Whitson, his thirteen-year-old son, and his girlfriend, Krystal Ramirez, had decided to spend Father's Day weekend with a backpack on Arroyo Seco.
Hoses and their nights under the stars, bundled in lightweight mummy pouches, with mesh pockets over their heads to keep insects at bay.
Whitson was in a familiar territory: He made up to 20 backpack trips to the central California coastal forest each summer.
Throughout the journey, the family's goal was to reach the narrows of Arroyo Seco, to float through the water shoot and waterfall before joining forces with friends to float on a campground the last few miles. After two and a half days of sluggish 50-pound packs, the family reached the Narge, a point in the river surrounded by rocks up to 40 feet high on each side.
But the water currents were too strong to pass safely.
"My heart sank when I realized that the volume of water was just too dangerous to rappel," said Whitson. Typically, he said, a rope goes through climbing karabiners screwed into the rocks.
"This time the rope was gone," said Whitson CNN.
A happy litter
The group of three could see nothing on a curve in the canyon walls, but heard voices on the other side. They tried to scream for help. They tried to carve a message on a stick and throw it over. However, they quickly realized that a stick would not be enough and found a new way to attract a man's attention.
Whitson discovered a lime-green Nalgene water bottle and carved "HELP". in the robust plastic housing. Ramirez, his girlfriend, had brought scratching paper to earn points when playing games. She scratched out a short note and put the piece of paper in the bottle.
"With a lucky litter we went straight over the waterfall," said Whitson.
The group retreated up the river to a small beach where they had previously had lunch. They had managed to swim for about two minutes from the beach in about but it took Ca. 30 minutes to get back up the river.
Before the family settled down, she spread her blue tarp in a clearing and assembled white stones to spell "SOS". As the sun went down, they used a headlamp to keep this message illuminated.
& # 39; It was one of the best feelings & # 39;
At some time after midnight, the trio was awakened by the sound of a Californian Highway Patrol helicopter overhead.
"This is Search and Rescue, they were found," someone said over the speaker.
"It was one of the best feelings," whispered Whitson, "nothing was sweeter than those words pronounced by CHP."
Whitson said two men had found the family note bottle, flown to the starting point had wandered a few kilometers and reached the campsite, where they had alerted the host.
This host told Whitson about the wanderers, but added the two left behind before rescuing them without giving their names.
During the rescue, the CHV crew on board this helicopter used night vision goggles and Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) to locate the campfire, and located Whitson and his family, according to flight attendant paramedic Todd Bainbridge.
The family was told to stay calm and stay warm, and a rescue team arrived early the next morning. Whitson still becomes emotional as he recalls the salvation and gratitude of both the crew members and his family.
Now he wants to find the two wanderers who found the message of his family and saved them.