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Mom describes 36-hour struggle for survival after getting trapped in snowstorm

by Eun Kyung Kim / / Source: TODAY

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A Pennsylvania woman lost in a snow storm outside the Grand Canyon survived by eating pine needles and drinking her own urine before rangers came to her rescue, 36 hours after she left her stranded family to seek help.

Karen Klein and her husband, Eric, were on a road trip on Dec. 22, 2016, to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim with their 10-year-old son. Their car’s GPS navigation system kept directing the family to closed roads and eventually, the car slid into a muddy ditch in an area that lacked cell phone service.

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The Kleins decided Karen should be the one to set out by foot to seek help. Eric, who was recovering from fractured vertebrae he suffered in a recent car accident, stayed inside the car with their son.

“I was a naturalist for many years, I’ve done winter camping. I’ve done a lot of hiking. It was just natural that I would be the one to go,” Karen said on Megyn Kelly TODAY.

Karen set out in the morning but failed to find help by nightfall, when a white-out snow storm hit. She took cover beneath the branches of a spruce tree, keeping herself awake by replaying her favorite "Star Trek" episodes in her head.

While Karen left her car with a bottle of water and a small snack pack, both had run out quickly. Even though she was surrounded by snow, Karen didn't eat any because she knew it would lower her body temperature.

 Karen Klein, recovering in the hospital after walking 26 miles in the snow to find help for her stranded husband and son. TODAY

“I was putting small (balls) of snow in the back of my cheek and allowing it to melt, but I also knew ... that if you drink your own urine, it’s sterile, and that can keep you hydrated,” she said. “And that is one of the strategies I employed. That’s the most important part, is staying hydrated and staying warm but I was also hungry.”

That’s when Karen relied on her years of being a naturalist and foraged food from the trees around her.

“I ate pine needles and I ate the twigs from the aspen trees and the seedlings from the aspen trees,” she said.

As Karen continued searching for help, she eventually pulled a groin muscle. She also lost a shoe. The freezing temperatures and lack of food and water left her dehydrated and she started hallucinating.

Meanwhile, Karen’s husband, Eric, had made two attempts of his own to both find his wife and look for help. On his second attempt, he reached an area with cell phone service and called 911.

That was around the time, after walking more than 26 miles, Karen found an empty cabin. She broke a window to get in and collapsed inside the shelter, which had no running electricity, water or phone service.

But rangers soon located her, around 3 a.m. on Christmas Eve. Karen was taken to a hospital where she was treated for frostbite on her toes.

Karen said she was “absolutely” terrified by the experience, but thinking about her family kept her focused and on track.

“Feeling terrified was absolutely part of it, but I had to focus and say, I have to get to the point where I need to be and put all of that aside,” she said.

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