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!
Narrative Course Description
[The following rough course description is work in progress as we measure the mileage and get it all finalized. It will give you an idea of what the new course will be like.}
The race starts and finishes at the Buffalo Creek Community Center in Buffalo Creek, Colorado. Directions can be found in the race information. The start is on Buffalo Creek Road in front of the Community Center. The first .9 mile is on Buffalo Creek Road along Buffalo Creek. Then the course turns left onto Nice Kitty Trail for a big 3.9-mile climb, some steep, some rolling, much of it through the incredibly start 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 Aid Station at 5.1 miles. This station is water only, as it less than 3 miles to the first full aid station.
From the aid station, runners turn right onto Colorado Trail, a gently uphill double track. In one mile the trail narrows to single track and turns right at the Little Scraggy parking area. Runners follow the Colorado Trail for 2 miles to Shinglemill Trail, where they turn right and run .1 mile downhill and across FS 550 to the Shinglemill aid station at miles.
Runners then turn around at the aid station and go back up Shinglemill Trail to Colorado Trail. They follow Colorado Trail 3.6 miles of up and down to Tramway Creek Trail, where they turn right and go .7 mile downhill to Buffalo Creek Road/FS 543. They turn left on Buffalo Creek Road and go 1 mile to its end at a big iron gate at Forest Service Road 550. The course turns right for a 1/10 mile section on FS 550, and then runners turn left into Meadows Group Campground and find the Meadows aid station at mile on the right in another 1/10 mile at the Colorado Trail's Buffalo Trailhead.
At Meadows, the 50K and 50 Mile courses split. The 50 Mile runners do an 18-mile section that is described below and return to Meadows, where they rejoin the 50K course.
From Meadows, the 50K course heads back out the Meadows Campground road to FS 550, where runners turn left on 550 and run on the road (staying right where 543 branches off to the left) for mile to where Redskin Creek Trail cross 550. Runners turn right on Redskin Creek for a gentle .7-mile climb on nice singletrack to a parking area at Gashouse trailhead. Runners continue straight/right onto Gashouse Trail for miles of mostly downhill, some through the Buffalo Creek burn scar, to the Buffalo Creek aid station at miles ( miles for the 50 Mile).
From Buffalo Creek aid station, the last big 3+-mile climb begins up Baldy Trail. When the trail levels out at the top, runners continue straight across Gashouse Trail onto Baldy Cutoff Trail for .4 mile to its end at Miller Gulch Trail, a double track. Runners turn right on Miller Gulch and go .8 mile to the Homestead aid station at miles ( for the 50 Mile). Runners then do a short version of Charlie's Loop, down Homestead, back up Charlie's Cutoff and left on Homestead again back to the Homestead aid station at miles ( miles for the 50 Mile).
The -mile run from Homestead to the finish is almost all downhill on Miller Gulch, Sandy Wash (right turn) and Buffalo Creek Road (left turn). The last .6 mile on Buffalo Creek brings runners to the finish at "Bippy," the Buffalo Creek Community Center.
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 and head uphill to begin the beautiful 6-mile "Green Mountain Loop" on the Green Mountain and Colorado (left turn) Trails. The first half of the loop is a significant climb, the second half a lovely downhill back to the campground road (right turn) and Meadows aid stat miles. MM
The next section is on the Colorado Trail, 4.9 miles out to the Rolling Creek aid station at miles. The highest point on the course is in this section, and it is mainly a gradual uphill on the way out, which of course means some nice downhill on the way back. From Rolling Creek, runners do a -mile out and back on the Colorado Trail, mainly uphill on the way out and down on the way back to Rolling Creek aid station at miles. From there, runners return to Meadows aid station at 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 18-mile addition for the 50 Mile, miles (TBD) 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 9 in the 50 Mile. They are spaced 4 to 6 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.
Almost home - the last half mile of trail along Pine Lake as you head to the finish
These pdf documents are being revised for the new course and start/finish.
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.