Karen Klein, Eric Klein, and their 10-year-old son Isaac set out on a family trip to the Grand Canyon, using a GPS as their guide, when they wound up driving down a walking path and having their car get stuck in the mud.
Eric Klein had recently broken his back, so Karen Klein set out to seek help by flagging someone down on the main road or finding cell phone service, the family said in an interview with "Good Morning America" that aired today.
Karen Klein traversed approximately ten miles through three feet of snow when she noticed that the main highway had been closed. She then remembered another entrance to the park 14 miles away, and started walking in that direction, she told "GMA."
Eventually, it became dark and started snowing, she said. But she forced herself to stay awake throughout the night, eating twigs from an aspen tree and drinking melted snow.
"Your priorities definitely align very quickly," Karen Klein said of her survival journey. "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."
Klein said that through it all her family is what kept her going. "My instinct was to number one to save my family."
"Your instincts kick in," she said, "that you’re a mom, this is what you do, this is what you have to do for your family. That’s the number one priority."
"It wasn’t about staying alive for me," she said, "but it was about staying alive for everyone else."
She eventually found a cabin, which was actually a guard's shack that was closed for the season. She broke a window, crawled into the cabin and collapsed, after walking for approximately 36 hours.
"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," Karen Klein said.
Meanwhile, her husband said he "knew something was wrong" when she didn't return for a couple of hours.
Eric Klein said that he and his son slept overnight in the car and the next morning he walked about 15 miles north until he got cell reception, and then he called 911.
"I am in the middle of the forest," Eric Klein said to the 911 operator. "We haven’t seen a human being in over 24 hours -- not a car, not a skier, not a hunter, nothing."
Emergency responders on snowmobiles were able to locate Eric Klein's car, and were then able to track Karen Klein at the cabin.
The Coconino County Sheriff's office said in a statement that Karen Klein had "walked approximately 26 miles since Thursday afternoon in search of help for herself, husband and son whose vehicle had become stuck on a forest service road."
The Kane County Sheriff's Office transported Eric and Isaac Klein to an ambulance and both received treatment for cold exposure, including frostbite. The Coconino County Sheriff's Office and the Kane County Sheriff's Office eventually found Karen Klein in the guard's shack and transported her to the hospital.
"This is a Christmas miracle," Jim Driscoll, the chief deputy for Coconino County told the Associated Press. "We were able to get a family back together for Christmas. It could have gone very bad very, very easily."