mistakes the Kim’s did. Which in my opinion is another mistake.

      • spidermanNY

         /  November 6, 2012

        The full report is here, including Kati Kim’s full account.

        Click to access OSSA1.pdf

        It indicates that they indeed followed and were aware of signs which pointed to the coast, of which a sign is also present at the fateful fork that they took (they also saw one snowdrift warning, though there are actually four. I definitely agree that we should learn from this situation. My point of disagreement was that I think the significant problem was human error and not maps or signs, and that is what we should focus on improving. I think that more lives would be saved if we use this incident to serve as a reminder to exercise caution, common sense, and patience when one is out of their element.

        Remember, judging from Kati’s account, the Kims had followed signs to the coast, they had seen at least one snowdrift warning, they had actually had to backtrack from the correct path due to dangerous conditions, and they were already at a point where the roads were completely isolated and narrow (if they had gotten the misconception that this was a major road from the map, they clearly saw now that it wasn’t). Their cellphones weren’t working, they didn’t have a lot of gas, and it was dark, with two young children in the vehicle. All of this is from Kati’s account to the sheriff. However, when they backtracked to the fork, instead of continuing back at this point to the town for safety (delaying their progress by one night), they continued down an unmarked road in the hopes that it would reach the coast.

        Roads and maps can always be improved, but on the whole, I think the main lessons to be learned from the incident are primarily related to judgement. I would also say that this was actually the second poor decision made that night, the first being leaving at night on an unknown, non-major route across mountains without any supplies, without filling up on gas, and without notifying anyone of the change in route.

        Again, I understand all of this might sound like trying to push all the blame on the Kims, but in my opinion the best case is that people may be more careful with their decisions in the future knowing that sometimes those mistakes are not reversible. I know that I certainly have had the Kims on my mind more than once when I find myself in an uncertain situation and decide the risk is not worth it.

      • Gene

         /  February 7, 2015

        I have read several reports that they had to get outbof their car to move rocks to allow them to drive on. At some point they could clearly see that the road was no longer paved and was not a main thoroughfare. When They passed the inlocked gate that should also have told them they should not be on that road. Every choice that James Kim made that fateful night was the wrong choice and let to his death. This should be a lesson learned for the rest of usm

  7. alex

     /  December 16, 2012

    I am writing this from Merlin-Galice road, few miles away from Bear Camp Road, where I am camping during the fall and winter. It amazes me how many “city people”, who never been traveling in the Western mountains during snow (and don’t get out much in general) post insults to Kims family online. They never been to Bear Camp Road, Grants Pass area or Western mountains in general. Keep posting your nonsensical, false, attention-whore, bitter insinuations of a person without a life who badmouths dead people from behind the safety of computer screens. You’ll get your own Bear Camp Road one day–each of us will–and god help you then.

    • Gene

       /  February 7, 2015

      I notice you are sending your critique of us from behind the safety of YOUR computer screen as well. James Kim is dead for one reason, because he didn’t want to get cheated out of the money for the room he paid for at that luxury lodge. No one in their right mind would risk their family’s life to get to that resort. He made wo many mistakes there was no way this was going to have a happy ending. Let me name just a few of his errors in judgement… leaving Portland so late knowing they had at least a 5 or 6 hour drive ahead of them, not having cold weather clothes with them, not having cellphone chargers with them, no GPS, missing their fIrst turnoff from Highway 5 to 42 East, failure to realize they missed that exit for 25 miles, failure to turn around to get back to 42, deciding to take a different route when it was obvious it was not a well travelled road, failure to take the warnings of local people not to use that road, failure to fill his gas tank before heading East, failure to see the signs saying Bear Camp Road is not maintained from November to June, deciding to take the fork to the right after realizing Bear Camp Road was a higher elevation, driving for 21 miles on and unpaved road that had numerous rock and boulders on it that they had to stop and remove, not turning around when they woke up the next morning at the T intersection, using his remaining gas to heat the car rather than go back to Bear Creek Road, burning his tires, leaving his only shelter-his car, leaving the roadway for the creekbed during his attempt to find help. That’s quite a list, and quite a mountain of mistakes to overcome to survive. If you can’t see that he is responsible for his own death then you are certain to end up just like him.

