Curtis Whitson was hiking the Arroyo Seco River with his 13-year-old son and his girlfriend, Krystal Ramirez, over Father's Day weekend this year when things took an unexpected turn.
The family had been hiking for over 2 days with 50 lb. packs, alternating between hiking and tubing down the river, when they came to a narrowing of the river where the water is surrounded on both sides by 40 foot rock walls.
Whitson quickly realized that the water was flowing too rapidly for them to safely pass through the narrows.
"My heart sank when I realized the volume of water was just too dangerous to make rappelling down possible."
Whitson said that there is usually a rope bolted to the rock face to assist climbers in rappelling down the rock, but the rope was not there that day.
Whitson and his son attempted repeatedly to hike up and over the canyon wall, but kept hitting dead ends and having to turn back.
There was a bend in the river that the group couldn't see past, but they did hear voices so tried yelling to get the attention of the people they heard. They had no luck with that, so next tried carving a message into a stick but soon realized that wouldn't be enough.
It was then Whitson noticed a bright green Nalgene water bottle and decided to carve "HELP" into the side of it. Ramirez also wrote a note on some paper she had brought to keep score during card games. After placing the note in the bottle and securing the cap, they tossed it over the waterfall.
As it turns out, luck was on their side. The bottle was found by a pair of hikers downstream by the trailhead. After reading the note, they hiked the couple of miles to the campground where Whitson and family were supposed to meet up with friends.
There, they spoke with the camp host, who then alerted emergency services. Whitson was told that the two men left before the rescue and without giving anyone their names.
Hikers in Central California Rescued After Sending Message in a Bottle youtu.be
The family had decided to move back upstream to a flat area where they had eaten earlier in the day. A trip which took about 2 minutes on the way downstream and took over 30 minutes on the way back.
There, they decided to set out their blue tarp with rocks spelling out "SOS" to make it easier to find them from the air. The whole plan came together just after midnight, as the family were awoken by the sound of a California Highway Patrol helicopter that had found them.
Whitson was overwhelmed at hearing the words:
"This is Search and Rescue. You have been found."
"It was one of the best feelings. Nothing was sweeter than those words uttered by CHP."
The helicopter crew told the family to stay where they were and to keep warm, and that rescue would be coming soon. The rescue crew made it to their location early the next morning, and everyone made it home safely.
Thanks to the quick thinking of the hikers who found the Whitsons' message, the family was rescued without incident. If nobody had found their message, or if the people who did had thought it was a prank and ignored it, they could have been stranded for a very long time.
Curtis Whitson is hoping to find the hikers who were responsible for saving his family.
Several people applauded the family's ingenuity on social media.
Many were just glad that they were found safe.
Nancy Ngoc Nguyen/Facebook
Folks on Twitter hoped Whitson finds the hikers.
Hopefully Whitson does manage to connect with the hikers who saved him and his family. If not, hopefully they see the story online and get to find out exactly what came of their quick thinking when they found a simple message in a bottle.
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