The North Fork course is 100% trails, mainly single and some double track. Most of the footing is quite good, but there are some steep sections and some rocky sections as you would expect in a true trail race. There are several big climbs and downhills, but most of the climb is not extremely steep. Sections along the ridges and along Buffalo Creek are rolling and mostly gentle. Most of the course is in pine forest, but there are several burn areas that are open and unshaded. The burn areas offer some beautiful views of the high mountains in the distance. The altitude ranges from 6,700 to 8,100 feet for the 50K and up to 8,400 feet for the 50 Mile. The elevation gain is about 4,650 feet for the 50K and 7,350 feet for the 50 Mile.
So how hard is it?? Well, that depends on your experience 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, and/or not used to altitude, 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.
The course has been measured only by GPS, and the segment distances are averages of several runs on the course with GPS. As with any trail race, distances are not exact. If you GPS the course yourself, don't be surprised if you get slightly longer or shorter distances. We've done our best!
The race starts and finishes in Pine Valley Ranch Park, a Jefferson County Open Space park located in Pine, Colorado. The start is on the Narrow Gauge Trail, next to the lower parking area. The first .3 mile is on the Narrow Gauge Trail along the North Fork of the South Platte River, and then the course turns left across the bridge and heads up into the Pike National Forest on the Buck Gulch Trail.
After about 2-1/2 miles of climb on Buck Gulch, some of it quite steep, runners turn onto Skipper Trail for a nice mile of downhill, after which the trail becomes gently rolling, but still more up than down on Skipper and Strawberry Jack/Homestead Trails to the Homestead aid station at 5.3 miles. From the aid station, runners will turn onto Charlie's Cutoff to do the 4.8-mile "Charlie's Loop," a fun descent on Charlie's Cutoff and Homestead Trail for about half that and then a climb up Miller Gulch back to the the Homestead Trail and Homestead aid station. Runners then go back to Miller Gulch Trail and head gradually uphill for just over a mile on Miller Gulch and Gashouse Gulch Trails, and then a big downhill begins on Gashouse Gulch Trail to the Buffalo Creek aid station at 14.7 miles.
After 4/10 mile of gradual uphill along Buffalo Creek, the 50K and 50 Mile courses split at 15.1 miles at the junction of Buffalo Creek and Tramway Creek Trails. The next section of the 50 Mile course is described below. For the 50K (and the 50 Mile when it returns to this point at mile 33.1), the course climbs up Tramway Creek Trail to the Colorado Trail. The Colorado Trail section rolls up and down for 3.6 miles, the first half mostly up and the last half mostly down, to the Shinglemill Trail, followed by a quick descent into the Shinglemill aid station at mile 20.2 (mile 38.2 for 50 Mile) Then the Shinglemill and Morrison Creek Trails take runners back down to Buffalo Creek at 23.5 miles (41.5 for the 50 Mile). A gentle uphill along the creek returns runners to Buffalo Creek aid station at mile 24.3 (mile 42.3 for the 50 Mile). From there the last big 3-mile climb begins up Baldy Trail, followed by a gentle section on Gashouse Gulch , Miller Gulch and Homestead Trails back to the Homestead aid station at 28.4 miles (46.4 for the 50 Mile). The 3.6-mile run from there to the finish is almost all downhill (just one more short climb!), some of it steep, on Homestead/Strawberry Jack and Buck Gulch Trails and then along beautiful Pine Lake to the finish line at the large picnic shelter.
For the 50 Mile, from the junction of Buffalo Creek and Tramway Creek Trails at mile 15.1, runners continue along Buffalo Creek to its end at Forest Service Road 550. After a brief section on FS 550, runners turn into the Meadows Group Campground road where the Meadows aid station is located at the Colorado Trail's Buffalo Trailhead at mile 16.3. The runners then head up the Meadows Campground road to begin the beautiful 6-mile "Green Mountain Loop," on the Green Mountain and Colorado Trails, the first half of which is a significant climb, returning to Meadows aid station. The next section is on the Colorado Trail, 4.8 miles out to the Rolling Creek aid station at 27.1 miles and then back to Meadows. 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 Meadows at 31.9 miles, runners head back to the Buffalo Creek/Tramway junction where they diverged from the 50K. The course is then the same as the 50K from there to the finish (see above).
There are 6 aid stations in the 50K and 11 in the 50 Mile. Aid stations are spaced mainly 4 to 6 miles apart. All but Tramway Creek (self-service water only) at 33.8 miles in the 50 Mile will have water, Heed, Coke, Sprite, Mountain Dew, Hammer Gel and an assortment of sweet and salty foods and fruit. By late morning, there will also be ice, and beginning with Buffalo Creek at 14.7 miles there will be peanut butter and jelly sandwiches See aid station table for locations and distances of aid stations.
Be sure to check out the photo gallery by clicking "photos" in the upper lefthand corner of this page. You will see photos taken of the course in July 2009, June 2010 and during and after the race in past years, including pictures of some finishers.