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Tuesday, December 5, 2006 - Page updated at 10:49 AM

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Online directions may have helped lead family astray in Oregon

MEDFORD, Ore. — The snow-covered, back-country Oregon road that trapped the Kim family for more than a week was meant for tourists, but not at this time of year.

Authorities say the cyber-savvy family may have plucked the route from Grants Pass to Gold Beach, Ore., from an online mapping service, unaware of the elements. The family of four was driving home to San Francisco after spending Thanksgiving in Seattle.

Despite its impassable snowdrifts and single-lane, Bear Camp Road is offered as the preferred route on some Web sites and on-board-directions software available on some new cars, most of which have no business in those mountains in the winter. The Forest Service road winds through rugged country from the Grants Pass area to the Oregon coast near Gold Beach. While paved, it's narrow, twisting and is not plowed in winter.

Searchers in a privately-contracted helicopter spotted Kati Kim, 30, on Monday afternoon. She and her daughters Penelope, 4, and Sabine, 7 months, were airlifted to a Grants Pass hospital where all were in good condition. Her husband, 35-year-old Internet journalist James Kim, was still missing Tuesday morning. He walked out through the snow Saturday morning to look for help for his stranded family and didn't come back.

Yahoo and MapQuest offer Highways 199 and 101 as the preferred route. A Google map search, however, suggests the Bear Camp route, part of a web of Forest Service roads used mostly in summer.

Authorities suspect that the Kims may have chosen the Bear Camp route via a map search, but Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters said Monday night that could not be confirmed.

Though paved, the Bear Pass road has blind curves, steep embankments, is single-lane in places and can be treacherous regardless of the season.

"That's not good," said Chris Dent, who manages the river section for the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. "It's not a safe route, particularly at this time of year."

Oregon Department of Transportation maps offer the more common directions, de-emphasizing Bear Camp Road.

"Our state highway maps show that route as not passable in wintertime, and we try to make sure people know that," said ODOT District Manager John Vial in Medford.

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Vial said he does not know where online mapping sites receive their information.

"The public needs to know that's not a safe route in the wintertime," Vial said.

The Kims' saga is similar to the March sojourn of the Stivers family of Ashland, who was stranded for 17 days in a motor home during an ill-fated trip from Ashland to Gold Beach on the Oregon coast. They had more ample food supplies.

In that case, the four adults and two children intended to take Bear Camp Road to Gold Beach, but they missed the turn and ended up stranded north of the Rogue River. They were rescued after Pete Stivers and his wife, Marlo Hill-Stivers, both of Ashland, spent two days hiking out.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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