19 December 2012

Matilija, Upper North Fork, day 1

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trail head.

DAY 1 | DAY 2

I decided to head out on a simple little overnight and a revisit of Matilija's upper north fork looked like it would fit the bill quite handily. At just 9 miles for the whole trail, it can be done as a long day hike, especially considering that much of it is a gentle upward slope. Anyway, I'm feeling iffy about some of my equipment, specifically the decade old thinsulate sleeping bag. I also have a breakfast plan that doesn't involve choking down instant oatmeal and some new little neoprene gloves to try. It seemed like a solid test of what the backcountry is likely to send at me in winter, at least if I can pick a day without much weather. I stopped by the Ojai Vons for one last requirement (powdered cider) and found it to be surprisingly cold in the city, then made my way to the end of the road marked "Matilija". A forest service vehicle and a number of other cars were occupying all the obvious non-slushy spots and one more was ahead of me looking for one. It might be a little crowded. I got some off street parking around the rim of the puddle with minimal splashing and got started down the road. Traveling through the first ranch doesn't seem as weird after doing it a couple times.

the mouth of the upper north fork canyon
A look up the canyon to be walked.

Crossing the creek and then the much larger creek, I got to the sign marking the trail and took a right to start up the canyon. Promptly crossing the creek again, except this time quite dry, I found some of the folks parked at the end of the road having lunch in the middle of the dry creek. A shiny wooden sign gives the mileage to various campsites (1/2 mile to the lower camp, 3 miles to middle, and 4.5 miles to upper, but Maple not mentioned) and the highway (12 miles). Crossing the creek again, the trail seems well used and there are a few rocks that look constructed into benches and have been well used as such. The wide track crosses the stream again and splits into two well used trails, the right hand side delivering all comers into Matilija camp (designated "lower" on the sign), which is a large and well used area with quite a few grills and not enough fire rings for them all.

ribbons of mushroom along the length of a log
The first of quite a few mushrooms found along the trail are a bit old and slightly mossy.

moon over the hills
The moon is nearly to the first quarter, so already in the sky.

After the campground, the canyon closes in sharply and the creek takes a big turn. Here there are a couple more sets of creek crossings before it opens up again and travels through high chaparral a bit to the north of the creek. Brief glimpses of the canyon walls can be found along the way, but most of the view through here is vegetation.

a rather large puffball
A few puffballs could be found along the trail, some as large as baseballs.

more little mushrooms
Another frequent mushroom along the path. These are some of the smaller specimens. Others were fist size and clearly a little bit too old.

A couple more creek crossings signal coming near the end of this section of the canyon too. There is a large unsanctioned site to the left which had rocks out to signal some slower group member to go into it although it was very empty. After that site, the trail crosses one more time to a steep canyon wall while large use trails explore up and down the creek to help the hiker turn wrong. Immediately after the crossing, the trail climbs up the wall with a small switchback and then continues on along this somewhat high route giving good views over the section of canyon just hiked. Below, the canyon narrows drastically and becomes quite rocky.

canyon overlook
A sea of bushes covers the flat bottom of the canyon in the section just hiked.

A sign like a road sign again says mileages. This one neglects the upper camp but mentions Maple. The only easily read mileage is a half mile to middle. A small tributary with a little water is crossed. An old trail, or maybe a fire break, extends from Ortega Trail above into this drainage, making it seem like it could be part of a nice loop for the very adventurous or foolish. It has turned out to be rather more full of poison oak than I like. A few hops later, past a few unsanctioned sites, is Middle Matilija. This also looks to be a fairly well used camp, although with fewer grills of another, heavier and more elaborate but not tougher, design. The trail is a bit less traveled as it leaves up the hill from the campsite. The people who stop here are really missing a nice bit of canyon just beyond. The trail crosses back and forth over some interesting spots along the creek as it goes.

channel carved in harder looking rocks
These rocks look a bit harder than average for the area and the stream carves a channel down into them.

slanted rock layers
Slanted rocks along the side provide sort of planters for the few plants willing to live on them.

larger channel carving
The old channel to the right has given way to another with elaborate effects in some more carved channels.

Eventually, the trail crosses the creek and turns back downstream while climbing the loose shale of the canyon wall. This is the first serious climb, but it isn't very long. Across the canyon from the switchbacks is a waterfall without much feeding. Halfway up these switchbacks was my turnaround point before, so after them the trail becomes something new to discover. The footprints made it look like it was the turnaround for the one day hiker I'd seen, too. The trail doesn't feel loose today with a little bit of moisture in the dirt. It narrows where switchbacks are cut showing neatly why that's bad. Getting out of the bottom of the canyon was nice because it was quite cold down there.

waterfall along a tributary
The waterfall marked on the maps is just a wet spot today. Above it, another mossy spot shows a second tier.

looking downstream over the canyon
Climbing gives another overview of the canyon so far traveled.

After heading high over an outcrop of hard rock, the trail drops gently as it moves upstream. It was cold again when I hit the bottom of the canyon and start the last of the wiggling path up to the upper campsite. I passed a small unsanctioned site after crossing the creek. I got to a rocky spot without many flat spots. Some rocks are gathered together in a way suggestive of a grave in one flat spot. The sign post and ice can stove give a good indication that this is Upper Matilija. It isn't a garden spot, but I think I read those words myself before and it didn't discourage me from coming. I picked a spot and settled in, pulling on a lot of warm things. At least the upper canyon was drier and warmer, slightly, although that could just mean it gets colder later.

Upper Matilija
Much of the Upper Matilija campsite, which the trail passed directly through.

After a bit of dinner and enjoying the evening, but finding my fingers quite cold in my new gloves in the freezing temperatures of the evening, I turned in for the night. I found my +15°F rated bag really isn't warm enough for whatever below freezing temperature, but probably not lower than +20s, it was that night, even with a tent to help. I only had cold spots, so my extra socks and a well placed fleece patched it up enough for a comfortable sleep and I still had enough to stuff into the stuff sack for a pillow. It's probably the coldest I've ever tested the bag, so I can't say if it was always a bit chilly or it's just old. Anyway, winter camping could use a different bag.

The second day can be found here.

©2012 Valerie Norton
Posted 23 Dec 2012

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