San Juan Mountains

San Juan Mountains
San Juan Mountains: Grenadier Range

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

An Amazing Survival Story

Did you hear the story about "The Northampton Community College professor who survived more than a day exposed to Grand Canyon snow and freezing temperatures?"  If not, you can read it here.  Karen Klein, her husband, and their 10 year old son were driving along the north rim of the Grand Canyon in a snowstorm.  Despite the fact that the snowstorm was well publicized in advance, they decided to head out onto the roads anyway.  Karen is described as "an experienced outdoors woman" who had taken survival classes.  Her husband and son are not described, I can only suspect to protect the innocent.  Here is what happened.
These lunatics are driving on a highway that is rapidly filling with snow.  Somewhere along the way their GPS stops working.  Shortly thereafter they come to a "road closed" sign on the major highway.  What would you do at that point?  I suspect most experienced outdoors people would turn around and go back to where they came from.  Not so for Karen.  Being as experienced as she is at survivalist techniques she decided to turn off the major highway and follow an unplowed north rim secondary road instead.  It didn't take long for the inevitable to happen.  The car slid off the road and got stuck in the snow, a long way away from anyone.  Where the car ended up sliding off the road was also out of cell phone service so a decision had to be made.  What do you think the experienced survivalist would do next?
Karen decided to be the heroine.  She left her family in the car and headed out, without boots, in a raging snowstorm planning to go back the way they had driven in.  She walked several miles back to the "road closed" sign and then proceeded to walk over twenty miles along the closed road.  This is where it gets interesting.  Despite the fact that Karen, the experienced outdoors woman, had been hiking for less than a day, she started eating twigs and branches to satiate her hunger.  Not only that, fearing that eating some new fallen snow would give her hypothermia, she proceeded to drink her own urine to slack her thirst. After hiking through the night Karen eventually came to a north rim cabin.  She broke into the cabin and was  found asleep under a pile of blankets the next day.
After the theoretically inexperienced husband had waited in the car for a while, he decided to hike the other direction in search of a cell phone signal.  He found one soon enough and called for help, which arrived shortly thereafter.  He and his son were quickly rescued and the searchers followed Karen's tracks to the cabin where she was found, surprisingly well fed and not dehydrated.
Shortly after the rescue this story was reported on national news.  Karen was painted as a heroic figure who survived only because of her quick wits, amazing stamina and survival training.  Maybe it is just my jaded view of reality but I have a hard time seeing crazy old Karen as a heroic figure who cheated death under extreme circumstances because of her amazing survival skills.  Consider the following:
  1. I am not a trained survivalist but I think a reasonable course of action would have been to stay in the car, where there was shelter from the storm, and await rescue once loved ones notified the police they had not returned.  Isn't staying where you are usually the first course of action in these situations?  
  2. I am a somewhat experienced outdoors man and I know that I can survive well over a week without food.  Why Karen was compelled to eat branches and twigs is a mystery to me.  It does make for a dramatic tale though.
  3. I am somewhat experienced in winter conditions in the high mountains and I have never come down with hypothermia after eating some new fallen snow.  In fact, I find it quite delicious.  Furthermore, even if I do not want to eat the snow to avoid the possibility of hypothermia, I know that I can easily go for a solid day without any water at all.  I see no need to drink my own urine in situations like the one Karen created for herself but it sure made for a dramatic tale.
  4. I know nothing about GPS devices except for the fact that the people I know who use them become utterly dependent upon them.  When they fail those people are truly lost.  They have no idea where they are or how they got there, much less how to get out of where they are.  I have a simple suggestion from a person who does not use technology in the outdoors.....put your computer away and look around.  You will be amazed at how improved your orienting skills will become if you stop looking at the screen and start looking at the countryside.
  5. Although the husband and son are barely mentioned in the story it seems to me as if they were the ones with the most sense.  They waited out the storm in the car.  The husband walked in what he considered to be the right direction to get a cell signal, which he did, and he made the phone call that brought about the rescue.  How about some praise for his level-headed thoughts and actions? 
Sorry, Karen of Pennsylvania, I do not see your tale of survival the same way experienced outdoors people and survivalists see it.  I think you were just plain dumb.  But the reporters are right about one thing.  You were lucky to survive.  It just had nothing to do with your outdoors experience or survivalist training.

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