Peak(s):  Raleigh Peak (8185 ft)
Long Scraggy Peak (8812 ft)
Bear Mtn (7694 ft)
Bennett Mtn (8045 ft)
Date Posted:  04/23/2022
Date Climbed:   04/16/2022
Author:  redheadontherocks
 A 33 hour Bushwhack: Niwots Challenge   

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A colorful story of my experience at Niwots

Nitwot's Challenge in a nutshell: This is a very difficult, grass-roots, extreme endurance "race" in Colorado's Front Range mountains put on by Human Potential Running. Similar to the famous Barkley Marathons, this course is predominantly off road, with some sections of the Colorado Trail or dirt fire roads thrown in. 24 books are hidden out on the course and on race day each runner must find all the books, rip their page number out and complete the ~ 50 mile, ~20,000 ft in less than 30 hours to achieve CHIEF status. Deity Status involves turning around and doing the entire course a second time. AND, not to mention that this is ALL done with map and compass and no outside GPS or mapping devices. WTF right?!

To put it in perspective (including this year 2022): NUMBER OF NIWOT’S ATTEMPTS: 137, # OF CHIEFS: 23 (1 female), # OF DEITYS: 0 (1 Attempt)

Bottom line, as it says on the website: "WARNING: This is NOT a run for beginners or whiners."

Since this is a 14er website I would like to make some remarks to frame this event for this site's readership: I have had my share of LONG days in the mountains, summitting many peaks in long day-hike pushes. NIWOT'S CHALLENGE was more arduous than all of them. My top 3 longest days: 1) Chicago Basin Five in one day - summiting all four 14ers and Centennial Jupiter Mtn in 23 hours, 43 miles with 13,600 ft gain. See: https://www.14ers.com/php14ers/tripreport.php?trip=20777&cpgm=tripmine 2) Nolan's scouting trip - Summitted five 14ers Shav, Tab, Antero, Princeton, & Yale in 22.5 hours, 44 miles, with 18,300 ft gain. and 3) Centennial Peaks Pigeon & Turret - in 18 hours, 32 miles, with 10,200 ft gain. So, if BIG MOUNTAIN ADVENTURES are YOUR THING, then READ ON....a certain level of endurance will be needed to make it though this whole report... apologies.

One differentiating factor of Niwot's is that there, are 4 organized 'Book Setting Days' in which Nitwit's (those participating in Niwots) are given maps with the jist of the race course and go out and place the books at the designated spots. This is very helpful to know what rock, tree or dirt pile the books are located in. It keep's the challenge focused on navigating to each book, not wandering around a rock outcropping for 45 minutes searching for it. BELEIVE ME: this does not necessarily make getting to that exact location on race day any easier! I also went out on a recon trip with other Nitwits and spent 16 hours navigating and familiarizing ourselves with the terrain. I made an additional trip to scout some of the 2nd loop on my own as well.

Below are some pictures from our book setting days. EVERY SINGLE one of these people are amazing and exactly the type of weirdos you want to wander the wilderness with. Each time out on the course was a rugged adventure in itself. LOVE IT!

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A clan of Nitwits wander the burn area.
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A little bit of adventuring
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One of the worst day's of post holing I've done
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Burn loop recon with Chief Tenacious and Chief Wrong Way!

Note: Each participant selects their own Spirit Animal once they are accepted into the race. We are all known as our spirit animals until Chief status is achieved and a new Chief name is bestowed upon you by race director, Sherpa John. I refer to some people by their spirit animal or chief name below. I am the SPRINGBOK! (The springbok is a strikingly marked, red headed, gazelle from the planes of southern Africa.)

When I first read about this race on the Human Potential Running website I instantly knew this was something I HAD to do. I went through the application process, got accepted, did plenty of training, and course research, and got to experience one of the most challenging things I have ever done. IT WAS AWESOME.

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Preparation: Asking myself, 'How long am I going to be out there for?!?'

The morning started with a ceremony where we each choose a paper out of a hat to determine if we start the first "Burn loop" clockwise or counter clockwise. (The group is split in half going different directions. When you return from that loop everyone goes out on the "Chief loop" in the same direction). I was hoping for clockwise because I had done a training day on the Burn Loop that way. That was exactly what I got and went back to my car to get the last of my things together. (This is why my books are numbered 14-1 in descending order. The 10 Chief Loop books are labeled A -J) I was also assigned Bib #20 and I had to rip page 20 from all the books. I was in a little bit of a nervous panic making sure I had everything I needed. Then I saw the whole group taking off across the bridge. CRAP! I locked my car and started running after them. Great start. Also, since no GPS watches are allowed I rustled up my 12 year old Timex running watch. I couldn't remember how to get the stop watch started. While catching up to the group I fumbled around and figured out how to work the most basic watch ever. The irony.

Burn loop clockwise group was very strong starting up the trail. Myself, Chief “John C.” Tenacious, Abram “Wild Ram”, Jordan “Raging Bull”, and Justin “Yellow Bellied Marmot”! My confidence was high with this group of mixed Chief experience, diligence, pure grit and Niwot virgin enthusiasm. The pace was quick as we dropped down from the Colorado Trail by Pulpit rock.

