Opal ridge: No semi-precious stones, but still a hidden gem
The valley of Silvern Creek cuts deliciously into the heart of a mountain knot just west of Smithers, a knot that consists of Hudson Bay Mountain, Mount Evelyn, Hankin Peak and the mysterious Turquoise Range. Hikers going up the Silvern Lakes trail find themselves going up this valley and skirting around the lower reaches of the back, or west side, of Hudson Bay Mountain while rocky pinnacles tower above.
Yet looking across Silvern Creek to the west, the other side of the valley is just a friendly-looking, flat-topped, grassy ridge. It seems like there is a lot of gentle alpine terrain up there. How do we get there? That’s what I wanted to know the first time I saw it.
In fact, there is a trail. This ridge, which reaches down from the heights of the Turquoise Range, has been informally named Opal Ridge and a trail goes up its southeast nose. It is no paragon of carefully constructed grade—that’s just a nice way of saying it goes straight uphill—but it will get you there and the complex alpine area on top is delightful to explore.
Leaving Smithers on the ski hill road, or Hudson Bay Mountain Road, turn left on the McDonell Forest Service Road some 13.7 km out of Smithers. This is the McDonell km 0. Pass the turn-offs on the right for the Duthie West trailhead (at km 9) and the Silvern Lakes trailhead (just before km 10) in favour of another unsigned, unnamed road on the right just before KM 11.
Once you’ve turned, you’ll pass a dead car on your right and continue for over a kilometre, passing through old cutblocks until the road becomes undrivable. Park here and continue walking on the same road, which eventually turns into a trail and begins ascending.
It takes about an hour and 20 minutes to ascend the 600 m to treeline. Mark carefully where you come out of the forest because the ridgetop hosts all sorts of interesting mini-ridges and valleys of its own, and when returning it can be tricky to find the trail or spot that unique tree where you think it begins.
There are some seriously beautiful small lakes hidden away between the folds of the ridge. As well, you can follow the main ridge north and, after passing through a narrow neck, ascend the Turquoise Range.
Opals, turquoise—the truth is, it’s not likely you’ll find any of these semi-precious stones here. The rock is mostly the same friable, maroon, purple or grey volcanics that Hudson Bay Mountain is made of. (The real name of this rock is the Telkwa Formation.) Nonetheless, as on Hudson Bay Mountain, there are patches of the beautiful, blocky, whitish intrusive granodiorites called Bulkley Plutonic Suite. Hunt around! You never know what you will find.