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But as fatigue contracts the capabilities of the body, perception suffers as well. No longer are we wide-eyed nature-lovers on a peripatetic trek through an alpine Eden. We're just two pairs of eyes staring at the ground ahead, limbs moving, impatiently awaiting a place to pitch the packs.
Several legends exist regarding the naming of the Crazy Mountains. Though not dubbed so formally by native peoples, this range was apparently known as the "Mad Mountains" for its wicked slopes, imposing crags and the wild and chaotic storms that rage in the highlands in all seasons. The Crow Indians revered these mountains. It was here on a peak that chief Plenty Coups, the venerated leader of the Crows who shepherded them through the tumultuous transition from nomadic to reservation life, received a vision that would later guide his actions. Like other warriors who crested the peaks in the quest of a vision, Plenty Coups doubtlessly endured the flesh-numbing winds, bitterly cold rain and terrifying bouts of thunder and lightening.
Though we're just here to enjoy the scenery and catch some fish, the mountains seem doubly motivated to defend their good name. We eat dinner in the tent while a gale threatens to tear thefly from its guy-lines. Cold rain flails the nylon, lightning torques over defiant granite, and the thunderclaps are fearsome.
We awaken at dawn to a damp, silent world, save for the music of a singing robin. The lake is calm, a glassy reflection of a scaly peak and snowbank, faintly lit by the bashful sun, perfectly mirrored on its surface. Out away from the shoreline, concentric ripples expand from faint disturbances on the water. Golden trout have also awakened to the new day.
Just one fish takes a fly before breakfast. By the time we down our oatmeal and coffee, a legion of ominous clouds are building on the eastern horizon. Travel delays had reduced our planned two-night itinerary at the lake to an overnighter. A noon departure would still allow several hours' fishing. But the thought of descending the shifting scree-fields in a downpour finds us stowing our fly rods and breaking camp in record time.
Packs loaded, my companion takes one long, last look around. "Beautiful," she murmurs.
But evidently not quite beautiful enough. We slog the last two miles to the trailhead in a torrent on a path of muck. Warm and dry, motoring toward a well-deserved dinner in Red Lodge, I broach the subject of a return trip in 2011, perhaps a three-nighter with ample time to explore the cirque around the lake and climb nearby Conical Peak.
"I don't think I want to go in there again," I hear back.
But I do. Even if it takes six years to find another unsuspecting partner.