Stranded family saved by message in a bottle

Originally published at:


Glad they were found ok but serious question… how does someone become stranded like this? If they hiked into the area what prevented them from hiking back out? I can understand getting lost but that doesn’t sound like the case here.

I guess I would need to see a topo of the area to understand better.


It’s unclear in the article as well, but seems like they may have rappelled down into the canyon, expecting to either float out or rappel the rest of the way down but couldn’t do either.


Yeah. It’s easier than you’d think. A hike doesn’t necessarily mean just a stroll, and there are lots of ways you can get in trouble. Another possibility is there might have been a bit of a scramble to get to the (presumed) ledge they were stuck on – you might not naively realize it but downclimbing is significantly harder than climbing up, so it’s pretty easy to end up in a situation where you can’t (safely) get back down the way you came. Or maybe they did float along the river a bit, and bailed when it looked like that was getting too rough.

This is a great reminder to always let someone know your trip plan if you’re going somewhere that isn’t super busy, and also don’t rely on ropes being there already… they get cut and removed and damaged for all sorts of reasons.

I nearly got stuck once when I was climbing a taller bolted rock face, and had to stop in the middle because I was getting cold and night was falling – I wasn’t going to make it safely to the top, but the climb went sideways quite significantly, so I was off the rappel route you’d use coming down from the top. Obviously I was able to improvise but it got very sketchy. I’m definitely more conscious now about checking and planning escape routes in case I might have to bail in the middle of a climb!


As a biologist who has climbed some outcrops and Inselbergs to collect specimen (and, FFS, because they were there and something grew on top of them), I can confirm that.

Oh, and I scaled a waterfall. In West Africa. I didn’t know how to get down, but had a FUCK THIS I’M JUMPING (some 12 m downwards) after I got stung by an African honey bee right next to the hive, hanging on the rock some 10 m away and being exceptionally large.

So, the way down can be fast.
And sometimes you survive.
But the way up? Way easier…


backpacking the Arroyo Seco River.

There’s the problem! It was supposed to be dry.


Yes, relying on existing ropes is a terrible idea. Safety of the line is severely compromised by abrasion against rock faces, weather, sun, etc. Even if a rope was there, it could still be a death trap.I would never use a rope I or someone I trusted didn’t care for.


“Whitson said he had rope to rappel down, but the river was running too swift and deep due to spring runoff.”


They floated much of the way down the creek, including some narrow gorges. They couldn’t hike out of those, and they couldn’t float back up against the current.

ETA: There are a couple of spots upstream from the campground where, at full magnification on Google Maps, you can’t even see the river, it’s so narrow and the cliffs are so tight.


They got lucky. Depending on how deep the gorge is, even PLB or EPIRB wouldn’t save you. (PLB = personal locator beacon, designed for this type of scenario; EPIRB = Same, but for marine/boating use.)

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Love that search and rescue chopper announcement: “This is a helicopter. You have been found.” What else are they gonna say? How’s it going? Would you like to sample our chicken sandwich? Have a good night?


One of the better excuses for littering.

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It could have been anyone with a helicopter: the Bat Man, missionaries (“You’ve been found, and now you can be saved!”), bLaCk HeLiCoPtErS, ICE…




If they didn’t already have line-of-sight on a geostationary GEOSTAR, then that’s out, but a low polar-orbit LEOSAR might eventually cross their slice of sky. (Except that the PLB probably wouldn’t have a GPS fix. Hopefully they’d have filed a travel plan, or someone does some very clever math.)

Under some conditions, the local 121.5MHz beacon could skip to ground stations, but I’m pretty sure that at the bottom of a gorge isn’t one of those. :sunglasses:

[Breathing heavy] Bright… idea… of mine… to find a… passing spaceship… and… get rescued by it.

Oh come on! The chances against it were astronomical.

Don’t knock it, it worked. Now, where are we?

ETA: By the way, Arthur C. Clarke (who else?) predicted the PLB and these problems. The Cruel Sky in The Wind from the Sun.

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Can you share the Google maps link?

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Of the general area or the particular point where I think they were trapped?

Here’s the general area:

Arroyo Seco Campground
California 93927

Here’s where I think they were trapped:

Dropped pin
Near Monterey County, CA

There are cliffs on either side and no trail up and out of the canyon. There is a hiking bridge a ways downstream.


I would have run from missionaries. Just what you need after being stranded, “Do you have a personal relationship with Christ?”

I tend to take that question too literally.

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“Are you kidding me? That guy still owes me money for 153 fish!”

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