So how hard is it?? Well, that depends on your experience, level of training and ability. If you are a strong runner with experience on mountain trails, North Fork is a relatively easy race by mountain trail standards and quite runable. If you are new to ultramarathons, not experienced on mountain trails, not used to altitude and/or not well trained, the race will feel hard. There are a number of long climbs, and downhills on trails are slower than on the roads. Most people will walk much of the uphill. If the weather is hot, it will seem harder. Be sure to study the elevation profile to get a feel for how much up and down there is.
As with any trail race, distances are not exact. The course has been measured only by GPS, and GPS devices vary. The segment distances are averages of several runs on the course with different GPS devices. If you GPS the course yourself, don't be surprised if you get slightly shorter or longer distances. We've done our best! And remember that the 50K is in reality over 32 miles long.
Narrative Course Description
The race starts and finishes at the Buffalo Park Improvement Association (BPIA or "Bippy") Community Hall in Buffalo Creek, Colorado. Directions can be found in the race information. The start is on Buffalo Creek Road at the edge of the trees at the far end of the Community Hall parking lot. The first .9 mile rolls mostly downhill on Buffalo Creek Road along Buffalo Creek. Then the course turns left onto Nice Kitty Trail for a big 3.9-mile rolling climb (with some downhill breaks) through the starkly beautiful Buffalo Creek burn scar. At the top of the climb, runners turn left onto Buffalo Burn Trail for .3 mile to the Colorado Trail and the Colorado Trail Water Station at 5.1 miles. This station is water only, as it is only 3 more miles to the first full aid station.
From the water station, runners turn right onto Colorado Trail, a gently uphill double track. In one mile the trail turns right and narrows to single track at the Little Scraggy parking area. There is a bathroom a few steps from the trail at Little Scraggy. Runners then follow the Colorado Trail for 2 gently rolling miles to Shinglemill Trail, where they turn right and run .2 mile downhill and across FS 550 to the Shinglemill aid station at 8.2 miles. Stock up on food and water here, as it is 6.5 miles to the next aid station.
Runners then turn around at the aid station and go back up Shinglemill Trail to Colorado Trail, where they turn right and follow Colorado Trail for 3.6 miles. This section is rolling, mostly up for the first half, reaching one of the high points on the 50K course, and then mostly down to the right turn onto Tramway Creek Trail. The last part of the CT section and the first part of Tramway have some of the most difficult footing on the course, with lots of rocks and roots. Tramway is 1.4 miles of downhill, crossing the FS 550 road halfway down and ending at Buffalo Creek Road/543. Then turn left on Buffalo Creek, a lovely, gentle double track, and go 1 mile to its end at a big iron gate at Forest Service Road 550. The course turns right for .1 mile on FS 550 and then left onto Meadows Group Campground Road for .1 mile to the Meadows aid station at mile 14.7 at the Colorado Trail's Buffalo Trailhead.
At Meadows, the 50K and 50 Mile courses split. The 50 Mile runners do a 17.8-mile section that is described below and return to Meadows, where they rejoin the 50K course.
From Meadows, the 50K course (including 50-milers after completing the 17.8-mile section) heads back out the Meadows Campground Road .1 mile to FS 550, where runners turn left on 550 and run on the road (turning right toward Bailey on 550 at the Y in .4 mile where 543 goes straight/left toward Wellington Lake) for .8 mile to where Redskin Creek Trail crosses the road. Runners turn right on Redskin Creek for a .8-mile climb on nice singletrack to a parking area at Gashouse Gulch trailhead. Runners continue straight (don't turn left or go through the fence into the parking area) onto Gashouse Gulch Trail for 1.7 miles of mostly downhill, some through the Buffalo Creek burn scar, to the Buffalo Creek aid station at 18.2 miles (36 miles for the 50 Mile).
From Buffalo Creek aid station, the last big climb begins up Baldy Trail. The climb is 3.5 miles, but it is rolling and has some flattish breaks and becomes more level in the last half mile. At the wide Gashouse Gulch trail junction, the course turns right on Gashouse and continues .6 mile to the end of the trail at Miller Gulch doubletrack. Runners turn right on Miller Gulch and go .2 mile to the Homestead aid station at 22.7 miles (40.5 for the 50 Mile).
