GRAND CANYON, Ariz. - She was missing for 36 hours, lost in the snow near the Grand Canyon.
Karen Klein spoke Monday, sharing the terrifying sequence of events and how she survived walking 26 miles in the freezing temperatures, with no help in sight.
Klein may lose her toes and fingers due to frostbite, but she is alive.
She shared what happened from the hospital where she’s being treated in St. George, Utah. Karen was with her husband and 10-year-old son. They wanted to see the Grand Canyon, not knowing the road to the North Rim was closed. They took backroads and their car broke down -- and then came the snow.
“The car got stuck in the mud and for an hour we tried to get the car out,” she said. “We had no cell service.”
Klein recalls what she physically and emotionally endured after getting stranded Thursday afternoon until early Saturday morning.
“I have professional and recreational experience, lifelong in the outdoors,” she said. “So I said ‘Well, you know, I’ll just go. I’ll just walk up to the main road... I can do this.’”
She had no idea it would be a painful and scary trek. At about 2:30 p.m. Thursday afternoon, she decided to head out to look for help for herself, her husband Eric and their 10-year-old son.
“It started to get dark,” she said. “I got cold and scared and thought, you know, I just have to keep walking, because someone has to pass.”
Karen didn’t return Friday, but her husband and her son were able to hike to an area where they had cell service to call for help. They were both able to get medical treatment for cold exposure, including frostbite.
“I had walked about 26 miles… wedged myself into an evergreen tree,” she said.
She didn’t want to fall asleep or give in to hypothermia. The next day she saw a sign that said East Rim Visitor’s Center.
“[I] started eating Aspen twigs,” she said.
During her long walk, she pulled a muscle near her hip.
“I was taking my pants leg and lifting it to move my leg,” she said.
After nine and a half hours, Karen finally got to the vacant visitor’s center.
“I broke a window and crawled in to the house. And around 2:30, I heard the knocking at the door, I heard people outside and I saw all the flashlights,” she said. “Because I was like hallucinating and delirious, like, my first thought was like -- I yelled out ‘I’m so sorry officer that I broke your window… don’t arrest me for breaking the window.’
“They were just like, ‘You have got to be kidding me.’”
From there, they took her in an ambulance to the hospital where she is still being treated.
“They said in that 36 hours that I walked about 30 miles,” she said.
Staying positive helped her push forward.
“I can’t leave my son without a mom, I can’t leave my husband without a wife, I’m not letting my parents bury me,” she said.
Through all of this, she learned a few things: To always be prepared, expect the unexpected and to never take life for granted.
“It’s just starting to sort of sink in,” she said, but it’s still so surreal.
“I’m sure it will hit me pretty hard, like a ton of bricks in the next 24 to 48 hours as I’m kind of learning to walk again,” she said.
Many have wondered how they decided who would hike for help. She said her husband recently suffered a broken back in a car accident and they didn’t think he’d be able to endure a long hike.
Karen also has wilderness survival training, but she never thought she’d have to put it to use.
Copyright 2016 KPNX