Opal Range (82J)
Consisting of a total of eleven named peaks (eight officially named), the range stretches from Elpoca Mountain at the southern end, north for twenty kilometres, the northwestern most peak being Mount Denny.
The range forms the eastern side of the Kananaskis Valley for a considerable distance but, with the exception of a few limited views, is largely hidden from Highway #40 by high ridges immediately west of the main Opal Range (Opal Ridge and Grizzly Peak are unofficially named points). However from near the Kananaskis Lakes on the Smith-Dorrien Trail one can look over these ridges and enjoy a good view of this spectacular range whose strata (Rundle formation) has been thrust into a near-vertical orientation. This makes for challenging climbing for mountaineers and the first recorded ascents of all the peaks in this range were not made until the 1950's.
George Dawson named the range after he discovered many small cavities lined with quartz and coated with what he thought were thin films of opal. It now seems that there is no opal, rather a similar looking chert composed of silica imbedded with various quartz impurities.
Although it is six kilometres from the northernwestern end of the range, Mount Evan-Thomas is the first officially named feature. When viewed from Lower Kananaskis Lakes it has a broad summit with two rounded peaks. Of the eleven peaks in the range, this is one of seven to honour people or ships associated with the Battle of Jutland. In fact, four are named for Rear Admirals who commanded Battle Cruiser Squadrons. Rear Admiral H. Evan-Thomas commanded the Fifth Battle Cruiser Squadron, Rear Admiral W.C. Packenham the Second, Rear Admiral H.L.A. Hood the Third, and Rear Admiral O. Brock the First. Battle Cruisers were more lightly armoured than battleships but were faster, had larger guns, and often exceeded them in size. The development of this class of warship was promoted by Winston Churchill but the battle cruisers were not particularly successful against the German battleships and at the end of Churchill's appointment as First Lord of the Admiralty, few were under construction.
Rear Admiral Hood's flagship was HMS Invincible and a mountain with its name is directly across the Kananaskis Valley from the peak. The Rear Admiral was killed and his flagship destroyed during action with German battleships.
The peaks of the Opal Range are difficult to view from Highway No. 40 as a high series of ridges block the view except where the ridges are cut by valley such as at Hood Creek and Grizzly Creek.
The best roadside viewpoint for the entire range is from the south end of Lower Kananaskis Lakes on the Smith-Dorrien Road.
Perhaps the most spectacular peak of the Opals is Mount Blane. The near vertically dipping beds are very apparent as is a distinctive notch with an isolated summit on its northern ridge known as "The Blade." This gives it character that, at least from this angle, some of the other peaks are lacking. As one drives from Kananaskis Lakes towards the junction with Highway #40, Mount Blane remains in view and it is possible to look up the King Creek Valley and get an excellent close-up look at this peak.
According to official government records, Mount Blane was named after Sir C.R. Blane, commander of the battle cruiser HMS Queen Mary which was part of Rear Admiral Brock's squadron and which was destroyed in the battle. However, the records of the Battle of Jutland indicate that C.I. Prowse was the commander of the Queen Mary and no mention is make of a C.R. Blane. Although it is known that Blane died at the Battle of Jutland, whether or not he was aboard the Queen Mary is not clear. If he was, we do not know why he and not Prowse was chosen to be honoured in this way.
An un-named high point rises just to the south of Mount Blane prior to the summit of Mount Burney. Vice-Admiral Sir Cecil Burney was the commander of the HMS Marlborough and led the First Battle Squadron during the battle.
Elpoca Mountain is the southernmost peak in the Opal Range.