Thursday night we drove up to Rose Valley campground in the southern section (Ojai Ranger District) of Los Padres NF. We didn’t arrive until 11 pm, mainly because the last 1.5 hours were marked with extremely dense fog limiting us to 15 mph at best along an old but paved road going through a few “flooded” low points. Aaron and Alex arrived later that night, and we drowsily greeted them through the tent.

Friday I woke early due to traffic of rock quarry dump trucks traveling through the campground. I dressed and did a little quick geocaching before returning to the tents and gathering the troops to pack and drive to the Matilija TH. We didn’t reach it until 10am, and left quickly, passing by some large “ranch” gates and through some private ranches in which the owners have graciously granted limited access to the government NF lands beyond.

            While stopping for a geocache between the ranchlands, we were approached by two large dogs, Jenga and Eva as we later learned they were named. At first we were cautious, but they soon turned out to be very friendly. Oddly, they started following us, and kept following even when we left all the ranches. We continued to find geocaches (and a rattlesnake) along the hike through meadows to the Matilija river, and the dogs never stopped following. Once we got to the river we found a beautiful picnic spot and ate lunch, with the dogs eyeing us hungrily. Not knowing what to give them, we declined to feed them and continued up the river.

            There is no defined trail for the Matilija canyon since the canyon walls get very tight at times and any semblance of a trail would be washed out by the spring river flows, but as it was the summer, we were able to hop our way upriver along rocks for the next 2 to 3 miles (dogs running and splashing us on the way). As we got closer and closer we saw lots of fish and we were glad to have brought poles and tackle, and as the day wore on, we began to think we should just find the next best spot and stop. However, we then began walking up a very thin deer trail along the canyon to bypass a large pool and slickrock waterslide, and after crossing located an incredible campsite with stone furniture. I have seen many “stone” campsites built by visitors, but to this day it has remained one of the best. There was a large stone slab for a table, with a circular bench seat around most of it, and an oven/firepit complete with a 4 foot tall stone windshield. There were two perfect level areas for tents as well, with lots of shade all around. Of course we set up camp here, started to develop the site, gathered an incredible supply of firewood, and did a little fishing before dinner, campfire, and sleep. Now, you may be wondering about Jenga and Eva. It was that evening we found out from other backpackers their names, and that they were ranch dogs, and very friendly. We had seen the latter, but were surprised they slept outside our tents watching over the valley, and only barked a few times throughout the night (protecting our precious bearcans from black bears).
            Saturday we slept in after multiple groups passed our site, extremely disappointed that this local secret was already taken, and we eventually got on our daypacks in order to make our way the last bit upriver. We located the first waterfall easily, found a group picnicking in the best spot, and climbed our way past the waterfall along some Class 2/3 to the river above. It was gorgeous and untouched up there, and while Marie and I scrambled to the vista overlooking the canyon, Aaron and Alex bushwhacked the river farther up. We returned down the waterfall to our awaiting canine companions and hiked with them back to the main canyon and up to Matilija falls, the site of our most fantasized geocache. It was here that we got wet multiple times before reaching the waterfall. It was certainly interesting. Aaron and I stripped down to bathing suits in order to prepare for the cache attempt, and it is here that I must give an appropriate description of the cache:
           After hiking in ~6 miles to Matilija falls from the TH, and crossing the river many times, without a trail, you eventually reach the falls. Next you must hug a stone shelf as far as possible around the right hand side of a deep pool without falling in (as there are no routes to climb up the face from the pool). Then you must swim through the upper pool, under the waterfall, and up a moss-covered slickrock with two extremely poorly-placed natural footholds, until you reach the area under the “nose” of the waterfall. As we found out, it is very cold there, and in the shade, especially when you only have bathing suits on. 

            We reached this point, but could not find a geocache anywhere after ten freezing minutes of searching every handhold and crevice we could. After finding one possible location that then turned out to be a bird nest with a live (and angry) bird staring at us, we decided to swim back out of the pool and into the sun, where we laid out on the rock. However, Aaron and I are both stubborn and we couldn’t turn back without finding the cache, so I convinced him to go back in with me to look for it once more. Less than 5 seconds into getting up into the “nose” again, I began swearing and realized it was a horrible idea.

            Normally this is the part of the story where I tell you about how perseverance prevails and we located an incredible geocache in the most amazing location. Sadly, this was not the case. Ten frozen minutes later, after Aaron climbed 15 feet up into the top of the cavern, and I blindly placed my hand into every dark hole I could find, we returned to our clothing cold and defeated. It later turned out that others couldn’t find anything either and the cache had most likely washed away.

            That is the saga of the Matilija falls geocache, but we continued back to the campsite, had a great dinner and campfire, and slept soundly with Jenga and Eva protecting us again.

            Sunday was a simple day of hiking out, and reattempting some missed geocaches from the way in. We met lots of dayhikers as we got closer, and eventually reached the ranches again. It was here that the dogs finally left us, for the first time in 48 hours. We reached the TH shortly thereafter and parted on our separate ways after completing a great weekend adventure.