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No trail, no problem!
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Rock shrine containing out first book of the day.

I was just trying to keep up and upright! I was surfing down the loose ball bearing rocks, trying not to slip, and start my day with a bloody scrapped up mess on my back side. I opted for shorts for the Burn Loop to feel the sun and cool breeze on my legs…along with the Yucca spikes and prickly shrubbery. The Marmot took off like a ROCKET. I was slightly concerned about the fast pace when we continued the uphill assault after finding our first book (#14)

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A look back on our ascent.
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Remanence of a barb wire fence, signaling time to head east!

My goal at this point was to just hang on. I don’t have speed, but I sure as hell have endurance and the ability to just keep going. The second book (#13) was smooth to find. I recognized the open slope down to the drainage and spotted the lone Aspen tree right away. The consecutive UP and DOWN, and UP and DOWN and UP went quicky and got to the next two books without incident (#12 and #11).

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Classic terrain for the day: loose hills and scrub oak.

At this time, I cannot understate the importance of course scouting and getting time out there before the event! I was relying on meticulous course notes and spent time studying pictures I had taken to commit all these visual landmarks to memory. I am an extremely visual learner and have a generally good sense of direction. Most of the time I just “knew” which way to go because it felt like I had been there before. ‘Deja-vu’ and gut-instinct were two of my guiding forces. I had notes on which areas had forest service boundary placards, which color ribbons were around trees, the quantity and size of burn piles, kinds of trees, trees with distinct characteristics, certain rock formations, the density of ground cover, etc

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Book #12 sneaky sneaky in the vertical crack in rocks.
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Book #11 snugly in the rocks on top of a promontory.

Back to the course: Things got messy on our way to Book #10. I knew we were approaching the correct ridge because the forest changed from green Ponderosa pine trees to a swath of dead Fir trees (most likely defoliated by the western spruce budworm and then succumbed to beetle kill). I am an arborist by trade. I naturally pay attention to these things.

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Ridge with increasing number of dead Fir trees.

We all pulled out our maps to decide which drainage to descend. Wild Ram and Raging Bull continued a little farther and Chief Tenacious started descending one of the first ones. I was conflicted. I had the feeling that we needed to go a little farther up the ridge before dropping left, but sticking with the experienced Chief Tenacious seemed to be the most prudent decision.. We kept going and going with no sign of the rock with the book. Looking back at my tracker, we were almost halfway down to the South Platte River. We skirted south to start back up the next drainage thinking that we would find the book. I was hopeful because I started to see orange ribbons on some trees. I KNEW there were orange ribbons on the trees near the book too! (I later realized that there were orange ribbons on trees all over that area, lol.) There were also some promising looking rock outcroppings. I wanted to keep going up because the terrain was feeling more familiar. Chief Tenacious thought we were too high and went back down the drainage. I decided to go over one more drainage to the south because I still felt like we dropped too early. Then I started to see trees with orange ribbons and the drainage had a lot of open area, like I remembered. “This HAS to be it!” I said to myself.

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Trees with orange ribbons guiding my way
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Tricksy Book #10 in between the horizontal slabs of rock.

I yelled for Chief T a few times, and then hustled down until I found the book tucked into the rock ledge 6 feet off the ground. I ripped out page 20 and stuffed it into my bag. I was yelled out again and again, trying to listen for him. He couldn’t have been that far away but it’s amazing how easily the sound gets swallowed up. I even ran down the drainage a bit hoping that I would see him, or he would hear me. Alas…. I was on my own. CRAP. This was NOT my plan. I was also unsure of Niwot etiquette. Was I supposed to find him? Was it OK to leave someone you were route finding with? Am I a bad “teammate” if I just keep going? Ultimately, I felt awful about getting separated but decided that at the end of the day this was part of Niwots.

I thought that maybe I could catch up to the other guys though. I looked at my map and realized I had to backtrack a little and start going up and over the ridge for the long traverse south to the next book. I had decent success just retracing my path from scouting it two weeks earlier. I realized that at this point three Nitwits were in front of me, leaving fresh tracks in some of the dirt and pine needles. Also, with the book setting, there were areas where you could tell a whole bunch of Nitwits must have walked this path.

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Burn piles along route
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Familiar tree overlooking the South Platte River

I made it down to Book #9 and was pretty proud of my solo navigation up to this point. When I sat down to rip my page out of the book Wild Ram and Raging Bull emerged from the trees in the opposite direction. Turns out they stayed too high on the traverse and ended up farther upstream. AWESOME! My spirits were high, and I was happy to have the company and navigational collaboration. Raging Bull looked pretty pro with the course map laminated on a lanyard around his neck. Total Niwot nerd. Love it

It was now time to head upstream through ‘Cougar Canyon.’ Again, I was relaying on my previous trip notes and knew that in 75 minutes we should be making the right turn at the base of Little Scraggy Mountain and begin our climb to the top. I was also looking for a very particular flat rock that I had sat on during the scouting trip. We made one little navigating error, but easily corrected it and then the second I saw “my rock”, I unequivocally knew we were in the right place. I don’t know if anyone else feels that the trees or rocks are speaking to them, but I swear they are talking to me sometimes...

