GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Ariz. | A Pennsylvania woman who walked 26 miles through the snowy Arizona backcountry for help after her family’s car got stuck says she survived by eating twigs and snow and a desire to rescue her stranded husband and 10-year-old son.
“I kept thinking, this isn’t how my life is supposed to end, no, no, no. My son needs his mother, my husband needs his wife. I am not letting my mother bury me. I can’t let this happen,” Karen Klein told “Good Morning America” this week.
Klein, recounting her roughly 30-hour journey in an interview from her hospital bed in Utah, said the family realized too late Thursday that their GPS sent them onto forest roads covered in dense snow. They were trying to reach the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, which is closed for the winter.
Their car got stuck. Husband Eric Klein had recently suffered a back injury, so his 46-year-old wife, a marathon runner, decided to walk for help, leaving her family with the car.
Klein, walking through snow that reached 3 feet deep, got lost. Eric Klein and the couple’s son Isaac tried to follow but had to turn around, Coconino County, Arizona, sheriff’s spokeswoman Erika Wiltenmuth told The Associated Press.
The next afternoon, the 47-year-old father tried again to get help, hiking nearly 10 miles in a different direction until he found cellphone service to call 911, Wiltenmuth said.
Rescuers took the father and son to get treated for exposure and launched an air-and-ground search for the missing mother.
Karen Klein, a community college professor in Easton, Pennsylvania, had set out wearing a parka, a knit cap and hiking boots but not snow gear, sheriff’s deputies said.
She told NBC News that she ate aspen and evergreen twigs for sustenance but pulled a muscle and lost a shoe due to compacted snow. She said she kept herself awake amid the freezing temperatures by talking to herself and rocking back and forth to stay warm.
Klein finally found a cabin, breaking a window to get in and then curling up on a bed.
Rescuers on snowmobiles found her just after midnight on Christmas Eve, hours before a major winter storm was expected to hit.
Klein was exhausted and dehydrated. Crews airlifted her to a Utah hospital, where she was being treated for exposure.
“I think that people should realize that they have more strength within them than they think, whether it’s a mental strength or a physical strength, and to draw upon that and to not give up hope,” Klein told “GMA.”
The cabin where she was found is at a closed entrance station about 30 miles from the gate where the highway is closed for the winter.
Several National Park Service employees stay at the North Rim over the winter and can get in and out on snowmobiles, but they’re miles away where the park lodge, campground and other closed facilities are located.
Klein said she feels lucky to be alive but is grappling with some frostbite on her toes, which she’s not sure if she will lose.
“In the grand scheme of things,” she said, “I keep thinking: ‘You know what? It’s a few toes. Don’t worry about it.'”
Klein didn’t respond to emails, Facebook messages or calls to the hospital Tuesday from the AP.