  8. alex

     /  December 16, 2012

    PS: My comment wasn’t about the author of this blog post–it was regarding certain comments trying to smear dirt over dead Kim and ascribe him intents and actions that were not there. As to advice about GPS…. don’t be stupid and rely on GPS (I’m an engineer who worked on GPS devices before): batteries die, path algorithms go wrong, don’t rely on it, your brain will devolve and lose the remainder of problem-solving skills (if any were present to begin with).

    • Gene

       /  February 7, 2015

      If Kim had a GPS with him he would have known he was not near Galice and would never have left the car! Dead batteries can be recharged. Also, a GPS would have kept him from walkin 10.5 miles in an almost circle about a mile from where he started. It would also allow him to Bear Camp Road again and possibly that lodge that was only a few miles away from their car. One more thing, if you’re lost and don’t have a compass you MUST depend on a GPS. THAT is what they were designed to do. An engineer should know that.

  9. I am at this site after seeing the new story on TV last night because it was so disturbing and sad. Obviously, the TV story left a lot out, that I am finding out here; for example, they show a clearly marked yellow sign for Exit 119, which Mrs. Kim, the “navigator” missed – but in this post it shows a green sign that anyone would miss. I agree that GPS would not be the total answer, as it has gotten my daughter lost and in a dangerous situation in the past, but the voice would have at least mentioned the first exit. I also don’t recall seeing anywhere that the lady at the hotel let the police know that they were definitely coming there. ALSO, I am sorry, but the ranger who was going down bear camp road should have known that they went to the RIGHT and did not continue on bear camp road. As far as the “reliable witness” saying that they saw them in at another gas station far away – bullcrap! There is no such thing as a reliable witness. And I HAVE to mention the guy who found the ping on the phone – so call anonymously and give them a tip – call the sister back anonymously (but NOT if you know what I mean) and tell her a psychic told you – don’t wait 24 hours!! The guy with the helicopter knew the area, knew the roads, and knew to keep looking along the road and the roads offshoots and he did not give up. Also, no mention was made of them getting out and moving boulders and the route on the map above looks ridiculous – come on! How much other is left out of the story?

    Obviously Mr. Kim was an adventurous man who cared for his family deeply, even though he made a BAD decision in this case and they made many errors in judgement. They left a LOT out of the story on TV, and I agree that, after seeing the route, I find it horrifying that this poor family had to endure this and the loss of Mr. Kim. From what Ms. Kim eluded to on the TV story, they liked doing adventurous things like this and so they wanted what they wanted and it was a bad gamble. Do they take the blame? I’m sure she does in her heart every day. Because I never would have – yes I can say it – any person with two babies in the car would have gotten a hotel that night, taking into account the late night, the fact he is the only driver, and the impending snow conditions, because they didn’t have to be back to work for 8 days. If the children had died, instead of Mr. Kim, I would not be surprised if the Kims would have been prosecuted in a court of law. As it turned out, they suffered in even worse ways.

    I will go out on a limb here to say to the poster who took offense at a comment that an east coaster made about west coasters not being able to drive in snow – this isn’t about you – okay – it is a well know fact that many people can’t handle snow and I think that is what the east coaster wanted to point out. So put your chains and rifle up and chill. Don’t diz the east coast. I lived in Elmira NY and Buffalo and built snow forts and walked to school in 12 feet of snow – it is a North and South issue – not an East Coast-West Coast issue.

  10. Mr. Kim was a brave man who just made a series of bad judgements, but at the same time, an unfortunate series of events also caused his death.

