The morning rose incredibly cold. Two thru-hikers passing us at dawn (Starboard and Portside), let us know that temperatures had dropped to 26 degrees F. We got moving to get to Kentucky Camp. Crossing Cave Creek in the morning, we ran into a group of 4 hikers, all in their 70s or 80s. Two groups of friends that had met on the Appalachian Trail decades earlier, and now in these upper years, spent their time hiking sections of long trails; one couple hikes ahead for the day while the other couple meets them with a car and supplies at the other end. They had hiked the PCT, AT (2 times even), FT, North Country Trail, and even bike toured. It was invigorating to see age having no boundary here. We said goodbye, took one last look at the Santa Rita Ridgeline as a sinking waning gibbous moon sat along the crest.
Making our way to Kentucky Camp felt momentous. Only a year ago had Darren, Dennis, Janna, and I rented out the cabin and spent spring break gravel grinding the dirt roads in the area. Although the National Forest Service historic site was not far along a NoBo journey on the AZT, it felt like a massive accomplishment. We spent last spring acting as trail angels for passing thru-hikers, giving food, providing conversation, and dreaming ourselves of walking up here. Now was the moment. Walking the double track along the fence, I looked forward to seeing the agave and yucca along the singletrack fork while the Canelo Hills drifted in the distance.
Arriving at Kentucky Camp, we went around to the back of the adobe building where we knew a public faucet could be found. We washed our socks (a daily must to prevent salt rash and grime causing friction), charged our phones, and got easy water. Satiated, we headed up the double track leaving the place, crossed onto a dirt road, and started up the road where we had bikepacked on the Sky Island Odyssey (Eastern Loop) the previous November. Plunging down a steep hill, we walked our way back up elevation, summited a hill, and enjoyed our first uninterrupted views of Mica Mountain and Rincon Peak to the north.
We stopped for lunch and ate some tortillas with cheese while sitting in the dappled shade of palo verde branches. Packing up, we headed downhill where I was amazed at the shear abundance of flowing creeks from the snowmelt. The wind picked up towards late afternoon. The sun, exposure, and wind drained us both. At the same time, my knee/quad began burning as electrical pain shot through it - I was fucking disappointed. I consciously began shortening my stride, moving slower, and taking gentle steps to baby it. One of things I freaking love about hiking is the opportunity for endless self-reflection and open conservation, something I welcomed as I shared my self-doubts about completing the trek with Janna.
As evening approached, the wind seemed to blow at a constant 30 - 40 mph along an exposed ridge. We found some abandoned massive piping that someone on Guthook had noted they took shelter in during a snowstorm. Next to it with an algae-filled stock tank, filled with boatmen and water bugs. I scouted down a hill and found a wind-protected spot beneath a large Arizona oak. We ate dinner on the hillside as the temperatures plummeted and we prepared for a cold night.