Saturday, April 19, 2014

Matilija Mystery Cave Found?

A couple months ago Josh Weir came to me with a rumor of a lost and forgotten cave somewhere upstream of the West Falls of Matilija. We had an interesting day exploring almost the entire length of that canyon, and though we found something quite interesting, we didn't find anything resembling a cave [Link to TR]. With some reluctance I admitted that we'd probably been sandbagged with a mythical quest. But then again...?

I was contacted recently by a fellow named Jake, formerly of Ojai but now residing in the LA area (poor sap). He shared with me a description of this "cave" and gave me a location. He'd been running up and down Matilija all the summers of his youth. He described to me his recollection of finding this site, which included a memory of the "cave" smelling of death and surrounded by bear scat, which explains in a completely reasonable sense why he never ventured inside. He said the place had a "bad vibe", a feeling I can totally relate to having experienced similar feelings about similar places on rare occasions.

Jake's description led me to a very large tan boulder about 0.15 miles above the West Falls. I was underwhelmed and can only guess that this small space under the boulder probably felt intimidatingly deep and dark to a boy with an overactive imagination and leery of what might be lurking in the shadows. I have memories of the same type, when recollections of scary things or places have become exaggerated with the passage of time only to be rediscovered as an adult to be either not so scary or completely benign. Also, I've been a traveller of the Matilija drainage long enough to appreciate the unending flow of changes within the canyon, some slow, some dramatic. This in mind, I can speculate that this hollow under the massive boulder might once have been more cavernous and it's entrance smaller, but it's proximity to the creek would have ensured that the space had filled in with gravel and silt as a result of high water events, rendering the space beneath the boulder more airy and smaller in size. 

Beneath the boulder was a space about 12 feet deep, 6 feet in width at it's widest, and perhaps 4-5 feet in height. On the flat gravel floor was a tidy little fire ring and an adjacent stone bench, neither of which had seen use in recent history. So that's it. And that's all there is to this mysterious cave. Or, Not-A-Cave.
As a reward for not finding a cave I got to spend the rest of the day dipping in the perfect waters of Matilija Creek. I'm telling you it was a beeyooteefull day. Not another soul in the entire canyon. Had the whole park to myself. This is exactly the time to head up there. The creek is running nicely, several of the pools got a good washing out by our one winter rainstorm, the flowers are blooming, it don't get much better.

Thanks Jake, for getting in touch, and for helping me put this one to bed. Here's some pictures to make you homesick.

Sadly, the Emerald Pool is no more, having been filled in by several rock slides. Used to be that one could swim laps in this one.

West Falls


  1. I can't figure out how to post a picture here (maybe not allowed), but my friends and I may have hiked to this mysterious cave a few weeks ago. We have hiked many times to the West Falls (always turning left when the canyon narrows), but upon hearing that there are more falls to the right, we went that way last time about .25 mile and found some amazing falls & a cave. There's a rope to climb above these falls, but we didn't explore any further. I have pics on my Facebook and Instagram account (cortney26) if interested.

  2. OK, so I went back over your blog and read your 5/14/11 entry. The pic of Rick climbing the rope shows the area that I was describing. Is this the cave Jake is referring to?

    1. No, that is what I always called "cave falls" the next one up stream is the "8th fall". That whole trail to me was always "8 falls", ever since I was a little kid. The cave I found, was on top of the double falls (left fork) and upstream on that creek. David found it, but it appears the actual cave system got filled in to some degree. Now its just the opening area.

  3. So Cortney,
    Scroll back up on this post and click on the google map image. This will orient you to that area around both the West Falls and North Falls. This not-a-cave lies above the West Falls. North Falls has a big mineral snout and the purple rope bypassing it to the right. Climbing past the rope takes you quickly upstream to the main North Falls. The Lost Falls is much, much further up that canyon and rather difficult to get to. Hope that clears it up. -DS

  4. David, thanks so much for posting this. Though the rock is the "cave" I found.. the inside is much different then when I last saw it years ago. It had a a path that led downward, 30 degree angle or so, as well as the large opening area. Also, I was not a scared kid by any means.. keep in mind I was up there by myself at very young ages. But that cave did leave an impression on me.. always thought about it. It was the one time, caution took over rather than curiosity.