BOULDER In the early morning darkness of the woods, Satan’s Minions are afoot.

They are more than a dozen men and women this day, moving swiftly to their destination: a high rock wall that slants just right for them to do what no average hiker or runner would dare do. They will ascend without the benefit of a rope. Hand and feet only, and moving fast still — scrambling, as if condemned by their evil namesake.

But this is the pre-work pleasure of the Minions. They are a long-going tribe of a mixed breed: runner-climber misfits who are fit for a town famed for pushing limits.

Most of these Boulderites have jobs to get to as engineers. The shared vocation seems a coincidence unless you understand the analytical, problem-solving nature of what they do on the crag. Over the years they have identified certain cracks and swells and know precisely how and where to place their limbs.

And yes, efficiency is their goal. As much as it is about mind, the Minions’ ritual is about strength, speed and endurance.

And some bravery.

“It is unique,” says their leader, Bill Wright. “And it’s unique because the Flatirons are unique.”

The Minions are rooted in the iconic rock that angles enough for well-rehearsed scramblers. In the years after the Flatirons inspired a legion of classic, harness-strapped climbers, they inspired a smaller circle keen on scaling them in record time.

“Scrambling wasn’t much of a thing before I got into it,” recalls Wright, who in 2004 co-authored a Falcon guide on speed climbing. “Our group definitely popularized scrambling here.”

He learned the ways of belaying from his University of Colorado dorm window in the 1980s. Later in the next decade, the local route called Death and Transfiguration left him with a broken back. That gave him time to obsess over impressive marks logged by climbers: one hour across the third Flatiron, 15 hours across the top-10 Flatiron climbs as defined by legendary mountaineer Gerry Roach.

After healing, Wright emerged a stronger trail runner. He thought to blend his new passion with his old one on his favorite venue, those perfect slabs.

He embarked in the hours before dawn. He emailed a few friends to join him.

“I had sent an email to my friend saying what we’re gonna go do tomorrow,” Wright recalls. “It’s gonna be 10 pitches of rock climbing, 5 miles of running/hiking, we’ll do 2,500 vert, and we’ll be back at the trailhead at like 8:30 in the morning.

“So he forwarded this to his friend. And his friend responded saying, ‘That guy sounds like one of Satan’s minions. I recommend staying as far away from him as possible.’”

The club was born. As was an annual tradition in the early 2000s, what Wright called the Tour de Flatirons, a race between men who could be counted on two hands.

Now the Minions’ emailing list is closer to 200. Now the Tour sees closer to 30 people, who run and scramble five stages over five weeks every fall. Routes have ranged between 1,000 and 2,000 feet of vertical gain and five and 20 pitches of climbing, not to mention several miles on foot.

The fastest of Minions finish each stage in a half-hour or hour. The fastest of Minions are regularly breaking some of Colorado’s most-vaunted adventure records. One recent example is the fastest known time for covering the Diamond on Longs Peak.

Jack Neus is a newcomer, having joined, as many do, by word of mouth. He had previously heard “whispers” of the Minions.

“There was quite a bit of mystique surrounding it,” Neus says. “People would talk about it in hushed tones, like there’s this group of folks running around the Flatirons. In reality, it’s not like that at all. Everybody is super friendly. It doesn’t feel like some closed group.”

But the group is not exactly open.

In a 2017 article, Boulder Weekly described the Minions as “quasi-exclusive, semi-secret, pseudo-underground.” That preceded a Runner’s World article that introduced the Minions to the broader sporting nation.

Wright says it was that kind of attention mixed with social media — athletes would post about the greatest event their followers didn’t know about — that led him to enforcing stricter qualifications to join the club.

For a while, one had to prove a sub-hour Flatiron time and pass “a scrambling interview” with Wright. The key: to not make him nervous.

Now, one must also have the top-10 Flatiron climbs under his or her belt. That, Wright says, is to ensure one has ample climbing ability and awareness. He has a saying when it comes to fast skills on the rock: “We don’t teach it, we don’t guide it, and we don’t even recommend it.”

Some can be too headstrong, says Tony Bubb, an early Minion with a decorated climbing career. But “there’s a lot of self-screening,” he says. “A lot of people don’t want to do what we do.”

Though, more are doing it. Before a recent morning jaunt with the Minions, Wright read a local news report about a scrambler calling for help on the Flatirons — adding to the increase in calls over the years.

“When I read stuff like that, I don’t assume it’s not us,” Wright says. “In fact, I think it is us.”

He thinks of the morning darkness as a necessary veil — out of the sight of casual, later-waking hikers who might get ideas. And yet, Wright is still accepting media requests like this one, putting his club in the public eye.

“It’s because I’m so proud of the group,” he says. “The community-building is really satisfying to me.”

An athlete raised in Boulder, Bailee Mulholland is one who has found friends and alpine comrades in the group. She and others describe scrambling as different from classic climbing for how there is more socializing; more partners on the rock, rather than one climbing and another belaying. And by scrambling, Mulholland says she’s discovered new sides of her home mountains.

“You get a different perspective than you would normally just by hiking,” she says.

For her and others, the thrill on the rock is a bonus, as is the competition. But that can be a double-edged sword, says Annie Weinmann.

“Sometimes I think it toes the line, just because there is a risk factor with scrambling,” she says.

But she gets it, having hotly pursued a fastest known time on the first Flatiron. She notched the record last year, a feat made more remarkable by a previous climbing accident that Weinmann says should’ve taken her life.

“I guess I just don’t want to live in fear. This is something that brings me true joy, and that’s why I keep doing it,” she says. “Although, I will say I have definitely reevaluated some of my choices.”

She’s evaluating her choices now, near the end of the morning run with the Minions. She’s ascending a boulder, picking her moves slower than others who speed ahead.

She calls to the ground: “You don’t have to wait. I’ll be fine.”

But the fellow Minion is happy to wait.