Green Lake

Green Lake in the Bishop Creek Canyon is a sacred place and the happy hunting ground for the ancestors of the Paiute people. Evidence of the habitation of these people goes back thousands of years and indicates that this area was of prime importance for food gathering. The men hunted deer and mountain sheep while the women and children gathered and prepared food. Everybody pitched in on all the other chores like making camp.

Summer was a wonderful time in the mountains of the Eastern Sierra for the Paiute people. They looked forward to getting up to the higher elevations to beat the heat of the infernal Owens Valley. Many happy times were shared in the high mountain camps of the Paiutes. They established relationships, enjoyed the flowers in the meadows, and lived their life to the fullest just like we do today. The only difference was that they were the only people around at the time living a wild existence in an even more wild land inhabited by Grizzly Bears, coyotes and ravens.

It is amazing to think that all this happened right off the trail that I am walking on to Green Lake. Green Lake is accessed off the road to South Lake about 18 miles from Bishop. There really isn’t a trailhead parking area for Green Lake. One trail starts at Parcher’s Resort, and people walk in another way via the pipeline at the South Lake trailhead parking. I park at La Hupp picnic area and cross country up to the Green Lake trail in a more direct route.

The trail up from the resort is steep and a little rough. Most people like to go the easy way up the abandoned water pipe, because it is a gradual grade and a nice scenic hike. The pipe can be super hot in summer on the dog’s feet and not a good way to go for them. At the top after a lot of sweating and a good heart rate, the trail levels out and continues up the valley toward Green Lake. This hanging valley is a side canyon that was cut off by the main ice sheet as it advanced down towards the valley of Bishop.

Cowboys and sheepherders made good use of the extensive lush meadows in this area and had trails that went up into Coyote Flat for more grazing as summer advanced. It is possible to still find and follow these trails. Miners were up there and later on packers started bringing in deer hunters in the 1920’s from the resort at Halliday’s Rainbow Camp (now Parcher’s camp). Even trappers were working the area for furs, as I found one of the traps they left still hanging from a tree. Trapping is an ugly business. Thankfully, it isn’t done much in the Sierra anymore. It is very sad to think of animals having to slowly die starving and struggling to get out of a trap. Then their carcass is discarded just for the fur. I don’t like trappers very much, since I have had two of my dogs get caught in them.

My dog, Inyo, dragged a trap out of Pine Creek that was connected by chain to a concrete pier like the ones use to set 4X4 posts. That trapper will never find that trap again.

Another dog I had got caught off Hwy 120 in a trap when she was only six months old. It so traumatized her that I had a hard time calming her down to get the trap off her little paw. So, you can understand why I don’t care much for trapping or the people that do it.

Moving on up the trail there is evidence of avalanches and the Limber pines are all wiped out. Some are bent over and still alive, because their roots are attached. Others are a splintered mess from the shock wave produced by an avalanche. This is an unbelievable force that can generate an air blast up to 200 miles per hour. Everything in its path gets wiped out and debris like trees and rock are carried for great distances. Standing in one of these avalanche paths in winter would mean sudden death with no escape.

Next stop up the trail: the Paiute Indian camp. They chose a place deep in the forest along a permanent creek and at the bottom of a series of meadows. It was mosquito infested in early summer and most pleasant later on. Small shelters were erected that resemble modern day dome tents. Rocks that were piled around the base of the huts still remain today. They used flat granite rocks called “metates” to grind seeds and nuts with a “mano” (hand grinding stone). The lush riparian zones along the creeks and meadows provided many varieties of food resources for these people. Everything they needed to survive was there, and they returned year after year handing down the knowledge to the next generations.

Moving up the valley I encountered a small pond, and the trail entered a lush riparian zone beneath Green Lake. Things started to get more interesting as they usually do when one advances up into the higher country. There is more granite, more peaks, and a starkness that is almost haunting. The mountains can be a lonely place if you’re not ready for it. To be so isolated and alone out there is to realize your own existence and transition into whatever it is that is coming next.

Finally, I arrived at Green Lake, which really does have green looking water when viewed from above. A road is visible on the far side of the lake that is coming down from Coyote Flat. Green Lake is not in wilderness and is open to OHV (Off Highway Vehicle) travel. A lot of rock has fallen on the road over the years, and because this area is outside of wilderness, no permit is required to camp there other than a California campfire permit. You can get one of those down at a Forest Service office, and they are good for a year. Beware of fire restrictions that may be in effect. It is always best to use existing fire rings before constructing new ones, because the less charcoal and rocks the better.

Well, it is time for Windy and me to head back down the trail and conclude this little hiking session. I enjoyed sharing Green Lake with you, because it is really a unique place off the beaten path. Until I write again, may the joy of the mountains bring you peace and happiness all the days of your lives.

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