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Lehigh Valley woman ate twigs, drank urine to survive

The Northampton Community College professor who survived more than a day exposed to Grand Canyon snow and freezing temperatures made it in part by eating pine tree twigs and drinking her urine, her twin sister said Sunday.

Karen Klein, who will turn 47 on New Year's Eve, was in stable condition in an intensive care unit at a Utah hospital, her sibling, Kristen Haase, said Sunday.

Haase, who lives in Narberth, Montgomery County, and also teaches at Northampton, said her sister has taken wilderness survival training. But all the preparation undoubtedly couldn't have prepared Klein, her husband Eric, 47, and their 10-year-old son Isaac for the rigors of a vacation out West that turned nearly deadly. The Palmer Township family's rescue took place in a remote area of the Grand Canyon's north rim, near the Utah-Arizona border.

Searchers from Utah's Kane County Sheriff's Office tracked Karen Klein through the forest and found her at a closed entrance cabin. Rescuers from the Coconino County, Ariz., Sheriff's Department on vehicle-sized snow machines joined them after coming down the highway, which the Arizona Department of Transportation had partly plowed to let all the rescuers move faster, Coconino County Sheriff Jim Driscoll said.

According to an email narrative from Haase:

The Kleins were on a weeklong trip to Las Vegas and were driving from Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah to the Grand Canyon National Park's north rim for sightseeing — approximately 150 miles. The road they were riding became snow covered, and as they were turning their rental car around to head back, the car got stuck in a ditch.

Karen Klein, who her sister said is 5 feet 4 inches and weighs 105 pounds, decided to walk to the main road, about 10 miles away, and flag someone down for help or to get a cellphone signal. When she reached the main highway, it was closed due to snow. She spotted a highway sign indicating a Grand Canyon park entrance was 14 miles away, so she she continued on.

By that time, Klein had run out of food and water, so she consumed the twigs and drank her urine, as eating snow can hasten hypothermia.

Haase said Klein hiked about 30 miles for 30 straight hours through the snow in freezing temperatures, at times hallucinating. She also pulled a groin muscle during the hike, and snow and ice became lodged in her left shoe.

About dusk Friday, she caught sight of the closed cabin. She broke a window to get in, eventually passing out Friday night in the unheated cabin amid some blankets. Six hours later, rescuers who had been searching for hours arrived and took her to the hospital.

Emergency workers rescued Eric and Isaac Klein on Friday — they slept in the car overnight, Haase said — and they were treated for frostbite and released from an area hospital.

Driscoll said the main highway in the Canyon's north rim, State Route 67, was closed due to the snow in the area, which is about 8,000 feet above sea level. The family, he said, was looking for an alternate road and found Forest Road 22 — one of the few available alternate routes.

However, the area can be treacherous during winter, according to Driscoll. He said snow amounts in the area ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet, and a blizzard hit the region Saturday.

"I don't think they realized it was impassable," he said of the Kleins.

Karen Klein, an assistant biology professor at Northampton Community College, grew up in Lower Milford Township. A Southern Lehigh High School graduate, she earned a bachelor's degree from Cedar Crest College and a master's degree from East Stroudsburg University, according to her biography on the community college's website.

Add to her resume surviving a brutal winter along the Grand Canyon. The rescue made national headlines.

"The story is truly remarkable," Haase said. "I am not sure how she survived."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.