Last December, Los Angeles Times staff writer Ben Poston found himself hiking up Mount Baldly, a 10,064-foot peak just an hour drive from downtown L.A. He was there to profile Seuk Doo Kim, 78, a local hiker who was ascending the mountain for the 100th consecutive day and the 240th time that year. Kim was found dead on that very mountain this past Tuesday.
On Monday, Poston received an email from a hiking buddy. Kim had parked his white Toyota Landcruiser at the trailhead on Friday and hadn’t been seen since. “My heart sunk,” Poston remembers. “I immediately feared the worst.”
And so on Tuesday, Poston found himself hiking midway up the mountain to meet the search and rescue team to scour the mountain's south face, looking under rocks and into tree wells — anywhere a climber in duress might go for shelter.
“There was an ominous feeling to the day,” he says. With so many hours passed, the odds of survival had grown slim.
Then the S&R radio crackled to life: a body had been found. The northwest side, around 8,800 feet.
Kim had become a fixture on the mountain, and something of a character. Poston remembers his first encounter with him in 2015: After their climb together and the interminable descent, Poston was beat, but Kim was a “ball of energy,” he says. And Kim would ask you questions: What time your started, how old you were; he’d snap a selfie with you, and then encourage you to take your own.
Since news of his death, the Times’s Facebook page has received hundreds of hikers’ remembrances from encounters with Kim. Emails have flooded in from people who claimed to be near death themselves on one of the peak’s faces, without food or water, only to have Kim show up to give them a granola bar or make them soup.
While the cause of Kim’s death remains unknown, the breadth of people he touched seems to have tempered the sorrow around his passing. “It’s been a big outpouring of memories and support,” Poston says.