Unlike the North Fork of Big Pine Creek, the South Fork begins gently. We hiked up a gentle grade through sage and occassional stands of aspen. Before long we reached the first of two significant uphill "steps". This first step we tackled without difficulty. I usually set a pace that relies on the cadence of step, no matter how short the stride is, it's the cadence that I stick to and I generally don't stop until I reach the end of an uphill grade. Before long it became clear to me that the folks that established this trail knew their buisness. It was a steep, consistent, and efficiently direct set of switchbacks leading up to the bench containing Willow and Brainard Lakes.
After a brief break at Brainard Lake we continued up the second major step. The weather was getting cooler and the clouds closer. This next grade up to Finger Lake was very steep and the route was difficult to find due to the amount of snow that hid the trail. Eventually we worked our way up the edge of a deep gorge down which pounded the outflow of Finger Lake. As we neared the top of the step we started catching a steady rain and once we had reached the lake we sought some shelter. It was about 1PM when we busted out the Siltarp (which would become MVP of the trip) and huddled under it, watching the rain and sleet and hail trying to reach us from any available angle. We sat on bare rock eating tuna with pita and generally trying to ignore the weather which, of course, kept getting worse.
After 2 hours of sitting under the tarp we decided that the weather wasn't going anywhere and neither were we. Unfortunately, the site where we had set up the tarp, which was nice and dry, was just a nook between a rock and a tree. Not bivuac material. We had to move. We readied ourselves and started a short recon for a workable bivy. Before long we found a great site and set up on it but no sooner had we set up than the site started flooding so we packed up and rebuilt our home on an exposed rock that offered better drainage. We named the first site "the Lower 9th Ward". We settled in for a long night after a tiring day. Our plan was to try to dry out in the morning and then move further up the mountain until we would be in a good position to try for the summit of Middle Pal. I'll leave you with a view of Finger Lake and Disappointment peak. I took this shot during a brief break in the storm.