Opal 35 Project

Page Type
Alberta, Canada, North America
Hiking, Mountaineering, Trad Climbing, Scrambling
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
10161 ft / 3097 m
3606 Hits
73.06% Score
Log in
to vote
Page By:
Opal 35 Project
Created On: May 10, 2012
Last Edited On: Jul 19, 2017


Being a lifelong Calgarian who really likes mountains, the nearby Kananaskis Country provides an excellent playground. The Opal Range is a strikingly sharp and rugged range that provides a jagged transition from the low foothills to the main range along the continental divide in K-country. Over the years I climbed the occasional Opal Range peak, but didn’t really consider the entire range as an objective. Now I have.

I have compiled a wish list of 35 Opal Range summits or highpoints; most of these are unofficial summits, but many have significant prominence and isolation. Below is a summary table that I will update over time as I tick off these highpoints. I am not in rush to complete this project, but likely to complete in the list in about 4 or 5 years? A detailed description of peak prominence and general facts about these mountains follows.

Tick List

Highpoint reference Highpoint elevation (m) Climbed ?
Mt. Evan-Thomas 3097 YES
Elpoca Mtn. 3036 YES
Tombstone Mtn. 3029 YES
’Ripsaw’ 3008 not yet
Mt. Packenham 3000 YES
’Mt. Potts’ 3000 YES
’Mt. Denny’ 3000 YES
’Tombstone South’ 3000 YES
Mt. Jerram 2996 YES
Mt. Blane 2993 YES
’Cat’s Ears - north’ 2960 not yet
’Cat’s Ears - south’ 2960 not yet
Mt. Burney 2934 YES
’Mt. Barham’ 2920 not yet
’The Blade’ 2920 not yet
'Rocky Peak' 2915 YES
Mt. Hood 2903 YES
Mt. Brock 2902 YES
’Mt. Schlee’ 2850 YES
’South Schlee’ 2800 YES
’Little Tombstone’ 2800 YES
Mt. Wintour 2700 YES
’Elpoca Tower’ 2680 not yet
Gap Mtn. 2675 YES
The Wedge 2667 YES
’Little Evan’ 2665 YES
Opal Ridge (north) 2575 YES
Opal Ridge (south) 2575 YES
’Grizzly Peak’ 2545 YES
’Opoca Peak’ 2480 not yet
’Mt. Mackay’ 2455 YES
’Mackay Hills - centre’ 2440 YES
’East Opoca’ 2425 YES
King Creek Ridge 2425 YES
Limestone Mtn. 2173 YES

What is the Opal Range?

When I first had the thought to climb all the summits of the Opal Range, I wasn’t really sure of the boundaries of the range. The only two written descriptions of the range I found seemed off. These both ended the northern edge of the range along Rocky Creek, between The Wedge and Opal Ridge. This effectively makes The Wedge, Limestone Mountain and the Mackay Hills their own mountain range.

One of the descriptions included several mountains in the Elbow River loop area, but these mountains are clearly in the Fisher Range, had the same physical structure and rock composition of the Fisher Range and had a major drainage system separating them from the Opal Range.

It seems logical to me that the major valley bottoms and primary passes provided the most definitive boundary of any mountain range. Physical formation and rock composition of mountains help with the fining tuning of the boundaries. In my view, The Wedge is very similar in composition and formation to the main range of the Opals, also Evan-Thomas Creek is a higher order stream with a much larger valley than Rocky Creek, thus I included this small cluster of minor peaks.

Other major water courses and passes seemed obvious to me and I defined the Opal Range with an approximate area of 185.0 square kilometres (70 square miles) using the area bounded by the Kananaskis River/Pocaterra Creek, Evan-Thomas Creek, the Little Elbow River and a small section of the Elbow River. These principle watercourses flow from several primary passes; Tombstone Pass (2270m), Evan-Thomas Pass (2180m) and Elbow Pass (2085m).

Opal Range MapOpal Range Boundary

How many peaks are in the Opal Range?

Good question. The number of officially named mountains is easy. Until 1961, the Federal Government of Canada through the Geographical Names Board of Canada had jurisdiction over all geographical names, since then the relative Provincial Government has the authority. In Alberta, the Geographic Names Program reviews and approves any geographical name.

Within the land area of the Opal Range I defined there are 15 officially named summits. There are about 10 peaks with “local names” that seemed to be somewhat accepted or used on frequent basis.

At first when I was conceptualizing this project I was only going to seek out the officially named summits, but there are many interesting summits that do not have certified names, several with cool routes. Then I was only going to climbed “interesting” peaks, but what does that mean?

Looking at an analysis of prominence to identify “true” summits was my next method, but similar to the interesting peaks, this is also difficult determine. There is no set standard of measurement or degree of separation to determine a separate summit by any of the governing bodies in Canada, nor could I determine any consistent method from other nations. Also, many of the methods would eliminate highpoints that I want to climb because of the route, or interesting position.

In the end I decided that any summit with a prominence of 100 metres or more, and any highpoint that was interesting to me, I would ascend. This way I get to climb more peaks! This works out to 35 highpoints in the Opal Range.

Analysis Method

When I was investigating the prominence measure as a method to determine the appropriate number of summits, I did perform an analysis of all the ridgelines in the Opal Range. Using the Federal Government of Canada, National Topographic Maps, I measured the prominence of all significant highpoints.

Prominence method – base mapProminence method - Base map
Prominence method illustratedProminence method - Illustrated

When determining the height of the intervening key saddle or col, I used the pessimistic approach and used the highest elevation contour line of the col. As an example, the exact elevation of the col between ‘Grizzly Peak’ and Mt. Evan-Thomas is unknown and lies between the 2400 and 2440 metre contour lines. For the prominence calculation, I used 2440 metre as the col elevation, thus ‘Grizzly Peak’ has a prominence of 105 metres and Mt. Evan-Thomas, 657 metres from this shared col.

