The weather forecast for Saturday, July 11 2015 wasn’t optimal for scrambling. I knew it wouldn’t be quite as bad as TheWeatherNetwork was predicting, but I don’t mess around with t-storms and so far have never been caught in one high on a mountain, due to a rigid avoidance of them. I scrapped my original plans to go to Yoho and decided at the last minute to do an easy / short peak that’s been on my radar for a few years already – the south peak of Opal Ridge.
(Predictably, the weather was pretty good all day on Saturday and with the benefit of hindsight I now wish I’d stuck to my original plans… c’est la vie!)
Nine years ago I did the Kane scramble up Opal Ridge North in February. Reading the trip report now, I didn’t sound that impressed! ;) I’m happy to report that almost a decade later, on the south end of the same ridge; I had a much better impression. I’m sure the warm, sunny weather and blooming flowers had a lot to do with the change of heart.
[The route is obvious and easy from Fortress Junction. ++]
I parked at the Fortress Junction gas station, on the far north end of the lot, and started up a small drainage on the north east corner on a trail. About 2 minutes later I noticed ribbons on the left (north) side of the small creek and followed an obvious trail through forest to a road running north-south. Since I’d made a last minute decision to do this peak, I didn’t have any beta other than a faint memory of Wietse telling me to make sure I went on climber’s left of the obvious drainage. I followed the road north, past a faint trail on climber’s right side of the drainage, which was blocked with some logs. I told myself that all I needed now was an arrow and a ribbon. And guess what? After a few more minutes I crossed an obvious drainage and low and behold; there was a log arrow across the road and a ribbon marking the access trail!! I’m not kidding either – I laughed out loud at how good that wish worked out.
[The cutline / road that runs north-south along hwy 40]
[I wanted an arrow!]
The trail is obvious from this point onward. Whenever it got faint I simply searched around a bit and usually had more options than I needed. The sign of a very popular scramble is multiple scree trails and routes and South Opal Ridge has many options, especially on the middle section where it navigates through slabby, cliffy terrain. The scrambling was very tame – this is a perfect first scramble or family scramble. Wildflowers, mountain sheep and great views of familiar peaks kept me company as I wandered up the unrelenting grade to treeline and above. A cool “rock gate” gave me access to the upper ridge and from there it was a short hike to the summit. The register was full of recent ascents, including Bob and Dinah the weekend previous – this is a very popular objective. And it should be. It’s short, easy and still has great views and 1000m height gain. I wasn’t feeling 100% but still managed to summit within 2 hours of leaving the truck. After snapping some summit shots of the scenic Opal Range vistas, I descended for a round trip time of under 3.5 hours.
[I love these bright flowers - the Gaillardia or Blanketflower.]
[Another classic beauty - the Harebell.]
[The trail is obvious in most places. The summit is on the upper left and grade never really lets off - this is a steep hike!]
[Gorgeous morning views off the lower trail]
[More gorgeous views off an interesting section of trail - Little Lawson on the right.]
[There's some easy scrambling sections - some of these can even be avoided if necessary]
[Getting higher, looking over the old Fortress Ski Resort and twin summits of Mound Kidd. ++]
[The trail transitions to scree - but it's still a highway]
[Arriving at an upper grassy bench which was the only relief from the steep grade, just before the ascent through the "gates" visible above.]
[Looking back over the nice grassy bench from the start of the "gate" section. Lawson in the background. ++]
[Tons of flowers on this scramble]
[View from near the top of the "gates" looking north up hwy 40]
[Heading for the gates]
[Looking back down the gates, Lawson, Inflexible and James Walker in the bg]
[On the upper ridge, looking back, north, as I near the south summit.]
[Looking ahead to the south summit. ++]
[View of the Opal Range from the summit. Denny, Potts, Evan-Thomas and Packenham all visible. ++]
[Looking north from the summit. ++]
[Another view north, The Wedge visible at far left.]
[Looking over the Fortress Hill ski area. The Fortress on the left with Gusty and Galatea to its right.]
[Looking south and west from the summit. ++]
[Long way down to the parking lot!]
[I love the green meadows and striking forms along the Opal Range]
[Another pano of the view to the south, showing the Lower Kananaskis Lake in the far distance and even Joffre through the haze.]
[I love this ridge view from descent - heaven for mountain sheep!]
[So many flowers - they literally carpet the entire area.]
[A large flock of sheep was grazing near the upper ridge. They didn't seem to concerned with me.]
I should have saved this for a family hike, but I enjoyed it enough that I’ll go back some day. Opal Ridge South reminded me very much of King Creek Ridge, another easy scramble that I’ve done more than once.