September is the last month of the year prime for scaling the majestic peaks of Colorado before snowfall makes ascents more technical and risky.
"There is a very narrow window for the climbing season. There is still snow in late June and by mid- to late-September snowfall begins," said Anita Wright, treasurer for the Fort Collins chapter of the Colorado Mountain Club.
With 54 peaks above 14,000 feet, anybody from novice hikers to experienced mountain climbers can pick a peak to fulfill their outdoor endeavors.
"The draw to climb fourteeners has astronomically increased," said Rodney Ley, assistant director of CSU's Outdoor Adventure Program. "The main overall reason is that there are more people who want to do outdoor adventures. Fourteeners are dramatic, goal-oriented and simple."
The best peaks to start with are Grays, Torres, Bierstadt and Evans, Ley said.
Grays and Torres are located four miles south of Interstate 70 and can be bagged in the same day in an 8-mile round-trip hike.
The heavily trafficked trail is well maintained and there is cell phone reception. Novice hikers can find people on the trail to ask questions or turn to in an emergency.
Mount Sherman is considered the easiest peak to hike to. From Fairplay, drive just over a mile on US-285 and turn right on County Road 18 for 10 miles to the parking area.
"You get up pretty high before you start hiking, and there is very little elevation gain and mileage," Wright said.
Just because these peaks are attainable for novice hikers doesn't mean precautions should be taken lightly.
"In the mountains, you can't count of weather being just right," Wright said.
No matter the difficulty, length, time of day or season, all hikers should come prepared with the essentials: extra food, water (at least three liters) and clothing.
Other things to bring include: decent hiking footwear with adequate ankle and shank support, polyester clothing, sunscreen, a small bag to pack out waste, a shovel, map and compass, camera, first aid kit, headlamp and mountaineering ice axe and crampons, depending on conditions.
Altitude sickness is often overlooked, but Ley said it could lead to serious injury, or even death.
"People are not appreciative on how brutal altitude is on you," Ley said. "It increases exponentially with elevation gain,"
Wright recommended camping at the base of the mountain a day before the climb so the body can acclimate.
Dana Lloyd, member of CSU's Outdoor Club, has climbed a fourteener five times and has found ginko bioloba to help protect against altitude sickness.
"My sister from Ohio went hiking up Bierstadt with me, and she seemed to do fine," Lloyd said.
But if signs of altitude sickness seem apparent, such as loss of appetite, vomiting, fatigue, weakness or staggering gait, the best thing to do is drink a lot of water, take some aspirin and most importantly, head down.
Groups of four to 12 are ideal for hiking, so in the case of evacuating someone off the mountain, no one will be left alone.
Always go prepared with topographical maps, ask experienced hikers about routes and most importantly don't let the pull of the summit lead to poor decisions, Wright said.
"The worst thing that happens is people try to summit the top when weather is trying to move in. They don't use good judgment and can get caught in lightening storms," Wright said.
It is best to start the climb by 6 or 7 a.m. to avoid afternoon thunderstorms.
"You have to allow at least an hour per 1,000-feet elevation gain going up and down," Lloyd said.
Additional information including directions, routes and updated forums about climbing fourteeners is readily available online at www.14ers.com.
Wright recommends guidebooks such as Gerry Roach's "Colorado's Fourteeners: From Hikes to Climbs," as a good resource for people considering a climb.
The OAP located in the Student Recreation Center also has several guidebooks, maps and experienced people to ask questions and find routes.
They are offering a hiking clinic, "Hiking in Colorado: Places to Go, What to Know" today at 7:30 p.m. in the Student Recreation Lounge. There will be free maps, flyers, trail food to sample and a raffle.