By Brad Dison
The Grand Canyon is considered one of the seven wonders of the natural world. The Colorado River carved out the canyon over millions of years. The canyon measures about 277 miles long, 18 miles at its widest span, and reaches a depth of over a mile. Millions of visitors flock to the canyon each year to see the unique landscape. In 2016, the Kleins, 47-year-old Eric, his 46-year-old wife Karen, and their 10-year-old son Isaac were on vacation in Arizona and wanted to see the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. They had driven some thirty-five hours across the country from Easton, Pennsylvania, and the Grand Canyon was to be the highlight of their trip.
It had been snowing for some time on that Thursday afternoon. The ground was blanketed with thick snow but the main roads were clear. Unbeknownst to the Klein family, the snowfall was just the beginning of a larger snowstorm which was heading their way. Being from Pennsylvania, they were unconcerned about driving in snow. They travelled along Arizona Highway 89A until they reached State Route 67, the only main road which led to the North Rim. To their surprise, Route 67 was closed for the winter. Eric used his cell phone and found an alternate route to reach the North Rim. Undeterred by this setback, they trudged ahead. They turned off of the main highway and onto their alternate route. They drove for a few miles until they reached a spot where the road was impassable. They turned their vehicle around and headed back to the main highway. Within a short distance, the vehicle’s tires lost traction in the accumulating snow. The Klein family was stuck.
The Kleins were not too concerned because Eric could use his cell phone to call for help. None of the sources mention Karen having a cell phone. By this time, the snow was falling in thick sheets. Eric tried to call for help but he had no signal. Karen, a marathon runner and triathlete, was in better physical condition than her husband and they decided that she should go for help. Karen wore a parka, a knit cap, and hiking boots, clothes which were not considered snow gear. Karen reassured Eric and Isaac that she would soon return and walked away in the snow. Within seconds, she was out of sight.
In the car, Eric and Isaac impatiently waited for Karen’s return. Minutes turned into hours. Eric and Isaac used the car’s heater to stay warm. To save gasoline, Eric would turn the engine off occasionally. When the cold became almost unbearable for him and Isaac, Eric would crank the car again. Eric and Isaac spent a slow evening, night, and morning in the car. Finally, the car ran out of gas.
Eric decided that he and Isaac would abandon the car and try to go in search of help. It was Friday afternoon. Karen had been gone a full 24 hours. Eric and Isaac trudged through the deep snow. Eric regularly checked his cell phone for signal but none was available. Eric saw a high hill a short distance away. He and Isaac climbed the hill and Eric looked at his cell phone. His expectation of having cell signal was almost nonexistent. To Eric’s surprise, his phone had reception. He quickly called 911 and told them of their dire situation. Within a short while, searchers rescued Eric and Isaac. Eric asked about his wife, but they had no knowledge that anyone was missing until Eric’s 911 call. The rescuers took Eric and Isaac to a hospital in Kanab, Utah, where they were treated for exposure. Now they had to find Karen.
Searchers used all of their resources which included helicopters and car-sized snowmobiles in their search for Karen. On Saturday morning, searchers on snowmobiles located her tracks. They followed her tracks for about 26 miles through snow that sometimes reached a depth of three feet. Her tracks led to a cabin at the park entrance station which had been closed for the winter. From the outside, the cabin looked deserted. No lights were on and there was no smoke coming from the chimney. They ran to the cabin, threw open the door, and found Karen lying on a bed in the freezing cold cabin. One of the rescuers said that Karen “was too exhausted to even make a fire.” They took Karen to the same hospital where they had taken Eric and Isaac. Her condition was more serious than Eric’s or Isaac’s, but not life-threatening.
To save her family, Karen walked for more than 24 hours non-stop, for a distance of about 26 miles, in snow up to three feet deep, without proper snow gear. Karen, Eric, Isaac, and the host of search and rescue personnel considered their survival a Christmas miracle because they were reunited on Christmas Day.
1. Albuquerque Journal, December 25, 2016, p.B18.
2. National Park Service. “Grand Canyon National Park.” Accessed December 10, 2020. gov/grca/planyourvisit/north-rim.htm.