    I would like to suggest that, as this sort of tragedy was not the first, it should be the last. I feel that the signs on these roads should be large and bright yellow with black lettering with an explanation – stating description of the road, length of time, drawing of the zigzags, multiple logging road offshoots – “do not attempt” – extremely dangerous! – “logging only” ; Hunting only; high altitudes and rocky road conditions – and keep the signs cleared of brush as I know people are being paid to do. That would be a LOT easier than new legislation, as suggested in other articles. One or two signs people – one or two signs!!

  11. lyn

     /  June 25, 2013

    Just a note….I was following my GPS last week travelling from Gold Beach to Grants Pass and it guided me to cross at Bear Camp Road. Now, I am from Oregon and was well aware of the Kim family story. I decided to go for it….the road is one lane the whole way (66 miles) and in fairly poor shape. I am amazed that the Garmin has the road loaded on its info at all…it is that bad, and this is June, and the weather was grand…..

    • Bob Frazier

       /  May 30, 2016

      Note for Lynn albeit late: Lin – Yep you were right.

      Lin, next time you want to try this gps auto route thing:

      Don’t make the town Gold Beach your end point like a local would, but instead use the Tu tu ton Lodge location instead (it’s well upriver) because a traveler would. Those few miles are only half the problem Then, to make things even worse, don’t make Grants Pass your start point but make it Roseburg, where they were leaving from dinner.

      This is EXACTLY what made some GPS’s pick a crazy route, at least back in ’06.

      Prepare to be bewildered and be lost!!!

      Some GPS units (at least in 2006) projected a route completely different and equally impossible and possibly even more insane deep into the Rouge/Coquille divide. A guy figured this out about 5 days after the Kim family went missing, but he was up in Washington State, I was on the ground in Southwest Oregon, where I lived for 40 years, hunted, fished, and once logged.

      The GPS track would have taken them off HWY42, up through the tiny town of Powers. So far the Kim’s would likely been willing, it’s what Katie later said she expected to do … follow a river system, and you’re at a low elevation, no snow yet… all is well, your south in the Coast range not the Northern Cascades that you heard a troubling forecast for anyways. (By the way, not much radio can eve be heard from Camas Valley on west through Powers and beyond, because you are down in a series of canyons. At one point you cross the Middle fork of the Coquille river seven times in a mile.

      But, from about Powers, over into the Rouge just below the wild and scenic boundary – things go incrementally from bad to worse.

      There actually is a route, and it is sometimes (some summers) open that way. River rafters use to cross down into Foster’s Bar, the take out of the Wild and Scenic Section. But the GPS track even got that route way wrong. It would have moved them even further off the main track into the maze of logging roads, (details below) still technically shorter, and yes, sometimes even possible. I know, because that’s the data I used to looked for them. I wrote more below before seeing this post by lyn – who is absolutely correct.

      About that storm front they were in: It had knocked down a lot of trees across those exact roads and hammered the place with a typical late November heavy rain, an old logging bridge was long gone, it was hell in there. At one point our jeep skirted under a log that was low across the road, and it had some broken branches like maybe a car had bent them to the point of snapping… I was sure that family were up ahead.

      It would have been super easy for James Kim to trust technology, look at who he was! Let it slowly suck him down into the deep timber, and then have trees fall behind them blocking their path backwards. (This happens regularly.) The woods are dangerous in winter storm. The ground gets soft, the wind howls, and big trees come down, and without a big chainsaw, what are you going to do? So the realities are to either wait for rescue or force you ever forward to a bridge that you could not know was out and while that is not what happened, per this discussion, it probably should have… had they trusted a gps.

      On the other hand, yes, IF they had used a GPS and done that exact route I would have found them after “only” a week. And my wife and I felt absolutely sure that we were going to find them sitting in their car up in there – as no one had been there for a week, we knew that because of the old snow without tracks and a watchman who lived at one junction said no one had been through BUT the only time he was gone was on the Friday night that they were traveling, and he was below the snow line so no tracks at his place.

