Fall is in the air, Boulderites. The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting cooler, and swaths of autumn color are popping up in town and on the trails. In places like Indian Peaks and Rocky Mountain National Park, the aspen trees have already begun to turn gold. In a matter of weeks, Colorado’s high country will be blanketed in fresh snow once again.
If bagging high peaks is your thing, September is your last chance to grab them while the trails are still dry. It’s also the best time to enjoy them without the big summer crowds. Sure, you’ll need to pack a few more layers and keep an eye on the weather forecast, but experienced locals agree that September is the perfect time for big summits.
A little more than an hour from Boulder, James Peak is a 13er (13,294 feet, to be exact) that’s most easily accessed from the popular St. Mary’s Glacier Trailhead. If you attempt it on a nice Saturday in July, you’ll be fighting your way through throngs of sightseeing tourists, picnickers, and other day hikers. But if you save it for September, you’ll enjoy a much quieter day, gorgeous fall scenery, and one more chance to “get high” before micro-spikes and snowshoes are required.
The timing couldn’t be better and this classic 13er is only a short drive away, so let’s take a field trip to James Peak.
As with all 13ers and 14ers, you’ll need to observe the cardinal rules: (1) Start early to ensure you’re back below tree line by 1:00 pm (before afternoon thunderstorms roll in). (2) Pack the ten hiking essentials. (3) Pay attention to any signs of altitude sickness in you or your hiking partner(s). If you or anyone in your party becomes unwell, descend as quickly as possible.