April 12, 2021

An actual message in a bottle leads to rescue

When you head into the wild, getting stranded can be a concern. If you are on a well-known path that has been walked by many hikers in the past, you have nothing to worry about, you will likely find signposts to help you on your way. Yet if you are venturing out into the true unknown you may have a more difficult time. What do you do if you become lost or stranded in the middle of nowhere? Have you a plan to ensure your rescue is possible? One family’s story shows how dangerous it is to be unprepared but how using your imagination can often come to the rescue.

Curtis Whitson is no stranger to the outdoors. An avid hiker and rafter he has spent many days and nights under the stars and is more than comfortable in his terrain. If he is going somewhere he has never been before he is aware of the risks and makes the necessary precautions. Yet when he is taking his girlfriend and his 13-year-old son out for a trip that he has done before, he has no cause for concern. Or so he thought.

Whitson was embarking on a multiday raft expedition along the Arroyo Seco an amazing river found in California. He had done it before with friends and knew it was achievable with his family. However, when they were on the trip he realized the conditions were easier when he was last there and things were now more difficult. Ahead, downriver there was a large waterfall. They could not raft back up the river (as the current was too strong) and they could not go down the waterfall. In the past, he and his friends and simpled gone to the side of the river and rappeled down the rocks. This time that would not be possible.

The heavy snow and rain had turned the waterfall into a far stronger advisory. There were no rocks to rappel down anymore. He considered taking them to the edge of the bank but new it was isolated, going in the wrong direction and likely roaming with snakes and mountain lines. It didn’t appear to be a good escape plan. Then, out of nowhere and to his surprise, he heard voices. Someone was hiking on the other side of the waterfall. 

Whitson grabbed his luminous green water bottle and carved HELP on the side. They then used a pen and paper that they had to write a note and place it in the bottle. Whitson threw it over the waterfall and hoped it would be found. They then worked hard and went back upstream as far as the point they had stopped for lunch. They decided to camp there and hope for the best. Just as they were falling to sleep a helicopter arrived and rescued them. The note had been found by four hikers in the area and they had handed into the local park services. Whitson and his family were saved.

This is clearly a good news story highlight the intelligence of the family to throw a bottle with a note in it over the waterfall. It is a story of how lucky they were that someone was down there and they actually spotted this green bottle in the water. More than that though it is a warning.

If you are ever hiking or adventuring in the wilderness always tell someone where you are going and what your expected route will be. Tell them you will contact them when you return and if you make no contact, something has gone wrong. It sounds dramatic but it can become the norm pretty quickly and is easy to do. You should also have a satellite device that can contact search and rescue when you are in areas with no cell reception. There may not always be someone on the other side of the waterfall to read your message in a bottle.