      Why no one else had searched this route: This is the divide area where four counties and four headwaters come together, and Search and Rescue mobilization (was at that time) at the county level. GPS with maps were not common in our “neck of the woods”. Hell, just try to triangulate three satellite signals when the trees tower hundreds of feet above you on a narrow road deep in a canyon. Impossible back then.

      So, I was there, I saw it, and it could happen to anyone. It’s just a tragedy, no way else to describe this, my heart goes out to that family. Arm chair critics better ought to listen more and point fingers less.

      • Wstintim

         /  June 9, 2016

        I’ve been on this route 3 times in the last week.
        Spent the night on top of a Mtn just 2 nights ago.
        The first time I was leaving Roseburg on my way to Powers. The GPS (set to quickest route not shortest distance) told me to turn off of 42 west on to Myrtle Creek Rd. About 10 miles east of 542, the two lane Hwy. to Powers and the better route.
        I have learned to never rely on the GPS alone but after looking at Google maps, it was obviously going to take me to where I wanted to go It was a Sunday and the weather was nice.
        I preceded to drive on logging roads for the next 2 + hours before arriving in Powers. From time to time verifying the GPS with Google Maps.
        The gravel roads were nice enough my only concern being an oncoming log truck on a Sunday. Not likely.
        The whole route I never seen a soul.
        After leaving Powers my destination was Medford.
        I plotted this in to the GPS and headed south towards Agness.
        This also turned to gravel and took another 2 + hours.
        A few miles north of Agnes is Bear Creek Rd. which the GPS instructed me to take.
        3 more hours to Medford.
        I was fortunate to find this route in good weather. Experienced enough to know, never trust the GPS alone.
        If this had been in the winter, during a storm, at night I would not have even made it to Powers.
        BTW, the GPS was bought in 2006. The same year of the Kim tragedy

      • Bob Frazier

         /  June 9, 2016

        Oh Wow! That’s a route (town of Bridge to Powers) that was never been discussed and probably never searched! (And just as easy to choose as the next one.)

        Thank you so much for sharing that revelation! (

        What kind of craziness that GPS is doing to figure that route! I have never been and over up that way. And I have never been from Bridge to Powers that way.) What’s the country like up in there?

        As for your Powers to Agness track, can you recount which road system(s) that put you on??? I trust it dd not keep you on the main road up and over (FS 33 up then down to Foster Bar).

        And of course when you said Myrtle creek I first thought you meant from the Town of Myrtle creek, and the route would be up cow creek, up Bobby creek, past Mt. Bolivar, through Paradise Valley, and down into the Coquille system from there… one hell of a route when it’s open from snow and not closed from lands slides.

        What a great part of the world, what an awful place to be lost.

  12. You have to wonder Lyn if there are other mountain roads included on GPS systems that have the danger of leading people to peril. Let’s hope we aren’t waiting until someone finds themselves in a life threatening situation before someone addresses the issue that some ‘roads’ should not be included on GPS or should only be done so with an advisory.

  13. Whirly

     /  January 16, 2014

    Good discussion, but the picture of the Highway 42 exit sign does not accurately illustrate your point. A branch only blocks the 42 on the sign when viewing it from the shoulder as in the pic. If you are in a lane of travel, the sign is/was probably visible.
    More likely the Kims missed the sign because the turn-off comes just a few fast miles after getting back on the freeway from Denny’s in Roseburg. They likely weren’t completely settled in the car and prepared to navigate the next leg of the trip – thinking they had more time before they had to really pay attention. Taking that time before hitting the road can save a lot of time and frustration later (don’t I know it!) and maybe save a life.

