Over Father’s Day weekend in 2019, two hikers were walking through the rough trails of one of the national parks in California. They were planning to have a short fun trip, but what they discovered in the river left them speechless.
When they arrived at the Arroyo Seco River banks, they noticed a strange object floating in the water. At first, they assumed it was a plastic bag or some other type of garbage people often leave behind after having a picnic.
The two men took a closer look and realized that it was, in fact, a light green water bottle. They took it out from the water and examined it further. Little did they know what they were in for…
It seemed like an ordinary water bottle at first glance. It was made of plastic and looked like it hasn’t been used for a long time. Then, one of the men noticed some letters written on it.
The bottle had the word “help” scratched on its plastic. Shocked by what they saw, the two men took a glance inside the container and took out a blank invoice.
A hand-written note was attached to the invoice, and after quickly scanning through the piece of paper, the hikers knew they had to act fast. Someone out there was in danger.
“We are stuck here at the waterfall. Please, get help.”, the note said. The men placed the bottle with the letter in their backpack and headed a couple of miles back to notify the campground about their discovery.
The two hikers quickly got back to the campsite and told the camp host about the strange note they discovered inside a plastic bottle. It turns out that it belonged to a family that was spending their weekend by the Arroco Seyo’s Tributary.
A 44-year-old Curtis Whitson from Morro Bay, California, went on a trip with his 13-year-old son, Hunter, and Krystal Ramirez, a 34-year-old bartender, who was excited to show them the beauty of the Arroyo Seco River.
“It’s a paradise off the beaten path – a gorgeous place to take a float trip and get away from the crowds. We were all looking forward to camping along the river, under the stars,” he said.
After arriving at their destination, they set up a campfire, enjoyed hand-fried a steak, and had protein chocolate bars for dessert. Everything was going according to the plan, but not for long…
The first couple of days went without a hitch. They were enjoying the beautiful nature and sights of the national park. Then, one day, the trio found themselves helpless.
They had thoroughly planned the entire trip beforehand. Curtis, his son, and his girlfriend packed all the camping essentials, food, and water with them. But what exactly happened to them that led to the discovery of the two hikers?
They initially planned to follow the river through a canyon until they reached the waterfall. The first half of their trip had gone fine, and they reached the most challenging part of the 4-day trip.
Whitson, his son, and Krystal arrived at the top of the 40-foot waterfall. Curtis visited this place seven years prior and had successfully scaled down before and figured they would be able to do it again without a problem.
The view from the top was incredible, but this time, he wouldn’t be as lucky. They were about to learn something that would change the course of events.
After enjoying the beautiful view, Curtis made a chilling discovery that would put their lives on the line. When he visited the waterfall seven years ago, he was able to scale down by using a secured rope attached to the top of the mountain.
Unfortunately, this time, the rope wasn’t there. There was no way they could climb out of the gorge either. The three hikers found themselves trapped at the top of the waterfall.
Being stranded was the last thing they expected when going on this adventure. Everything was going according to the plan, and suddenly, they found themselves unable to do anything. It was indeed one of the scariest moments in their lives.
Thoughts started racing through their minds. There was not a single soul there. They were in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by trees, water, and mountains.
Curtis figured the rope was likely washed away by the spring rain and immediately regretted not taking an extra one that he had packed in his camping gear. They knew they couldn’t scale down without one.
Their friends knew where they were, but it might take a few days before the search party was dispatched. The trio couldn’t wait that long. Their food supplies were running low, and besides, the weather was unpredictable.
Worst of all, there was no mobile reception in the area. They couldn’t call for help. It was one of those situations you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.
There were all alone. There was no one else nearby that could save them. Curtis knew they desperately needed to come up with a plan before it was too late.
“I knew our friends would call someday at some point when we didn’t show up. But I was worried about how long it might take for anyone to find us,” Krystal said.
When the three hikers realized they couldn’t repel down the waterfall to continue their hike, they walked a few yards upstream to an area with sand and crafted an SOS sign using rocks.
Curtis then crafted the words “we need help” into a stick using his pocket knife. He tossed it down into the water and hoped that someone would soon find it. Sadly, his plan didn’t work out
The trio realized that the stick was circling in the water but not going through the narrows. Then, Curtis came up with another idea. He took out his green plastic water bottle and prepared to craft another message,
He scratched “help” on each side of his water bottle and wrote a small note explaining where they were and indicated the day they got stuck at the waterfall. Then, he threw the note inside the container and tossed it into the water.
The trip prayed that the water bottle would be able to go through the narrows and catch someone’s attention. “We’ve done all we can do,” he recalled telling his son and girlfriend, Krystal.
The only thing they could do now is to pray for a miracle. As the night approached, they crawled into their sleeping bags, and anxiously waited. Would someone find them soon?
Luckily, they didn’t have to wait long. The two hikers had noticed Curtis’s green water bottle flowing in the water nearby. They alerted the campsite, and the search and rescue team was called.
Around midnight, the trio heard a loud voice, “This is search and rescue – you have been found! Stay put, and we will be back to get you tomorrow morning.”
They couldn’t contain their happiness. Their water bottle has been found sooner than they thought. It has only been a few hours since Curtis threw it in the water.
The next morning around 10 am, the helicopter crew arrived and lifted each of them. “As you can imagine, they were very pleased to see us,” the pilot said.
He said that in his 23 years of rescuing people, this is the first time he heard of rescue because of a message in a bottle. Curtis was very creative with his way of getting attention, and it had all worked out!
About a week after their rescue, Curtis, Hunter, and Krystal were still processing their adventure at the Arroyo Seco River. They were lucky to be found so soon.
If Curtis didn’t come up with the note idea in time, who knows what could have happened to them. It could have taken days before anyone noticed they were missing.
Krystal decided to buy her boyfriend a special gift, something he would certainly hold on to for a long time. She got him a new Nalgene water bottle and placed a special love note inside, hoping he would find it, and he did!
Thinking outside the box can save lives, and that’s exactly what Curtis Whitson did that day at the waterfall. He got someone’s attention in time, and they only had to spend a couple of hours waiting to be rescued.