I started up to Long Scraggy, while the guys took a few extra minutes to change socks. I knew that we would eventually come across the path along the ridge and we could rendezvous at the top. I nailed my nav and came up to the trail where I was expecting too. I yelled for the guys, no answer. Oh well. I figured I’ll keep going to the summit and I’ll see them there. Up on the ridge I saw some people and thought “Holy smokes, how did Wild Ram and Raging Bull get ahead of me?!” I hustled my way through the rocks and up to the summit. Confused, I looked around and realized that I hadn’t seen my crew, but Chief Wrong Way, Chief One Bearing and Samsquanch , just made it to the top from their counterclockwise direction. Damn, they were cruising! I also got the update that Yellow Bellied Marmot, was over an hour and a half in front of us already. Burn Book # 8 was in the bag though.

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The summit of Long Scraggy Mountain

I felt good with the navigation to Book #7 and could identify the high point in front of us. This book was tucked into some flat rocks at the top. The three of us were moving and working well together. It was a good collaborative effort finding the next book amidst all the quarries. Wild Ram got us pointed in the right direction and then I spotted the old concrete foundation. Also, I had another very distinct burnt tree that I recognized as part of my ‘deja-vu’ navigational technique. Book #6 was complete.

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Old quarry foundations and "Chicken Wire Rock" as the home of Book #6
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Wild Ram, Raging Bull, and Springbok crushing it!

After dropping down to the stream and filling up water it was time to go up again. I hit a little slump of energy heading up to Raleigh Peak. The loose kitty litter slopes just felt like a ‘two steps forward, one step back’. Wild Ram took the reins on nav and just charged up ahead. I had a gel down at the river, but at 9 hours into our day, I needed more calories and was running on empty.

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I'm coming! Whilst Wild Ram strikes a pose.
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Coming up to the saddle before heading south to gain the summit.

The guys were doing a great job with a quick pace, so I didn’t want to stop and eat. When we got to the top of Raleigh Peak and obtained Book #5, it felt like we had crushed all the cruxes of Burn Loop. It was going to be my third time on the next part of the course, and I hoped I could walk most of it without looking at the map. I also indulged in my homemade tofu-kale-black bean burrito and the simple act of eating REAL food was a huge mood boost.

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Sitting in the 'col' between the two highpoints that constitute the Raleigh Peak

Off to Chair Rocks! I was stoked on our time thus far. It was 4:45pm when we ripped our pages out of Book #4 at Chair Rocks. We had three more hours of daylight, which would give us plenty of time to get the next two books and back onto the Colorado Trail before it got dark. Going down “Chair Rocks Express” through the burn scar is pretty cool. The lack of trees also make navigation easy and we could see the gulch we had to cross to get to the high point for our next book. A quick climb up and we had Book # 3 in hand.

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Posted up at 'Chair Rocks' and the location of Book #4
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Sherpa John has a good sense of humor with the book selections.
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Burned and oddly beautiful landscape.

This next part was a little confusing. Unfortunately, on my scouting trip we ended up doing this part in the night, so I didn’t have as firm of grasp on my visual cues. We ended up doing OK descending a drainage that we knew would at least get us to Ramona Gulch. Then all we had to do was find the Cottonwood tree that was the original placement of the book, and I would have to retrace my steps to where it was moved after the official book setting excursion. (At the request of Sherpa John; Chief Tenacious, Chief Wrong Way and I moved it and tapped it to a downed log when we were out scouting 2 weeks ago.) So, I was putting a lot of faith in my ability to find it for us. We got down to the Cottonwood tree and from there I know we crossed over, went upstream a bit to a confluence and up a different drainage on the left. When I saw a certain Aspen tree, it clicked and I knew that it was under that tree. NAILED IT. We were stoked. Book #2 was done and off to the last book at the “TeePee!”

We climbed our way up and out to the Colorado Trail. Now it was head lamp time. I was still hoping to stay under 15 hours for this loop and wanted to take advantage of the runnable trail. I planned to regroup with the guys back at the bridge to rally for Chief Loop, so I took off. After a few glorious miles on trail, it was a quick little jaunt off the trail up to the Teepee for the last burn book. As I was going up and over to drop down the other side my headlamp caught the reflection of two round glowing eyes about 30 ft to my right. I just yelled at it “HEY! HEY!” to scare it away. I thought I saw another set of eyes too, but rather than think about what animal it could be I took that as my cue to just get the heck down to the CT and back to the bridge. Seeing the crew of volunteers hanging out and cheering me across the bridge was an incredible feeling! THANK YOU ! It took 15 hours to complete the first loop and collect our pages from 14 books. It was now 9 pm.

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While running down the CT to get the last Burn book, the FULL MOON was starting to rise over the mountains. EPIC!!!