Runners then do "Charlie's Loop," but a shorter version than the old course. Runners turn left on Homestead for .9 mile to the Skipper/Strawberry Jack junction, turn right on Homestead for another 1.4 miles, and then turn right on Charlie's Cutoff for 1.4 miles of mostly uphill back to Homestead Trail. The course then turns left on Homestead for .2 mile back to the Homestead aid station at 26.6 miles (44.4 miles for the 50 Mile).
The 5.6-mile run from Homestead to the finish is almost (but not entirely!) all downhill. Runners go down Miller Gulch for 2 miles and then turn right onto Sandy Wash Trail for 2.9 miles to the end of the trail at Buffalo Creek Road/543. Runners then turn left onto Buffalo Creek for the last .7 mile of gradual rolling downhill to the finish at Bippy..
For the 50 Mile, from Meadows aid station where the 50 Mile and 50K split, 50 Mile runners leave the aid station and turn right on Meadows Campground road to do the beautiful 6-mile Green Mountain loop. The first half of the loop is mostly uphill, and the second half is mostly down. At the fence .5 mile up the campground road, runners continue straight onto Green Mountain Trail for 3.5 miles and then turn left (don't go straight/right!) on the Colorado Trail. In 1.3 miles, the course reconnects with the Green Mountain Trail, and runners turn left on Green Mountain for .2 mile to close the loop at the fence at the top of Meadows Campground Road. Runners turn right onto the road and go .5 mile down to return to Meadows aid station at 20.7 miles.
The next section of the 50 Mile is on the Colorado Trail. This section is rolling, but mainly uphill, on the way out, which of course means some nice downhill on the way back. Runners take a .2-mile connector trail from Meadows to get onto the CT. In .4 mile, the CT crosses FS Road 543 (don't turn onto the road) and then starts uphill. The first mile uphill is quite steep, but the trail then levels out and becomes more rolling. There is one more short steep section shortly before the Rolling Creek aid station at 25.6 miles. From Rolling Creek, runners do a 2-mile out and back (1 mile each way) on the CT. It is a fairly steep uphill on the way out to the turnaround at the high point of the course just over 8,500 feet. Then it's back down to Rolling Creek aid station at 27.6 miles. From there, runners return on the Colorado Trail to Meadows aid station at 32.5 miles to rejoin the 50K course to the finish (see above).
The course will be marked with surveyor's ribbon, small flags, and signs. Samples will be shown at the start. The entire 50K will be marked with yellow. The 17.8-mile addition for the 50 Mile, miles 14.7-32.5 will be marked with orange. Red and white striped ribbons will be placed at junctions on trails you do NOT take--so never run on a trail past a striped ribbon. Turns will be very well marked, and there will be occasional "confidence" ribbons in between. Don't turn off the trail you are on unless the course markings clearly tell you to do so. At some trail junctions, there may be ribbons going more than one way because you will be running through these junctions more than once in different directions. In these places you will see signs that tell you which way to go. SIGNS ALWAYS GET PRECEDENCE OVER RIBBONS.
If you have doubts about whether you are on course, keep going until you get to the next trail junction. Most trail junctions have wood Forest Service signs showing the names of the trails. If there are no course markings at the trail junction, you are off course. Turn around and go back the way you came until you see course markings. NOTE: In 2011, vandals removed markings from a key turn, causing runners to miss the turn. Most turned around at the next trail junction when they saw there were no markings, and they got back on course. But some kept going past unmarked trail junctions and did a lot of extra distance. You should carry the course map and turn sheet with you, just in case.
There are 6 aid stations in the 50K and 10 in the 50 Mile. They are spaced 4 to 6.5 miles apart. All but Colorado Trail (water only) at 5.1 miles will have water, GU electrolyte drink, Coke or Pepsi, 7 Up or Sprite, Mountain Dew, GU gels, S!Caps, and an assortment of sweet and salty foods, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and fruits. By late morning, there will be ice. See the aid station table for locations and distances of the aid stations. You may want to print it and carry it with you.
50 or 32 miles of trails through beautiful pine forest, fascinating rock formations and some awe-inspiring burn areas with breathtaking views. You'll love this course!
Here are the printable documents that will familiarize you with the course. You may want to carry the map, turn sheet and aid station table with you. A narrative course description and information on course marking and are below.
Be sure to print maps in color.