28 April 2014

Matilija Middle Fork

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trailhead.


Matilija sucked in a lion's share of the rain from the one storm of the year and that was probably the time to see it, except that high water and rock slides can be dangerous. The danger subsides over the next few days. It is now weeks later and well past time to go and see it as the flow will just keep dwindling until next year. There are a few cars along the side at the end of the road, guys on bikes with a dog headed in, and a woman getting let through the gate by a truck marked Rocky Mountain as I arrive. She asks why they would have the key, and I am wondering the same thing. The kid in the truck seems to think he can go in whenever he wants, but I expect there would be consequences if he did. Once the activity quiets, a pair of quail rush along the road. There seems to be lots of traffic today. Through the first ranch, most of the activity is in the aviary. There is a truck with government plates parked at Murietta which says "Fish and Game" on a placard in the windshield.

Cara Blanca
Cara Blanca haunting the view while hiking in.

The absurd not no trails sign is still there to confuse hikers, but as always there are many footsteps headed through the second ranch. They have some less confusing signs about what to do if their dog gets too friendly and wants to come along. Further up, there are a couple of guys down in the creek apparently measuring the wash, which is 24.6 feet where they are. The road passes one last gate and gets a bit overgrown before crossing into the Matilija Wilderness. There is an old sign post on the right and the road finally collapses into a trail as it crosses the wash of Old Man Canyon. Concrete pipes to extend the road sit on the far side. I loaded the GPS with geocache coordinates before heading out and suspect there will be one here. Sure enough, there is. The bikes from before are abandoned in a campsite along the way. The large flat stones found in the area seem to be good materials for some very elaborate campsite building.

rock face and creek behind a camp, with a rope swing
A swimming hole with a rope swing that sits behind a campsite, and the cliffs that sit behind it all.


Mindlessly following the track in front of me, I get on a bit that is climbing, and then climbing very steeply. Looking down, things look familiar from the previous outing in the area, but I decide to see what the high route looks like. A part of me still wants to see the Bald Hills Trail. Admittedly, today I do not have the water to get all the way to the crossing with the west fork even if the trail was still well established, but I can at least look. Unfortunately, there are many trail choices at the top. Picking to continue along the canyon, but in a high route, I do manage an approximation of the old trail for a quarter mile or so, then things go downhill fast. Some old purple webbing around a bush has been left to help people down to the bottom of a drainage to cross. Following it down slightly, there is trail again on the other side. This again has many choices, but I am starting to try to go down, although I expect a cliff between me and the clearly visible trail below. My trail ends suddenly, but I can see another a few feet further in the brush and go for it. It continues down steeply, but in a very manageable way to the better used tracks below.

flat area above the canyon
A piece of the trail along the higher flat. The cliffs do not look so tall from here.

a grand overview of the canyon
Matilija Canyon from a new vantage point.

Back in the canyon, it is a series of pretty pools as I decide to go with memory whenever I am uncertain of the route. This leads to crossing at one spot and joining a bit of trail that looks to have fallen into disfavor. It is still easy to follow. As it drops back toward the water above the deepest pool, there are a number of "plops" as a half dozen turtles all abandon their spot on a finger of dirt sticking out from the other side. I try to find them in the water, but they are probably tucking themselves into slots where visibility from here is not very good.

beeds of water on a string of, well, water
The interplay of layered rocks and flowing water makes many beautiful patterns.

moss churning in the turbulent water
Turbulence shown in the motions of moss.

deep pool along the creek
The finger of dirt supported by an old log was host to a number of turtles until they heard something coming.

Crossing to the west side of the creek finds the currently popular route. A ramp of rock on one side has attracted many walkers, but it tricked me last time and I remember. I manage to pass a garter snake on a rock without startling it, but a bobbing hiking stick behind me is too much and it dashes off. Crossing again, the trail follows the layers and meanders through a cactus garden. The guys and dog pass the other direction, already having gone as far as they wanted. A natural water slide with a long pool has been shortened by debris. There is another garter snake, with a meal, along the way to the nearby campsite.

view from a high bit of trail
A section of high trail gives somewhat of an overview of the canyon with Cara Blanca still presiding.

a cascade into a pool
Sliders maintain some of the depth of this pool at the bottom of the cascade, but it used to be much longer.

garter snake with frog to eat
It must be lunch time.

Things get tight above the campsite. Not too far up, there is a hole to the left and the layers seem to beckon. Yielding to them, it is only a few steps to a corner and a view of the West Falls.

west fork
A cut in the wall from the side with a trail along the layers.

west fork falls
West Falls is a delightful two tiered drop.

upward looking at the curve of rock the falls comes down through
The tops of the rocks to the right are smooth from when the falls gushes. There are ways up this fall, presumably using the layers like a ladder.

Above here, boulders increase the difficulty of progress while slides generally decrease the difficulty. There are more camps here where the canyon widens a little. Eventually, the first waterfall on the main fork is there. This is likely the most comical waterfall ever.

a tough bit of rapids
A pile of boulders make a large chute for the water to pass through.

water pouring out the side of the canyon
A spring pours water into the canyon from a short way up the wall.

a giant rock nose with water flowing over it
A most unique visage.

The next waterfall is just above this one and I am determined to see at least one more of the waterfalls. I am told that it is possible to go up this rock without it, which is good because it is not in pristine shape. I end up relying heavily on the rope anyway. The trail is still scrambling at a steep slope up the side as the next waterfall comes into good view. It is no wonder the trail is climbing so much, this waterfall, with a more traditional look, is quite tall.

three tiered waterfall
Immediately above the last waterfall is this rocky fall.

I get very timid about steep trails with too much traffic. They tend to be loose and this one is not giving me any confidence. I turn back leaving the rest of the waterfalls for some other time. It is quite a relief to be back at the bottom of the first waterfall and just have small boulders to clamber over. My route down is not the same as my route up. It especially does not include the approximate Bald Hills section.

a thin line of water along a hard layer and into a pool that breaks through that layer
Flowing along the layers until the water can break through and form a pool.

orchids with roots in the water at the turtle pond
A clump of dirt at the side of a pool (the one with turtles) hosts an orchid. (Jack Elliott blogged on these recently.)

a bit of canyon wall with the water flowing over layers
Looking up from the turtle pond.

lizard on a rock
There are always a few lizards about.

trees hanging over and reflecting in a long flat pool
Perhaps a good place to spend the time reflecting.

white rocks in the bottom of a wide valley
Looking out over the creek bed that was getting measured earlier.

Since the GPS is loaded up with them, I can search for geocaches on the way down. Most of the geocaches along the way seem set just to have one (which they are not supposed to do), but looking for them does make me notice all the peonies hiding underneath the chaparral, just a little further in than one would normally notice. While searching, I am passed by a couple who have been swimming in one of the pools up the same bit of creek and have to wonder how I did not notice them before, either.




©2014 Valerie Norton
Posted 30 April 2014

1 comment:

Margaret LaFon said...

really like the pic showing the turbulence in the moss