Ug, the transition between loops was not really the respite I would have liked. I knew I had a lot of stuff to do and gather to be ready for a Chief loop. I wanted to sit down, but it was a little overwhelming. I wish I could have just hung out and shared my trail stories but at the same time I know needed to eat food, drink water, drink a Rockstar, change my socks, change my shoes, switch my orthotics, change my clothes, make sure both my head lamps, a battery pack, my Garmin InReach and phone were all recharged as much as possible before heading out. And trying to figure how many hours I needed to pack food for, and how much caffeine I would need (a critical calculation!). I packed a mix of gels and bars and ‘real’ food with another tofu burrito. In addition to my extra layer for the night and my clear glasses for going face first into scrub oak, I also needed my daytime things like sunglasses, sunscreen, visor, and arm sleeves. It felt like A LOT to pack. And trying to get this all together, throwing things around my FJ, all in the dark. Damn, I wish I had organized things better.

During this time I was almost tempted to snarf one of the hot dogs that they were grilling up because they smelled soooo good. As a vegetarian, when a black bean burger was offered, I said that sounds AMAZING! After that I ate one of the most delicious greasiest grilled cheese sandwiches I’ve ever had. I award 3 Michelin stars to the cookout at Gudy Gaskill Bridge!!!

I went to check and see if Raging Bull and Wild Ram were ready to go, but they still needed a little more time. I looked at my watch. I had already been here for 45 minutes, I HAD to go. I bid them adieu and hoped that they might catch up to me. In the back of my mind I knew very well that I could be 100% alone the whole night....

At this time, I really appreciated the support from Nicci aka Goose. She attempted it last year and wasn't able to participate this year, but came out to help on race day anyways. I know she really wanted to be out here though. We had plans to conquer it together as the second and third female finishers EVER at Niwots. She is a strong bad ass lady! So, now as the only female participating, I felt like I had the responsibility to represent for both of us and show how tough Niwot chicks are. With that in mind I took off down the road around 9:55pm.

The next day I received this message from her that put the biggest smile on my face: “Friend. You are an incredible human. Watching you take off for that loop in the night was watching something heroic. So inspired by your effort. Well done out there.”

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Nicci and I out on one of the book setting days on Chief loop

I must say that I LOVE night excursions. Hiking and running under the glow of a headlamp heightens all my senses, gets my adrenaline pumping, and I feel laser focus on the trail. My legs didnt feel like they had been hiking for 15 hours already.

I did a solo recon lap on this half of the Chief loop just 2 weeks prior. I felt good about getting to Bear Mountain for Book A, through the Archery Range and up to Bennett Mountain for Book B. It was somewhere around here that I saw head lamps across the valley and figured it was the group of 3 guys in front of me. They later said that they saw my headlamp as well. So, 1 o'clock in the morning on some dark mountain was the last known sighting anyone had of me until I emerged from the trail the following day. lol.

THEN the fun REALLY started. **I must also thank Sherpa John for the great notes that he wrote for each segment. I enhanced them with my own tidbits of useful information, like how long it took to get between places, and when to go up, down, turn, or some visual cue to look for. Silly things, but it all helped. It was also at this time that I honed in on my tracking skills. I felt like a hunter stalking my prey looking for disturbances in the natural landscape for footprints of the intrepid Nitwits before me. The downside of this was discerning footprints from animal tracks. I made up a game of “Nitwit or Animal?” And then also ignoring prints that looked like they came from something BIG (kitty?) … occasionally the thought would cross my mind, and I would reach down and touch my purple Spiderco knife to make sure it was still there and accessible.

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PICTURE OF POWERLINE ROUTE FROM BOOK SETTING
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PICTURE OF POWERLINE ROUTE FROM BOOK SETTING

It was time for the first crux of Chief Loop: The Powerlines! (above pictures were taken in the day during on a recon trip. I included them for a reference. I did not take many pictures at night...obviously) When it was time to end a short lived section on the Indian Creek Trail and start heading up under the powerlines I could neither see nor hear them. But from the map, location of the water source, and what looked like foot prints scrambling up the sandy slope I figured that has to be the way. Eventually I was able to locate the wires. The good thing about 900 lumen headlamp is that it is BRIGHT. I could look up and catch glimpses of the light on the wires. The full moon was out in force by now as well. It was also convenient to set my compass bearing in alignment with the power lines and off I went. It was frustrating that even going in a straight line was too much to ask for at times. The uphill terrain and dense scrub oak would veer me off course. I’d then look at my bearing or up at the wires and curse at myself, “Lauren, why cant you walk in effing straight line?!” Good pep talks like that. Lol. Book C was stashed at the base of metal towers for the powerlines. My spirits were high since I felt like I was handling the infamous ‘power line section’ pretty well.

