When a mom says she will do anything to protect her family, you should believe her. Especially if that mom happens to be 46-year-old Karen Klein from Easton, Pennsylvania, who recently hiked 26 miles over 30 hours to find help for her family after they were stranded during a blizzard.
Karen, her husband Eric, and 10-year-old son Isaac were vacationing in Las Vegas when they decided to take a side trip to see Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah and Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. But their GPS took them to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon — a section of road that is closed for the winter due to hazardous traveling conditions.
When the Kleins tried to find an alternate route, they wound up on forest roads that became blocked by snow. And when they tried to turn around their car got stuck in a ditch. With snow falling hard and a blizzard in the forecast, Karen and her husband decided that with her winter survival training and background as a triathlete and marathoner, she was the most likely to handle the conditions long enough to get help.
The journey out
Leaving her husband and son bundled in the car, Klein — without any snow gear other than a parka and knit cap — headed out into the blizzard. She thought she would only be good for an hour or two, but wound up hiking — and fighting for her life — for more than 30 hours.
As Klein walked, she trudged through snow that was three feet deep in some places. And as conditions grew more dire, she told rescuers that she ate pine needles and drank her own urine in order to stave off hypothermia and stay alive in the bitter cold.
"I knew if I fell asleep that I would freeze to death," Klein told NBC. She thought of her son, her husband and her parents and knew that she had to do whatever she could to survive the brutal conditions. After 26 miles, Klein came upon an empty ranger station where she broke a window and tried to get warm.
Taking matters into their own hands
Back at the car, Klein's husband knew that situation was growing dire. So he and Isaac decided to venture out of the car, hiking uphill until they could get cell service and make a call for help. When rescuers learned Karen was still missing, an air-to-ground search was launched to find her before the blizzard kicked into high gear.
Rescuers found Karen Klein curled up in that ranger station, exhausted and dehydrated and unable to stand. She was cared for on scene and taken to the hospital where she was treated for severe frostbite. Eric and Isaac were also treated for frostbite before they were released.
Local sheriff Jim Driscoll told the Associated Press that Klein has her exercise regimen to thank for her survival. "She's in really good shape," Driscoll said. "Had she not been, she wouldn't have made it."
But while her physical conditioning certainly played a role, Klein says it was her will to see her family again that kept her alive.
"That instinct just kicks in," Klein told NBC. "You have to protect your family. You just keep driving forward. You just have to keep moving forward."