Search teams combing Mt. Baldy for hiker, 78, who climbed peak more than 700 times

A 78-year-old hiker who has gained a measure of international fame for hiking to the top of Mt. Baldy more than 700 times has been missing on the mountain since Friday.

More than 40 people and search-and-rescue teams from San Bernardino, San Diego, Los Angeles and Riverside counties Monday were looking for Seuk Doo Kim in the rocky terrain north of Upland, authorities said.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department confirmed that the car of a 78-year-old hiker was found Sunday near the Baldy trailhead, at Manker Flats, but would not reveal the hiker’s name.

David Kim, Seuk Doo Kim’s son, confirmed that the search is for his father.

A colorful character known to many repeat hikers on Mt. Baldy’s rocky trails as “Sam,” Kim has set his sights on summiting Mt. Baldy for the 1,000th time in 2017.

Richard Tufts, a friend who lives in a cabin at the foot of Baldy, said he received a call Sunday morning from a member of Kim’s family, which was worried that he was uncharacteristically late to return from the hike that he once made 100 days in a row.

Tufts, 73, said he immediately started up the mountain to look for his friend along the Ski Hut Trail, but was unsuccessful. He said he was worried about the possibility that Kim succumbed to hypothermia because it rained on the mountain Friday evening.

Deputies used a helicopter Sunday to conduct an aerial search while 25 volunteers swept the area along Ski Hut Trail through the evening.

On Monday, the search expanded to include a team of 11 rescuers who were taken to the summit by helicopter.

If needed, the search will continue throughout the week with additional assistance being requested, said Jodi Miller, spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

Kim has a reputation for being irrepressible on the trail, handing out jelly beans and Doritos, demanding other hikers pose for selfies and chatting with everyone he meets.

Speaking to a Times reporter while climbing the mountain in December, Kim said: “I’m feeling God’s embrace — this is better than church.”

In 1981, Kim and his family moved from South Korea to Southern California, where he worked as a manager at the Bank of Seoul.

Kim’s enthusiasm for the 10,064-foot mountain — the highest point in the San Gabriel range and Los Angeles County — has inspired dozens of hikers to share stories on blogs and social media.

Brent North has talked to Kim dozens of times while hiking Mt. Baldy.

“Sam is just a good soul, and you learn that quickly,” North said. “He is a generous man who enjoys sharing his religion of the mountain with people.”

Sons David and Ken Kim said they helped out on the search effort Monday but could not find their father.

On their drive home to Los Angeles’ Westside, they pondered what may have happened on the mountain. Maybe he lost his way in the rain and got hypothermia. Maybe he slipped on ice and injured himself.

But they were confident their father was always prepared for the conditions, taking crampons, an ice ax and proper clothing.

“He knew the mountain so well,” David Kim said. “My dad is a resilient man, and we are hopeful that he can find his way out.”

Ken Kim said he remembered his father enjoying the quiet of the mountain.

“It was his way of finding peace in this crazy city,” he said. “He always believed in finding enlightenment, and in some way he felt that climbing helped him do that.”

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