The course continues to climb to the top of a ridge and then it’s a long side hill sloping descent, and then following the lines allllll the way up to another high point. This was where I had my *first* mental breakdown of the night. The climb seemed impossibly long. Every time I would come up to some towers I would scramble around looking for the book, and then realize that ‘NOPE! Not yet. Keep climbing!’ These false towers of hope were guarded by some relentless scrub oak. I was fighting my way up the hill while branches pulled at my hair, ripped my head buff off, poked under my glasses, snagged onto my hiking poles, tripped up my feet, and getting in a good scratch or jab when possible. It was madness as I would yell "Arrrgggggg! This is effing impossible!" into the dark woods. I'm sure I scared off any wildlife that would have come across my path. Although, I would have gone head to head with a bear at that point. To quote Home Alone 2: "The way I'm feeling no mugger or murderer would dare mess with me!"

The steep sections were easier to find foot tracks because the piles of pine needles, oak leaves, and dirt were pushed around in such a way to know that a struggling Nitwit warrior had been there. This part of the course also had the most amount of remaining snow fields. I could either find our melted out tracks from 2 weeks ago or some new fresh prints.

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Chief Book D- OH let me tell you what I'm going through!!!

The victory of getting to the top of the power lines and the 4th book on Chiefs was very short lived. I looked at my watch. It was 4:30 am. WHAT? It took me 6 hours and 45 minutes to get this far. I wasn’t even halfway and I still had 6 more books to find. I sat down, leaned my head back against the tower and cried. I knew at that point there was no way I was going to finish within the 30 hour time cut off to be an official finisher. The magnitude of what I was doing really hit me. This was hard. SO incredibly hard. I was also at the farthest point away from the start/finish. Quitting would not have been easy and would have required hours of hiking. I reasoned that if I was going to keep hiking, then I was not going to return to the finish without every single one of my pages. I don’t care how long it takes. THIS was why I was here. THIS is what I do. This was time to put on my big girl pants, harden up, and keep going.

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PICTURE FROM BOOK SETTING TO SHOW THICKETS OF SCRUB OAK ON THIS SECTION

This next section was going to require the most concentration and level head. Perfect, because I was feeling completely put together at that point.... NOT. Some iron ore deposits tend to throw off compass readings in this area. Hence, the Niwot map labels this area the ‘Bermuda Triangle.’ FML. I was not anticipating having to navigate this entire thing solo. I knew I needed to stay on this broad ridge and not veer off in the wrong direction. I pushed through the dense patches of scrub oak, and I knew if I tried going around them then I would get confused and loose my bearing. Sherpa John said something about “3 patches of scrub oak” before you drop west off the ridge. I put my head lamp on FULL 900 Lumen power. Which I normally use at half that because the battery lasts 5 times as long. But I was not messing around now. I thought that I could see a faint worn “path” perhaps from our book setting through here. God knows not many people are just walking around in these parts, so I worked on trying to stay in a straight line along the ridge until it starts to slope down and then head to the left. At this point I was starting to get some ambient lighting from the rising sun. This book was inside a unique looking dead tree, with an equally unique twisting pine tree next to it. It’s amazing what little things you can look for and recognize. I ripped my page from the 5th book. I had made it through the night.

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Picture from book setting day. This tree literally pointing the way!
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Morning light starts to hit under the glow of the full moon.

The decent down from that “One Tree” puts you right onto a trail. I was so happy I cried. I also was incredibly thirsty since I ran out of water an hour prior. I turned left down the trail down to an open area along the flowing creek. I filled my pack and pulled out a bag of muddy buddy chex mix. My stomach felt like it was up in my throat during the strenuous climbs all night. I just sat there looking at the water and dumping the powder sugar covered chex bits into my mouth. It was hard to enjoy, but I know I needed some calories. I looked at my map and closed my eyes. CRAP. I wasn’t supposed to take the trail left. The route was only to cross the taunting trail and head back into the bush and up “scrub oak hill.” No. I just can’t. Please. No. I weighed my options. 1)Turn back and go up the actual route. 2) Keep going down the trail and quit. 3) Or deviate from the "official Niwot route" and take the long way around on the trail and get to the next book. Technically this is not the way you are supposed to go and is grounds for disqualification, but I decided I wasn’t going to be an official finisher anyways. I was out here for my own punishment now. It was going to take too much emotional energy to bush whack and I still needed to get back at a decent time. I cruised some trail miles and then veered off trail to gain the high point and Chief book F. For the first time in a while, I felt like I was getting somewhere, and the remaining 4 books were in closer proximity than the first 6 books on this loop. (I’m laughing at this now because "proximity on map" doesn’t mean shit on Niwots. Hahaha.)

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A TOUCH OF THE HEAVENS.... TRAIL...

I was also on parts of the course that I had not seen before. The tweaks to the route leave some surprises on race day. I enjoyed a few more minutes on the Colorado Trail and then crossed over Bear Creek and it was time for a steep battle up a ridge to the next book. I must say that the topo lines did not do this ridge justice. It was much steeper than it looked on paper! I found Book G underneath a downed/leaning tree. The next descent I had already done twice before, and it gave me a little confidence to boldly go in what I knew was the correct direction.