    • Bob Frazier

       /  May 30, 2016

      I want to say that Whirly is right, this is about 5 miles south of the downtown exit where they should have gotten back on to I-5, but it leaves a couple other issues. One, there are always more than one sign. We always laughed about I-5 signs saying “Ocean Beaches” this exit, but not saying that the beaches themselves are 60 miles west. Two, there are two more exits that take you back to HWY42, one only about 7 more miles further at Round Prairie and another about three miles beyond that. If they’d seen they missed it they could have easily seen the work around on the map. But I think they’re back on the highway like 6 ish… way dark by then in late November.

  14. Whirly, how do you know what the view would be? You can tell from that photo what would be visible from 10 feet to its left? I think at best we’re both guessing and there is at least the possibility that the sign might in some way be slightly blocked. Whatever blockage of the sign there is by the tree, isn’t that too much?

  15. James Kim was killed by stupidity. Plain and simple.

  16. Gene

     /  February 5, 2015

    The fact is that James Kim made every wrong decision he possibly could that night. I’ve seen the road their car was found on. Kati Kim admitted that they had to stop several times to move large rocks from the road so they could pass. How could anyone drive on that road, even at night, and not realize that is NOT a road they should be on. Then to continue driving on that road for 17 miles is just mind boggling! After reading this story I could count at least a dozen bonehead decisions he made that led to this tragedy. It goes that a college education is not a good substitute for common sense.

  17. PC

     /  February 6, 2015

    Wanting to see first hand what this route was all about I rode my motorcycle from Merlin to Galice in June 2014 via Bear Camp Rd. First and foremost this is a spectacularly beautiful place. There is a bright yellow with red lettering sign warning travelers of the road ahead placed at the junction of Galice Rd and Bear Camp Rd. Makes me wonder just how long that sign has been there, in the dark/rain with reduced vision I suppose one could miss it.

    I made a point of stopping at most every jct on the way to the coast, there are several that could be confusing and one in particular that some wise guy has tried to spin around so that it gave false direction. Even with a full tank of gas and dry conditions I think it would be a challenge in the dark, at least for someone new to the area. Mix in some snow flurrys, mud, fatigue and doubt as to the correct route and you have a situation requiring some pause for thinking, possibly cutting your losses and returning to Merlin or Grants Pass for the night.

    All of this is second guessing a situation that has been scoured over hundreds of times by rank strangers to the Kim family. Out of respect I dont feel its proper to scorn the man or his family, he made a mistake, gave his all to find help but failed. Everyone makes mistakes, leave his integrity alone now.

    We are blessed to have hundreds..thousands even of wonderful backcountry roads to travel here in the West, tread lightly and lend help to fellow travelers.

    • Bob Frazier

       /  May 30, 2016

      PC, they added that sign in response to this tragedy, it was not there before.

  18. PC

     /  February 6, 2015

    Whoops! I meant to say Merlin to Agness via Bear Camp Rd.

  19. Every mistake would have been inconsequential and they would have been fine had a blizzard not dumped a foot of snow by the next morning. I don’t think I investigated it when I originally wrote the story – and it bears checking / research. What was the forecast for northern California / southern Oregon for that night? It makes a big difference.

    We have been looking at this story with the assumption that the Kim’s somehow knew a foot of snow was going to fall that night, and their actions indicated that they probably did not. They parked their car that night thinking daylight would help them find the way home, and instead woke up buried under a foot of snow.

  20. Here is a forecast I found From the Oregonian …

    Your search of “snow AND date(11/25/2006 to 11/25/2006)” found 1 listings
    Article 1 of 1
    November 25, 2006
    Storm brings what skiers want SUMMARY: Snow | Drivers, however, could be in for some white-knuckle adventures as they negotiate Cascade passes
    Holiday weekend travel conditions in the southern Washington and northern Oregon Cascades are slick and forecast to get worse by Sunday, the heaviest traffic day.
    An approaching storm tonight could drop snow levels below 2,500 feet, piling up more snow from Timberline Lodge to Willamette Pass, according to the National Weather Service.

    • Bob Frazier

       /  May 29, 2016


      Firstly, they weren’t anywhere near the Cascades, so they could have ignored the report, and it was for the North Cascades anyways.

