Where: at our summer job at Rock Creek Lakes Resort
Living in the Sierra has made a lot of geology much less of an abstraction, especially when the terms you read directly relate to the terrain of the hike you’re about to take. This area is full of “hanging valleys”, which sound pretty neutral as a phrase, but make you think twice as a hiker when that feature is a part of your route. Hanging valleys occur where two glaciated canyons meet, except one was carved down much lower than the other. It means that if there were a river flowing down the less eroded canyon, at a certain point, it would become a waterfall where it meets the deeper channel of the other canyon. And when you’re hiking, it means you’re going to have a damn steep section that challenges your lungs and leg muscles. Sometimes you’re up for the challenge, and sometimes you’re just looking for an easy hike. Last week, we managed to find a hike that had both a hanging valley, but also an escalator of sorts!
We’ve been following a great online resource, California Fall Color Map, which is a crowd-sourced amalgamation of the hot spots for color in this state. The canyons to the west of Bishop were popping with yellows and oranges, so we headed for South Lake, to try an unusual hike that begins there. First, we stopped for lunch at Bishop Creek Lodge, which was a super-quirky place with animal heads all over the walls, a bar covered in dollar bills, and a fireplace big enough to roast a whole cow. The drive up Bishop Creek Canyon to the trailhead was pure color therapy, with big aspen lining the road, creating a yellow tunnel.
We were headed to Green Lake, but rather than take the version of the trail that first tackles that hanging valley, we looked for an unmarked gate, and the small trail behind it. Just a couple hundred feet later, we found the rusty, now unused pipeline that we’d use as a shortcut and freeway. The pipe is just wide enough for about one and a half of your feet; in other words, you can’t quite walk normally, but you don’t have to take it like a tightrope, either. At first, we found it very difficult to balance, but it got a lot easier as we went along. The real benefit to the pipeline was the fact that it cut off several hundred feet of elevation gain, and made for a way less steep hike.
We quickly rose above the trees and had lovely views of aspen and the sparking waters of South Lake, and also of the fall colors in the canyon below. It was short hike, and we were soon at Brown Lake, skirting around it to reach our end destination, Green Lake. The hike itself was stunning, with expansive views of distant mountain ranges, and little creeklets still weaving through the alpine meadows. However, we both laughed when we got to Green Lake because it was so, well…. ugly. In fairness, I have to admit that we’re a bit spoiled when it comes to mountain grandeur, and I know that even the most “meh” view in the Sierra is enough to make an Ohio native say “holy cow!” But, in comparison to the lakes that are end points for other hikes, this was definitely the least attractive one we’ve seen. Overall, the hike was a big winner, with fall colors, a unique trail substrate, and because we only saw one other couple in the 4 hours we were out.
The Resort closed for the season on Monday, October 9, and we’re now working on shutting everything down and buttoning up for the snowy season. There’s cabins to deep clean, inventory to count, floors to scrub, boats to store, and a million other little items that work best when the crew is still here to tackle them as a team. Thankfully, the weather is holding, and we’re in a string of nice sunny fall days, with highs in the 50s and lows in the 20s, and no snow in the forecast. We’ll be finished by next week, and headed off to our next adventure. Spoiler alert: we’re seeing Mary!