The Big Table

I have summarized the prominence analysis in a big table. This table is abridged version of my working excel table, but it highlights the prominence of all highpoints to two of its immediate neighbours. Mt. Evan-Thomas has four neighbours sharing connecting ridge lines. Mt. Hood, Mt. Jerram, ‘Cat’s Ears – south’, ‘Mt. Schlee’, Mt. Elpoca and Tombstone Mtn. (north) have three immediate neighbours. The full sized table was becoming difficult to display on screen so the neighbouring highpoints was reduced to two. Please refer to the two maps that show the contour line analysis following this table for all saddle to highpoints calculations.

Interesting facts; there are two saddles that have a prominence of zero. This relates to the coarse scale of the topographic maps and the 40 metre (131 foot) contour lines. The two saddles relate to unofficially named highpoints and include the saddles between the Mt. Blane and ‘The Blade’ and Elpoca Mtn. and ‘Elpoca Tower’

Mt. Blane and ‘The Blade’ ColMt. Blane and ‘The Blade’ Saddle
Elpoca Mtn. and ‘Elpoca Tower’ ColElpoca Mtn. and ‘Elpoca Tower’ Saddle

There are five saddles with more than 600 metres (1969 feet) of prominence (highest measurements, not including the lower highpoint elevation), the greatest being the saddle between Mt. Wintour and Mt. Jerram at 676 metres (2218 feet); saddle at 2320m and Jerram summit at 2996m (prominence to Mt. Wintour is 380m).

Highest prominence in the Opal RangeMt. Wintour and Mt. Jerram Saddle. Mt. Jerram in background. Highest prominence in the Opal Range at 676 metres (2218 feet)
Wintour/Jerram Col - Mt. Wintour to rightMt. Wintour and Mt. Jerram Saddle. Mt. Wintour to right. Prominence to Wintour Summit is 380m.

Excluding the two saddles with zero prominence, there are 12 saddles that have less than 100 metres of prominence, but only two non officially named highpoints with less than 100 metres on all adjacent saddles; ‘East Opoca Peak’ and ‘Cat’s Ear – north’. I had considered deleting these highpoints from the list, but both summits have some interesting climbing or scenic value, and with the coarse measurement of the 40 metre contour lines, and the pessimistic saddle height method; I decided to include these highpoints.

The list in the table starts with the most northern summits in the range, then proceeds southward in the list.

Highpoint reference Highpoint elevation (m) saddle A (m) saddle B (m) neighbour A (m) neighbour B (m) prominence A (m) prominence B (m)
Limestone Mtn. 2173 2120 - 2667 - 53 -
The Wedge 2667 2120 2320 2173 2455 547 347
GR 323350
’Mt. Mackay’
2455 2320 2280 2667 2440 135 175
GR 333341
’Mackay Hills - centre’
2440 2280 2320 2455 2340 160 120
Opal Ridge (north) 2575 2480 - 2575 - 95 -
Opal Ridge (south) 2575 2480 2400 2575 3000 95 600
GR 334290
’Rocky Peak’
2915 2800 - 3000 - 115 -
GR 336280
’Mt. Denny’
3000 2800 2880 2915 3000 200 120
GR 339269
’Mt. Potts’
3000 2880 2880 3000 3097 120 120
Mt. Evan-Thomas 3097 2880 2440 3000 2545 217 657
GR 328249
’Grizzly Peak’
2545 2440 - 3097 - 105 -
GR 373253
3008 2600 2480 3097 2665 408 528
GR 385256
’Little Evan’
2665 2480 - 3008 - 185 -
Mt. Packenham 3000 2760 2760 3097 2903 240 240
Mt. Hood 2903 2760 2720 3000 2902 143 183
King Creek Ridge 2425 2240 - 2903 - 185 -
Mt. Brock 2902 2720 2600 2903 2993 182 302
Mt. Blane 2993 2600 2920 2902 2920 393 0
GR 361210
’The Blade’
2920 2920 2800 2993 2920 0 120
GR 363205
’Mt. Barham’
2920 2800 2800 2920 2934 120 120
Mt. Burney 2934 2800 2840 2920 2996 134 94
Mt. Jerram 2996 2840 2920 2934 2960 156 76
Mt. Wintour 2700 2320 - 2996 - 380 -
GR 383179
’Cat’s Ears -north’
2960 2920 2920 2996 2960 40 40
GR 385179
’Cat’s Ears -south’
2960 2920 2600 2960 3029 40 360
GR 385168
’Mt. Schlee’
2850 2680 2720 2960 2800 170 130
GR 374159
’East Opoca’
2450 2360 2360 2850 2480 80 80
GR 368155
’Opoca Peak’
2480 2360 - 2440 - 120 -
GR 388157
’South Schlee’
2800 2720 2680 2850 3029 80 120
Elpoca Mtn. 3029 2680 2400 2800 2675 349 629
Gap Mtn. 2675 2400 - 3029 - 275 -
GR 401140
’Elpoca Tower’
2680 2680 - 3029 - 0 -
Tombstone Mtn. 3029 2600 2760 2960 3000 429 269
GR 407165
’Tombstone South’
3000 2760 - 3029 - 240 -
GR 396213
’Little Tombstone’
2800 2640 - 3029 - 160 -

Prominence measurement on topographic maps

Northern section of Opal RangeNorthern section of Opal Range

Southern section of Opal RangeSouthern section of Opal Range