      Secondly, while most of the coast range is below 2500′, where they were is where the coast range bumps up against the Siskiyou range, is more like 3500′ at the ill fated Bear Camp Road junction.

      Thirdly, as Katie said in her interview, she had lived in Eugene and used another coastal route (HWY126) and it follows down a river as do nearly all other coast routes.

      Fourth, the Coast Range can get incredible amounts of rain or snow, I’ve personally seen 3′ dump in one night just a dozen or so miles north of where they were.

      There is so much more to this story, more than what is in the sheriff’s report even, it’s really an incredible story worthy of a movie.

  21. 42°34’27.8″N 123°45’01.4″W is apparently where the split in the road is (and they turned right in error)… I noticed on Google Maps that both splits are listed as NF-23… I can see why Mr. Kim may have decided to take the low road, thinking that the NF-23’s would converge farther up.

  22. spidermanNY

     /  February 18, 2016

    Todd, are you really saying that continuing in a car with 2 young kids down a unlit, single-lane wilderness road with snow beginning to fall was an inconsequential mistake? In my opinion this is the true crux of the entire tragedy and the one that deserves the most attention towards preventing in the future.

    We can try to improve technology all we want, but we really have to start teaching people to respect their own boundaries and limits. Have you seen what Bear Camp Road looks like? Yes, a map might list is misleadingly, yes a GPS might point you to it – but once you are actually THERE, a person should be able to evaluate the scene and determine his own limits.

    • Obviously Spiderman they should have realized they were in trouble when they went past that sign with skull and cross bones that said people die who go past this point. Truth is there is no such sign, and had a blizzard not hit the night they parked this would have been a non story. If you have traveled the area you know there is no metropolis center, but instead a loosely connected group of small towns so even today weather information is not communicated the same as it is in more populated places. This is one of the most sparsely populated parts of the country. Yes we have to be more careful, but the Kim’s were not stupid people, there was a set of extenuating circumstances that led to the incredible events that took place here.

  23. Bob Frazier

     /  May 29, 2016

    Gene Wrote: “One more thing, if you’re lost and don’t have a compass you MUST depend on a GPS. THAT is what they were designed to do. An engineer should know that.”

    Gene, I’m late to the party here on this sad and half assed perspective on the Kim tragedy, but there’s a whole other side to this story that is mostly untold, and it’s precisely about your declarations about the GPS. I’d like to tell it.

    I’m from the area, lived there most of my life, knew who James Kim was and so I used what I knew to try and help look for him. We all knew they was in deep trouble because he was not the first (or last) to die here in this manner. But as to “the rest of the story” GPS wise:

    A lot of us figured he probably had a GPS with him, and the question was – had it led him astray, and of so how.

    One guy in Washington State was inputting the route on his GPS, and for some good reason (that now escape me) he suspected it was the one they had (possibly because it was the top rated Garmin at CNet’s review site or something like that) and it (correctly) led them down Highway 42.

    Well, almost.

    The Rogue River is a wild and scenic area, you don’t drive through it, you either head west to the coast north of the Rouge (as they intended to) or you pass south of it and turn west as they did.

    While Highway 42 goes to west to the coast and then HWY101 would take them south to Gold Beach, the lodge is upriver several miles upriver.

    The GPS we thought they had, had they had it, calculated a completely different route than most people ever searched, one even more dangerous and just as isolated. It took them down HWY42, but then up County Route 542 through the little town of Powers, on up the South Fork of the Coquille and then further up Forest Service Road 33, at some point (as I recall) it started moving them southwest on NF3353 with the intent of climbing the divide between the Coquille river system and the Rouge. At the fork in the road of 33 and 3353 was a watchman, he basically guards the road from people using it when there is an active logging operation up the road.

    We spoke to him. Anybody been up here? Nope. You been here all the time? “Yep, except for lat Friday night went I went to Powers to get drunk.” We traced every hairy road in that system. MILES.

