Sunday, May 9, 2010

Matilija: The Lost Falls 05/09/10

Yeah, I know. It has been a while since I got out. Life, the enjoyment of it, and most especially work, have occupied my time the last few weeks. I been busy. So there.
Having yesterday to myself, I took to my feet. I spent April chasing peaks and have had enough that for a bit, so I decided on a waterfall tour of Matilija Canyon. Big Deal, you say? Thousands of people visit the 3 big waterfalls in Matilija every year, you say? Okay, but do they visit the seven big waterfalls in Matilija? Yeah, 7! Siete!
Sure, most everybody who starts up the Matilja Trail knows of the three big falls. They know that about 6 miles upstream there will be a branch to the left, the West Fork, with a two-stage waterfall (first image below). And they will know of the broad calcite and algae snout of the lower North Fork falls (second image). After a brief, rope assisted scramble, most of these folks will reach the main waterfall on the North Fork of Matilija Creek (third & fourth images). This steep waterfall, with it's sheer surrounding amphitheater, is the natural terminus for a hike up Matilija. That is, for 99.9% of people. This seemingly natural place to turn around is just the beginning, for there remain at least four more major waterfalls further upstream, including the grandest of all, the Lost Falls.

Many obstacles must be overcome to find the Lost Falls. I do not recommend going solo, as I have done, because there are areas of real danger which require genuine rock-climbing experience. Also, an over-developed sense of persistence is an asset.
The first, and most sketchy, hurdle is just getting above the main falls on the lower creek. This involves ascending the long, steep chute of loose rock and fine shale which takes off to the right just below the main falls. This chute goes at up to 45 degrees of angle and is dangerous in itself, however the real challenge is traversing out of the chute to the left. This is a series of several 5th Class face moves with the potential for a long and disastrous fall. Having done that, you are now in the wilderness.
There is no trail in the wilderness, you make your own. I have not see anybody else's tracks up there, ever. After traversing the face, cut as straight a line as one can across the steep and brushy hill in front of you until reaching a steep and narrow run-off chute. Descend this to the creek and go upstream. Before long a nice falls is reached (above), and above it, another (below).
After this falls one must travel upstream through brush, deadfalls, poison oak, etc...This is difficult and tiring, however, the canyon pays back dividends in the form of numerous pools and a sense of being in a very remote place. Animal tracks and signs of their passing abound. Yesterday I saw a bear-clawed tree and much bear scat. I also saw a fair sized cat print and the tracks of deer and raccoon, among other critter signs. I stumbled across the remains of a small deer which had been thoroughly recycled. No people tracks except my own.
After at least a half hour of scrambling one reaches a point where the creekside brush is so impenetrable that the next half hour is best spent slogging/wading up the creek, which is chest deep in places. I have a pretty tough pair of river shoes which makes this significantly easier. After at least an hour, and close to two miles above the lower (Main) Matilija Falls, one will reach the sixth falls (below). Getting over this falls is a bit of a challenge and can only be accomplished be going up the right side of the falls. Continue to the right and the Lost Falls is in your face.
The Lost Falls. This is it, as far as you can go. This is a two-stage waterfall, but the upper stage is invisible from the base. A busy horsetail falls shoots straight down a broad, nearly vertical 100ft sandstone face terminating in a deep, blue pool. You will have the place to yourself. Watch your step on the way out. It's a long way back to the trail head.
The Lost Falls (above and below).


  1. Seriously, where do you find these places?! They're awesome!

  2. I went back there in August of 2008. A wonderful place! You can see my pictures from that trip:

  3. Very cool. Thanks for sharing.