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Marathon Trek: Stranded Mom Shares Snowy Survival Story

“That instinct just kicks in,” Karen Klein said. “You have to protect your family. You just keep driving forward. You just have to keep moving forward.”

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    A Lehigh Valley family survived after they were stranded during blizzard-like conditions near the Grand Canyon. NBC10's Keith Jones has the incredible story. (Published Monday, Dec. 26, 2016)

    Karen Klein's love for her family fueled her fight for survival, driving her through a 26-mile hike through a blizzard to get help after her vehicle got stuck in a forest ditch in the Grand Canyon this weekend.

    "I can't leave my son without a mom," she told NBC10 Philadelphia Monday. "I can't leave my husband without a wife. I can't have my parents bury me."

    Klein, a 46-year-old Easton, Pennsylvania native and professor at Northampton Community College, was on vacation in Las Vegas with her husband Eric Klein, 47, and their 10-year-old son Isaac.

    They decided to travel to Bryce Canyon in Utah and the Grand Canyon in Arizona Thursday while using GPS. The family tried to drive on State Route 67 to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon but discovered it was closed for the winter. They then sought an alternate way to reach their destination.

    "The GPS did not indicate that certain roads were closed and impassable," Klein said.

    Jim Driscoll, chief deputy for Coconino County, Arizona, says it's a problem authorities have seen numerous times.

    "Google Maps shows there's a way -- but it's impassable," he said.

    As the family continued, a blizzard set in and their vehicle got stuck in a ditch on a forest road. With no cell service and bitter cold temperatures, the parents knew that they had to find help fast. They decided that Klein, who is a marathon runner and triathlete, was in the best shape to make the attempt.

    Wearing a parka, knit cap and hiking boots, she journeyed into the snow while her husband and son stayed inside the vehicle.

    "I had been eating aspen twigs and twigs from evergreen trees because I thought I'd only be gone for like an hour or two," Klein said.

    But she ended up being gone for more than 30 hours.

    "I knew if I fell asleep that I would freeze to death," she added.

    Klein walked 26 miles through and over snow as deep as three feet, finding a tree she to stay under during the night.

    "That instinct just kicks in," Klein said. "You have to protect your family. You just keep driving forward. You just have to keep moving forward."

    Once the sun rose Friday, she walked again and found an empty ranger station at a park entrance closed for the season. She broke a window with her elbow and waited inside the cabin.

    Around the same time, searchers rescued Eric and Isaac Klein after the 47-year-old father was able to hike to higher ground to get cellphone service and call for help. Authorities then started an air and ground search for Karen Klein.

    The searchers finally found her early Saturday morning curled up on a bed in the cabin. At that point, Klein was too weak to stand up.

    "The first thing I said was, 'Oh my gosh officer, I'm so sorry I broke the window. Don't arrest me,'" Klein said, laughing.

    Klein's rescuers gave her food and water and she was taken to the hospital, where she is being treated for severe frostbite. Her husband and son were also treated for exposure and later released.

    Karen's twin sister Kristen Hasse told NBC10 she and her mother cried when they spoke with her on the phone.

    "She was just so excited to hear her voice," Hasse said. "We both got on the phone and we both just sobbed that she was still alive."

    Only hours after Klein's rescue, a major winter storm hit the region that would have made it nearly impossible to find her.

    "This is a Christmas miracle," Driscoll said. "We were really beginning to think, especially with the snow coming in.... We pulled out all the stops."