I arrived in California late Friday night, March 16. This was not, as a primary focus, a trip designed to realize my Los Padres Expatriate goals. But I was not adverse to making that part of the function of the visit should time permit. Saturday, March 17, was fully scheduled but Sunday, barring unforeseen complications, I intended to honor an open invitation from the author of Hiking and Backpacking Santa Barbara and Ventura to participate in an outing with a group of Los Padres luminaries.
I departed from an environment of sub-freezing temperatures, snow and general dampness into very dry, reasonably warm Southern California conditions. What emerged from this transition, amplified somewhat by sleep deprivation, was a feeling of mild hypotensive light-headedness and other, even less dignified, physical phenomenology. I figured, in terms of any back country exertion, I would have to endeavor to persevere while waiting to acclimatize. Thus, I met Craig at the junction of Highways 150 and 33: destination, the Matilija trailhead. It was 4:30 in the morning and I was not entirely coherent. But I think I was game (I won’t say up to the challenge, however). The plan was to head beyond Murietta camp, drop into the drainage and head roughly south to intersect the old Ocean View trail on the way toward White Ledge Peak, an ascent of which was documented recently in an outstanding Stillman blog entry.
I have a very long history with Matilija. I recall camping by the lake in 1962 in very hot weather and exploring for lizards and other natural wonders. I visited a family friend in the canyon who kept a very large aviary throughout the mid-1960s and used those visits as an opportunity poke around the Upper North Fork Matilija trail. Shortly after the tragically notable floods of January, 1969 I traveled into the canyon as a guest of the individual who was responsible for supervising the rebuilding of the Matilija road. I can still picture very clearly the devastation caused by the overflowing creeks that feed Matilija Lake. I spent many hours on the Middle Fork and Upper North Fork routes through the early to mid 1970s. I do not have any pictures of the area from the 1960s but I offer below three shots from the 1970s. The two shots from 1978 were taken during a time of heavy rain and flooding in the winter of 1978. In fact, the rainfall in 1978 exceeded that of 1969, 47.30 in to 45.73 inches; however, the 14.50 inches of rain recorded in March, the wettest month of 1978, did not approach the 25.76 inches of rain that fell in the disastrous month of January, 1969.
We arrived at the Matilija trail had before 5:00 in the morning and were joined by Derek of the 100 Peaks blog and she who will now be named Lego-lass (a PCT through-hike veteran). Jonny, the RSO, was missing when we started down the closed portion of the Matiljja road with headlamp illumination. Craig alerted us to listen for a moose call that would indicate the approach of the RSO. I did not pay much attention to that admonition and simply assumed Jon would not be with us that day. When we passed the junction with the Upper North Fork trail it occurred to me that I had not been this way since 1985. While turning this disturbing fact over in my mind, we merged onto the Murietta trail in the dark. We eased through Murietta camp trying not to disturb sleeping campers. After a creek crossing marked by reflective signage, but still a challenge to discern in the darkness, as we approached our drainage drop-in point, a clear moose call rang out from the darkness. The RSO was approaching via the creek bed. Soon, the light of a headlamp become evident and, after several answering calls from Craig, the RSO appeared among us. I was most impressed by his effort to chase us down in the dark. And I am always pleased to see the RSO in any circumstances.
Craig has told the tale of this Murietta Mosey with far more eloquence than I can muster. But I will offer a few observations. I was surprised at the amount of water in the creek as the route became an exercise in rock hopping. This is not my strong suit; after foot and Achilles tendon repair my always marginal jump and balance skills are further diminished. While I could make forward progress effectively using a grasp, hand-plant, push, crouch and foot-reach strategy I was most certainly not moving with the upright, balletic precision of Lego-lass. It was impressive to watch as she disappeared up the creek. The others also seemed to be keeping their socks dry while I kept immersing my left foot and leg up to the knee.
When Craig called a halt to the proceedings and turned us back toward the trail head, I was pleased to comply. Although I wasn’t tired, my head was still spinning from travel, lack of sleep and lack of acclimatization to the warm, dry conditions. And, quite frankly, this only exacerbated the possibility that I was going to go head first into the water while clumsily navigating the route. Perhaps I would have been less of a hazard with a bit of time to equilibrate and some practice. I would like to think so.
It was an honor to be able to spend a few hours with Craig, Derek, the RSO and Lego-lass in my old Matilija haunt as part of the Murietta Five. Would that I had more time to spend with such folks in the Los Padres. The outstanding stout provided by Lego-lass made for a perfect toast when we regained the trail head. That was remarkably good beer. And life is far, far too short to drink mediocre beer. And, as a fine denouement, Craig and I stopped at Full of Beans and enjoyed iced coffee drinks while relaxing in the sun on the patio. I hadn’t seen unfiltered sunlight or been in conditions where iced coffee would be appropriate in some time.