At 10.064, Mt. Baldy sits high above the Los Angeles skyline. For many, a hike to the summit of Mt. Baldy is their most grueling physical endeavor of the year. For Seuk Doo Kim, hiking to the summit of Mt. Baldy was a daily routine. Seuk, known as Sam, had hiked to the summit of Mt. Baldy more than 800 times, and had his sights set on reaching his goal of 1000 summits this year. Sadly, that goal was cut short this week. On Tuesday, news broke that Seuk (Sam) Doo Kim had passed away. Sam was reported missing by his family on Sunday after he failed to return home from a hike on Friday. Search and rescue teams scoured the wilderness area surrounding Mt. Baldy, and a flight team spotted and identified his body on Tuesday. Sam was 78.
“I’m feeling God’s embrace. This is better than church..” – Sam
As a local hiker that makes my way up to the summit of Mt. Baldy around 10 times a year, I ran into Sam all the time. I can remember our first encounter well. “How old are you?”, “How often do you hike?”, “Are you training for something?”, “What time did you start?” Sam peppered me with questions faster than I could reply. He then proceeded to tell me his age, and how he had summited Mt. Baldy and Iron Mountain more than anyone else around. I was amused more than anything. I stood there watching a man in his 70s tackle the mountain like a 20 year old. As I got to know Sam a little better with each trail crossing, I learned that he came to the US from South Korea in the 80s, and that he was also the authority on trails back home. I had been meaning to ask Sam more about hiking in Korea for future travel ideas, but I won’t be getting that opportunity. Sam often took photos at the summit of Mt. Baldy holding a Korean flag, as he desired a peaceful reunification of the North and South.
Sam was well known for handing out chips, jelly beans, and Clif bars. He always hiked fully prepared with all of his gear, alongside his iconic towel and a warm drink attached to the shoulder straps of his backpack.
Over the past few days, tributes and memories from hikers all over Southern California have been coming out. Sam was the unofficial ambassador of our local mountains, and it’s inspiring to see the amount of love and adoration I share with others who got to experience his energy.
The most inspiring tribute that I’ve read is on SoCalHiker.net, from Edward Kim. Edward created the hashtag #BeLikeSam. Like Edward, I hope to be like Sam as well. I hope to be physically active and fit when I’m 78. I hope to have the kind of impact on peoples lives that Sam did everyday. I hope to have the drive and ambition to pursue goals close to my heart, even when the rest of the world doesn’t understand. When I take my last breath, I hope I can say that I lived doing what I loved, even if it means that I might die doing it as well. The only solace to be had in the passing of Seuk Doo Kim, is the knowledge that he passed on doing what he truly loved.
Sam’s memory will not be forgotten anytime soon. As the spring thaw washes away the snow in the San Gabriels, hikers making their way to the summit of Mt. Baldy will have to make it without the man who inspired so many. It is here, that we can all Be Like Sam, by being a light and an inspiration to all that we meet.