I filled up with water again since it looked like this was my last filling spot for the rest of the course. Sherpa John changed the route up to the next book as well, so it was a little different. The map and the written directions said something about following an “old 4-wheel drive road.” WTF? I started up the hill and meandered looking for anything that could have been misconstrued for a “road.” WTF "John, was this a road from the 1800s?!?" I came across something I would hardly consider an old foot path. Oh well. All routes led to the top and Book H hidden in a rock outcropping. From here I could look down upon the next portion of the course: the drainage down to Book I….. doesn’t look too bad, just a quick out and back right?

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I'm not sure what the message with this book is...quit or keep going?
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A game of 'I spy' with the book in the rocks.

I came back down to the CT and took a hard right into the biggest drainage. Right away this seemed like it was going to be more difficult than just descending 1000ft to the reservoir and finding a book. It was 10:06 am when I left the CT. I’m having a hard time putting the circumstances of this part of the course into words. It was just simply awful. The drainage was narrow and both sides were steep and loose. I tried looking around for a better route higher up, but it seemed like I would just end up slipping all the way into the drainage regardless. My best bet was the head straight down into the thick of it. ‘Maybe’ there was a small segment of some game trail on the left side? But it was hardly clear. This drainage was full of fallen trees, dense undergrowth and shrubbery, slippery and loose top soil and leaves, and one of the few sections of the course that was still holding some bits of snow. The ferocity of the spindly willow and alder branches put the scrub oak under the powerlines to shame. This was next level bushwhacking. Not to mention a lot of the rocks were also covered in moss and lichen. I used my hiking poles and hands grabbing at anything to stay upright. One slip on a log and a sharp stub jabbed into my leg “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuk!” I cried for 5 seconds, wiped the tears away and kept going. This happened multiple times; slip, fall, yell, cry, wipe tears away, keep going, repeat. All the while I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to find the book. This was the ONE book on the entire course that I had not personally put hands on during a book setting or course recon. I knew I was going to lose my shit if I put in all the work to get down to the bottom and not be able to find the book. I was already so angry at this drainage, and Sherpa John. Conversations were as follows; “This is fuckin impossible!” “You’ve got to be fuckin kidding me?” “Seriously, at THIS point of the race to put THIS kind of terrain is SO DUMB.” “This is dangerous. I’m going to break my leg or snap my fuckin ankle down here!” “If this drainage is on the course next year then consider this my premature refusal to participate.” “Has he even been down here? There is no way.” “This is so dumb.”

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This was hell...no way around it...pure hell...
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...the devil incarnate would be this drainage...

I made it down to the reservoir at 11:10am. One full hour to go three quarters of a mile (I measured it out when I got home.) I read the notes and looked around for “a wall above the water…the book is hiding under some roots with grey gnarl lurching over it.” Oh crap, just kill me now. I looked around, shaking my head and wondering what the hell that could mean. I was pretty sure I had no chance of finding it. Then I would have to crawl back out of the drainage without that page. My whole hearted mission to not return without every single one of my pages was shattered. I turned around and look back up the drainage and scanned the whole area. Then about 25 ft away just sitting under a ledge I saw the zip lock bag with book. I broke down in tears again. I had actually done it. I ripped out page 20 from the second to last book and stuck it in my bag. I sat at the water’s edge for a minute to emotionally prepare myself for the climb back out. I knew my boyfriend Preston was watching me on my Garmin InReach and probably wondering why the heck I was going so slow. I thought it would be nice to send him a quick message to let him know how I was doing. Honestly, I also just needed to feel not so alone at that time. My message: “ : ( This is so hard. Been alone all night. Xoxo.”

21612_45
Actually a cool reservoir, but I was too traumatized to enjoy any of it.

At least going back up I knew what I was up against. I tried to maintain focus on one thing: Relentless Forward Progress. I tried again to circumnavigate the center of the debris dense drainage and skirt higher up on the sides. It was so steep that I resorted to crawling on my hand and knees, digging my fingernails into the dirt to keep going. Lots of slaps in the face from branches, sharp sticks and stubs dragging against my skin, wiping my tears away so that I could still see, and being as careful as possible with my footing. This was the only part of the course that I felt was a little reckless and I was worried about getting hurt. I made sure my InReach had adequate battery because if I needed a rescue it was going to be from here.

21612_46
My absolute LOWEST point (emotionally & mentally) on the course. This is what rock bottom looks like.

It was 11:20 am when I started up and emerged back to the CT at 12:30 pm. 2 hours and 20 minutes down and up, and I was back to the exact same point I started. Life is cruel. I sat on a log to get a rock out of my shoe and take off my compression socks. They were feeling warm, and I had my injinji toe socks on under them. (100% BLISTER FREE THE WHOLE TIME!) The idea of a gel made me feel sick, but needed something for this FINAL CLIMB to the last book. I opened a Mocha Clif shot with 50 mg of caffeine and squeezed it in my mouth, took a swig of water and swallowed trying not to taste it. I swear that black bean burger from the night before was still trying to come up.

21612_50
Let's finish this bitch shall we?

I was looking forward to this part of the course because it was now my third time hiking up this hill. I was done with all the hard parts, I just had to make it.