    In 2006 that was the capability of GPS – to get you lost. The roads are there, it is possible, and it is the shortest route. Except for the bridge that was out mid way, and the snow which I have personally seen pile up 3 feet in one night that time of year on that pass. And that by God is the honest truth.

    Aside from stopping and looking at the dozen or so places where cars commonly drive clear into the river, this is the route my wife and I took looking for them. The hair stood on the backs of our necks at every turn. And while we certainly didn’t find them, we were just a few air miles from them. But they were about 200 miles away from us by road.

    There were a lot of wonderful people searching and assisting who made this one of the most incredible things to ever happen in our little part of the world. An absolute hero named John Rachor found them, and this should have been made into a movie because of how incredible the whole story is. Some AT&T guys are heroes too. And Katie is a hero for keeping those girls alive. And James is a hero for trying to save his family.

  24. When James Kim headed out for help he started back on the dirt road that had forked off and left them stuck in the first place. If he had kept going back on that road it is believed he might have made it to the fork and might possibly have gotten to help, but for some reason he turned off the road. It may have been the last decision he made and while it may have cost him his life it may have saved his families. The man who found the car said he saw Kim’s trail from the sky which led him back to the stranded car and his family.

  25. From the seesdifferent piece is these four observations that I think are very good

    first, the Kims were definitely afraid of snow.
    Secondly, they seemed to have an aversion for trying to turn around.
    Thirdly, they felt they were lost.
    Fourth, they thought that “a ranger” would come to shut a nearby gate.

  26. One of the questions you have to ask of the Kim’s is how could they drive for so long down a road that was just one lane and keep going. We know they made a wrong turn at the fork to take them off Bear Camp Road and onto the BLM road, but until that point and even after they presumably must have realized that this was not an ideal road and yet they kept going forward.

  27. It’s not so shocking that a random person made as many questionable decisions as James Kim made here, but that the person who made them was James Kim. He was senior editor for electronic gadgets on Cnet. He wasn’t just a smart guy in any area, his major focus was on hand held devices, that’s what he was an expert on. And yet he didn’t have GPS or even a cell phone charger in his car. He obviously was very intelligent or he wouldn’t be where he was. I watched his videos, regularly, he was an expert on the topic at a time where it wasn’t easy to find that much on mp3 players and the like. It makes the lack of preparation on a long trip and a long way down a very narrow highway all the more surprising.

    • Bob Frazier

       /  June 2, 2016

      Turns out they did have a GPS, but Katie said later it was too antiquated to be of any use. (If all you have is an Oregon Highway map and a set of GPS coordinates then you don’t have anything useful once you are on that road system. Might have been worse with a stat of the art 2006 GPS too, as I previously stated.

      Yes, they had three Cell phones but no charger – and that was tragic, yet if the phones don’t can’t even hit a tower, what good are they?

  28. GPS does not work in the Trees here and the Gate was left open that allowed them on the Road in the First place.

  29. I researched this article because we were ON Bear Camp Road last week! (July 2016). We did have GPS (note to Gene and Dave) and we had more than 3 hours until Sunset, and it was SUMMERTIME. I have been in a LOT of dangerous situations in my life, but this is the first time I felt as if I felt at grave risk even during the daylight. I can’t imagine how the Kim family felt. There are ALMOST NO TURNOUTS on the one lane rugged road, you are traveling on the edge of the mountain, and the road continues to climb for miles and miles before descending. The winding of the roads is disorientating and it feels as if you could be going back and forth or even somehow had gotten to another range. I sent our adult kids text messages that I loved them (figuring they’d find the messages through the cell phone company even if our bodies were never found. Really! I was THAT scared). We had absolutely NO idea that this was a dangerous road. When GPS put us on the tiny road that looked like a walking path, we turned back only to realize that the other road went no where. . My husband feels we WERE on Bear Camp Road all the way. I think we might have been on the logging road as described here. The article I’m writing about the trip on is humorous, but after reading the story of this lovely family and the loss of their young father in what was a situation that anyone can find themselves, my heart is filled with empathy at the loss and the terror the family must have experienced. I’ll reference this particular article and add a section about the true dangers of getting lost on Bear Camp Road. For the experienced, adventure-seeking person, this road will be invigorating. However, after all these years, I’m surprised and sad that there are not numerous signs that make it clear for the inexperienced and unsuspecting traveler what exactly he or she is about to under take and ways to easily turn back. Of course, I can figure out why there aren’t more signs guiding the person who has become stuck on this road as to how many miles left to Grants Pass and on the other side, to Gold Beach. It’s simply too dangerous to put those signs up!

