Canada - Opal Ridge South (with bonus grizzly sighting)

Date walked: 19/05/2015

Time taken: 5.5 hours

Distance: 8.9km

Ascent: 1019m

For quite some time I had driven past (and dropped into) Fortress Junction Gas Station along Highway 40 in Kananaskis, and every time I have looked up at Opal Ridge and thought '' I'm going to have a go at that''. So, after passing it hundreds of times I decided today was the day.

Parking for the trail head is in a large car park adjacent to Fortress Jcn Gas Station which is situated 41km south of the TransCanada Highway (from exit 118) along highway 40 (Kananaskis Trail) The trailhead is in the North-East corner of the car park.

It's just after 12.30pm when I start out along the well trodden trail which climbs up beside a small creek before turning into the forest and cutting up to a wide access road used for maintenance of powerlines along the valley. The sun is beating down and I am in for yet another warm/blue sky day.

After crossing a small side creek a good sized cairn marks the start of the ascent trail which picks it's way through dwindling forest toward the first of several 'steps' along the way. At this point the Opal Ridge towers above and is just visible through the thinning trees.

Once clear of the trees and onto the first ledge there is a nice short level section to allow a breather after the steep initial ascent, the Opal Ridge is now prominent to the south across a small culvert.

to the north views are opening up along highway 40 where the Kananaskis Range towers above the road. Mt Lawson, Mt Inflexible and Mt James Walker being the most prominent but the whole range still wears a heavy cloak of snow.

Onwards and upwards on the next level where a high meadow provides some easy going for a very short time between ascents, the trail remains easy to follow at this stage though it does dissipate later in the scree.

To the south I can now see the end of the Kananaskis Range and beyond that to the Spray Range which runs down to Kananaskis Lakes. The meadow here has a large number of Grizzly scrapes (where they dig for food) most of which are very recent.

After the short lived pleasure of the lush green meadow there follows a relentless scree slog toward a seemingly impenetrable wall, but as the route twists through boulders and over ledges an access point comes into view.

It's a bit of a scramble up through a nice opening in the wall, the going is good and the rocks have multiple hand and foot holds all along so it's just a matter of plodding on through.

once up through the crevice to the next level, turning around gives a wonderful view of Mt Lawson opposite, the lush green meadow is now a long way back down a couple of miserable scree slopes

The route continues in much the same manner, steepening here and there as I am forced to scramble over large slabby rock interspersed with loose scree.

It feels like a lot of ascent as you grind your way up, but a glimpse of the water of lower kananaskis lake on the horizon promises much and reinvigorates me

As I top out on yet another ledge which bears a large cairn the views continue to open, here overlooking the now abandoned Fortress ski area, it's road now winds it's way through the mountains to nowhere. It would make an excellent access for hikers and scramblers but for some reason it is barriered and inaccessible.

Now ahead of me the route is laid bare, the Opal Ridge South summit is away to the right of the shot (south) and the long grassier ridge with pinnacles lies to the north. Between here and there is another if those lovely high meadows just beginning to 'green up'.

Making my way across the meadow my eye catches some movement away to the south, and there, sneaking across a trail of his own making is a good sized spring Grizzly. Though he is a long way off I took a shot as he's my first of the year, you can just about see him in the middle of the shot against the snow. No matter how often you see these guys, you never get used to it.

After crossing the meadow there is another scree chute which also has a frozen waterfall embedded in it which must be negotiated to reach the ridge top between the pinnacles.

Soon I'm curving along the talus slopes which are littered with fossils of all kinds, a look back provides nice view of the ascent route and some of the steps along the way

When I reach the ridge I am surprised by the amount of snow still lurking behind the slopes and the covering on the peaks of Mt Potts, Denny and Evan Thomas. It's clear that my intended circular route won't be viable (as I need a dry creek bed and it will be anything but dry with this much snow remaining)

To the north the tops of the pinnacles are still just visible as is the faint trail across the talus to the ridge, more and more mountains come into view as I ascend the final few hundred feet along the ridge

On the ridge there is still (surprisingly) 1.5km to go but for the most part the ascent is steady, saving itself for the final scramble up to the summit. Views on both sides of the ridge are fantastic and with the hard work done it's easy to relax and meander along here at my leisure

The final grunt is a steep scree covered scramble which demands my attention, but it is short lived and soon delivers me to the top of the ridge and a short walk lands me at the summit where the view south bristles with mountains and the distant water of lower kananaskis lake.

The view north is equally impressive and the lack of snow gives away the lesser stature of the mountains in that direction, many of which are below 8000 feet

Why spoil a great view you ask...well I need to get the summit evidence shot to show I dragged myself up here. The fleece had stayed off until I reached the summit but at 8530 feet there is always going to be a little chill in the air.

Someone had the decency to construct a small shelter on the edge of the ridge so I settled there for my lunch, it is a fantastic vantage point and I really could have stayed for hours.

I had a little visitor whilst eating lunch who was happy to come and take a bit of granola bar before scampering off to somewhere with it then returning for more, he looked a bit skinny but I guess it is early spring up here and winter must be pretty hard.

On my way to make this zoomed shot of the view north I found a summit register buried in the cairn so added my usual entry and read a few of the previous ones for a while. The last before mine was a pair of brothers, the first had written ''really nice easy scramble in fantastic company'' his sibling thought otherwise ''my first scramble, bloody hard going - company was OK I suppose'' ...it made me laugh

A zoomed shot to the south, this was to be my descent route but I could see a number of good sized waterfalls falling into Grizzly Creek which I'd hoped to drop down into for the hike out so I had to shelve that idea and return the way I came.

Dropping back down was as always much faster than the ascent and once I'd made it below the 'wall' I stopped for a drink and to capture the lovely colours now the light had changed with the moving sun.

I saw this little guy on the way down, he certainly doesn't look as 'athletic' as his counterpart on the summit, he was so relaxed he just sat there as I wandered past

So, there is the Opal Ridge South. I would have preferred the circuit with Grizzly Creek rather than out and back on the same route but it was still a great hike in beautiful surroundings on a perfect spring day.

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User avatar
Location: Cochrane- Alberta - Canada
Occupation: Management Consultant - Semi Retired
Interests: Photography, Walking, Kayaking, Golf, Mountain Biking
Activity: Mountain Walker
Pub: Sutton Arms
Mountain: Mt Rainier - USA
Place: Loch Muick
Gear: Quality footwear
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Ideal day out: Getting up high and seeing the world
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