I allowed myself to soak in some joy of accomplishment at this point. I was going to do this. I could have quit so many times. I should have headed back the second I realized I wasn’t going to make the 30 hour cut off. But I knew how much more disappointed I would be if I had done that. Niwot’s Challenge isn’t really even a race, it’s an intense personal challenge. So being an official finisher was secondary to challenging myself to finish. It made the discomfort, pain and frustration more personal. It was all mine. I wasn’t doing it for title or accolades right now. I was doing it just for me, as part of my eternal quest to find my limit. Bottom line, I love this shit.

21612_71
Some of the best bushwhacking I've had all day!

This last climb was pretty easy and stress free. (Unlike the first time I hiked this hill, we were post-holing in snow up to our butt holes. Miserable.) The last book was hidden in some rocks next to a small weather tower and antenna on the summit. I reached the top and started moving rocks around. I got worried when I didn’t see it right away. “Oh my god, you’ve got to be kidding me, “ I though, “Did I really mess this up and the book is somewhere else?” I read the description again, looked at my map, read the description. No. I KNEW this was where we had put the book because I was there! Thinking that maybe it was moved to another rock pile on the summit, I started franticly searching every rock pile, boulder, nooks and crannies for it. I was devastated. My goal the entire time was to be able to hand Sherpa John a stack of pages, smile, and say “I found every single one.” In one last act of desperation, I took out my phone and looked at the pictures I took on that book setting day. Yes! Right there! I had a picture of Wild Ram holding a zip lock bag with a blue book next to the exact rock that I thought it was. I made one final attempt to turn over every rock and tree stump in the vicinity. After 15 minutes of searching, I put on my pack to walk away. I just hoped that the book was not there and that no one else was able to find it either. Or maybe I screwed up and everyone else found it. With that feeling of profound sadness and hopelessness it was time to leave and finish this no matter what. As I headed down the fire road tears fell down my face, I knew that all of the hard work and books I found meant nothing if I didn’t bring my page from the last book home.

21612_51
Where is it? : (
21612_63
This is what FRANTIC PANIC looks like.

The final bushwhack was quintessential Niwot terrain and involved carefully making my way over and around a whole ridge of downed trees. I wasn’t going to hurt myself this close to the finish. I popped out of the final creek bed to the Colorado trail at 2:15pm. I took a left, this was the homestretch. I just wanted to be done now. I still wasn’t allowing myself a feeling of victory until I knew if I missed that last book or not. Despite my somber mood, I did feel good enough to jog most of the trail down to the Gudy Gaskill Bridge. There is also this gorgeous overlook of the entire burn area and I thought it was time for a good 'hero shot.'

21612_53
ALL SMILES!!!!! hahahaha

Catching a glimpse of the bridge from a few switch backs up was encouraging. I saw a few cars still left at the lot, but knew that most people would have gone home at this point (I know I would have!) Well, at least Sherpa John would have to be there to make sure I made it out. I almost expected to come across someone heading up to look for me. I kept jogging down the trail and was surprised how decent my legs and feet felt. Wow. I really did this without causing major bodily harm to myself! As I got close I tried to let out a hoot and holler, but my mouth was a little dry so I think I sounded like a dying bird. I came off the single track, crossed the road and was greeting by Niwot Chief Wrong Way. It was almost 3:15 pm on Sunday. 33 hours and 15 minutes since I started on Saturday at 6 am. I asked about the last book, and he said that no one found it and that someone must have taken it earlier that week. Oh dear God, THANK YOU! I didn’t miss it! Now I felt more accomplished with my goal and could put that to rest.

Chief gave me some cold left-over pizza and salty kettle chips. Things I don’t normally eat, so they were delicious at that time. He informed me that Sherpa John had left to go look for me on the other side of the course at the Indian Creek Campground. Also, to get service and call my emergency contact/boyfriend, Preston, to see if he had heard from me. He also left Preston a VM earlier, that I got to listen to the next day: "Lauren is way past the check-in time and we don't know where she is." Wow, I did wonder at what point they would be worried about me. Turns out that started about an hour before I showed up. If I didn’t finish when I did, they were ready call Search and Rescue for my ass. Lol. Sherpa returned from Indian Creek and I was able to smile and proudly present all my pages. I did apologize for my late time, but I also told him he should have known better. I never had any intention of not finishing. Chief or no chief. I also gave him a little piece of my mind about the drainage down to Book I…. but it did not include as much profanity as it did in my head when I was down there. I got my picture with the coveted Nitwit sign. My face says it all: I can’t believe what I just did!

21612_54
SPRINGBOK DONE!

I have no regrets and cant think of anything else that I could have done better. Of course, I wish I could have finished alongside other Nitwits and celebrate newly acquired Chief status, whist cheersing IPAs, but not this time. I’ll happily retain my Nitwit status until next year! Niwot’s Challenge is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. The people that keep returning year after year, only to fail again and again, are a testament to the unspoken gravitational pull that we all feel to do this. The course will change slightly from year to year, but there is a cumulative knowledge and familiarity that builds upon itself. Consider my 33 hours out there as mere preparation for next year....