  30. Bob Frazier

     /  July 27, 2016

    Billiekelpin – Wow. Just wow.

    One, thanks for leaving your message – I’m floored that any GPS’s still direct people on to that road, even in summer. Can you tell us, what make and model gps it is, and two, did you have it set to shortest (most direct) or fastest route? Lastly, can you recall exactly where you were and exactly what the destination was that you had input when your GPS directed you that way?

    Two, did you see signage that mentioned this was a dangerous route (in winter)?

    Again, thanks for the comment.

    Bob Frazier

  31. Ana

     /  March 7, 2018

    I am from upper midwest (Minnesota). I am so used to grasslands, lakes, hills and prairies (< 500 feet) that huge mountains make me nervous. I have a friend who grew up in Oregon. She laughs at "Afton Alps" and "steep" roads near Saint Paul bluffs.
    When I saw a go-pro video of bear camp road, I thought, I wouldn't drive on this road even on a sunny day in July. Seriously, this is one of the most horrific experiences I have ever heard about. What an ordeal! with the mom and her babies waiting while the poor dad hikes off trail. It doesn't matter how many mistakes they made, or how reckless they were, no one deserves this kind of tragedy.

    The thing is, the elements of nature are very tricky to gauge from a vantage point. You can suffer hypothermia stranded 0.3 miles from your own backyard in brutal cold. What seems like nuisance snowfall from the safety of a heated cabin can be extremely dangerous for someone driving through it.

    I am heartbroken for the dad. He died because he left the safety of the car and then he hiked off trail. Two deadly mistakes in bad weather. But then, He must have become desperate and disillusioned.

  32. Having read through the story several times Ana I am still struck by one of the last pieces of the events and what I believe is information that didn’t come out until a little later on. After all the mistakes that were inevitably made, days into their harrowing experience, as the family still sat in their car, there came to be four things James had the choices of doing. If he had done any three of the four he probably survives, he unfortunately opted for the only one of the four that was bound to get him killed and that’s what he finally decided to do and in the end it sealed his fate.

    If he just stays in the car, he probably survives. Maybe sometimes doing nothing is the best plan, even if it seems to be against everything your better nature tells you. By heading out for help and splitting up he increased his chances of getting killed immeasurably. As he walked back for help, if he decided to turn back to the car, as he told his wife he originally planned to do, he probably also survives. Even if he kept going straight, he probably survives too because he gets to the main road and most likely is found. But instead he made an inexplicable turn off the road, into the woods. It was the worst of all possible decisions. Turning into the woods made him hardest to find and put him in the greatest way of harm. Going into the deepest forest put him in the least survivable and most unnavigable terrain.

    It’s hard to explain why James made such an irrational decision in the end. You certainly have to consider that his mind was far from fully functioning and if the cold was playing tricks on him when he headed into the woods. Maybe he thought he saw something that just wasn’t there. It’s hard to find fault with any of the decisions that cost James his life including the last one. It’s just fascinating from a probability standpoint that it was, in fact, the worst of all possible decisions he could have made at that moment. Maybe there are times we are just not our best, and maybe doing less is better than trying to do more.


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