Start Time: 6am Saturday April 16th - Finishing Time: 3:15pm Sunday April 17th

Total time: 33 hours, 15 minutes, 56 miles, 19,832 ft vertical gain

Burns Loop: 15 hours, 6 minutes; (Transition at Gudy Gaskill Bridge: 47 minutes); Chief Loop: 17 hours, 22 minutes

21612_57
24 pages...the spoils of my Niwot war

Here is the roster for the 2022 Niwot's Challenge. Everyone has their stories and struggles to tell and put out a huge effort. Congrats to the FOUR official CHIEF finishers! Next year my friends...next year....

Name Books Found Notes
Chief Solo 24 Books Course Record of 23:15 - Formerly Yellow Bellied Marmot
Chief Gollum 24 Books Formerly Samsquanch: Burn In @6:01p, Chiefs In @ 10:01a (28:01)
Chief One Bearing 24 Books 3x Chief: Burn In @6:01p, Chiefs In @ 10:01a (28:01)
Chief Wrong Way 24 Books 5x Chief: Burn In @6:01p, Chiefs In @ 10:01a (28:01)
Springbok 24 Books Missed final cutoff, finished Chiefs @ 3:15pm Sun (33:15)
Wild Ram 15 Books Burn In @ 9:21p, Chief 1 book in @ 2:10a (20:10)
Raging Bull 15 Books Burn In @ 9:21p, Chief 1 book in @ 2:10a (20:10)
Coyote 13 Books 13 Books in @ 10:06p (16:06)
Chief Tenacious 10 Books 10 Books in @ 10:40p (16:40)
Buck 7 Books 7 Books in @ 6:55p (12:55)
Chief Big Bite 7 Books 7 Books in @ 6:55p (12:55)
Donkey 1 Book 1 Book in @ 12:49p (6:49)

Here is the race report by Chief Solo, formerly known as "Yellow Bellied Marmot" aka ThatOneMonoskier on14er.com https://www.14ers.com/php14ers/tripreport.php?trip=21609

Chief One Bearing wrote a report as well: https://joneisen.me/running/2022/04/19/niwots-challenge-2022.html

Following my finish. I changed clothes, drank a Mountain Dew, laid down in my FJ for a few minutes while I absentmindedly gnawed on a slice of cold pizza, drank a Diet Coke, got behind the wheel, and made the 2 hour 20 min drive back to Granby. I was coughing and hacking up yellow phlegm the whole way, so that was enough to keep me awake. : ) I was greeted at Berthoud Pass by a complete snow storm and by the time I got home and finally went to bed I had been up for 40 straight hours. A new personal record! A huge shout out to Preston who brought me vegetarian chicken nuggets in bed, so I could just eat laying down. That's love!

21612_60
Mmm hmmm..... I LOVE me a good elevation profile!

For those of you made it to the end of this trip report, you might also have the stamina to do Niwots! HA. If this sounded at all interesting PLEASE check out https://humanpotentialrunning.com/niwots-challenge/ !!! The success of this event depends on enthusiastic and prepared people showing up. Of the 30 people initially accepted to the event, only 12 made it to the starting line. I'm just saying that I would have loved some company for the last 18 hours...Strength in numbers and working together is a HUGE part! And once the PTSD subsides from the drainage down to Book I, I have nothing but great memories and appreciation for what Sherpa John (Race Director & Owner of HPRS) does to make Niwots happen.

Love, THE SPRINGBOK




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
-wren-
User
good ol JeffCo scrub oak
04/23/2022 15:15
Love to see other people "enjoying" it. Cool idea and awesome day out!


rockinron
Goals
04/24/2022 07:45
This was a ton of fun the read and virtually experience with you. I just learned about this event a few weeks ago and this report was super insightful. I'd love to be one of the nitwits out there in 2023. It's a tall order for an Ohio flatlander - lol.


zootloopz
User
great read
04/24/2022 13:24
thanks for posting! way to finish


blazintoes
User
The rocks talk to me too
04/25/2022 07:16
But they turn into ghouls and goblins taunting me and later I wonder why our minds create scary things when we‘re hallucinating from the utter fatigue vs. how about an Angel with a halo?
Have you read this thread:
https://14ers.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=60945
What was your level?
3 hours after cut off is not way behind schedule. Your tenaciousness, never give up, drive and ambitiousness is winner all around!
It‘s been a while since I‘ve read through an entire TR and I read this one twice. I see what Preston likes about you. I too have done the CB 5 in a day in winter albeit an easy winter but I camped. Twice. I love pushing myself like this and I look forward to seeing what you do next year.
Thanks for this write up Springbok maybe next year you get Puma status because that‘s what eats Springbok.


coopereitel
User
Awesome
04/25/2022 14:00
That's super cool Lauren!!! Nice job crushing it. Sounds like a new future goal


boudreaux
User
Very cool challenge!
04/28/2022 12:20
This kind of adventure reminds me of the 24 hours of Elephant Rock. The will to keep going when you are hurting and want to stop and fall into a coma. It is very interesting, but I doubt I could do it in 30 hours, but maybe doing some of it is challenging enough. Thanks for writing up such a unique report on a unique race.



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