Distance: 7.5 km
Elevation gain: 1020 mView mapDownload GPS track
The south summit of Opal Ridge is a relatively easy, albeit steep, early or late season objective. The views from the top, however, easily justify doing this hike at any time of year.
The trail starts at the northeast end of the Fortress Junction service station parking lot. On the south side of the culvert, head east along the small creek, crossing to the other side when a trail becomes visible. Ascend along this trail for a short distance, intersecting the power line about 5 minutes after leaving the parking lot. Even if you miss the trail, just continue ascending and you'll come to the power line. Head north along the power line until you reach a small stream in a large streambed as a result of the floods. Cross the stream, then immediately turn right onto the trail heading up Opal Ridge; it's less than 50 feet from the stream, so don't miss it. This trail will take you all the way to the summit and is in good shape nearly the entire way, only becoming indistinct in a section of rock and scree about halfway up.
The initial ascent is through open forest, but after about 150 m of elevation gain you will be hiking on grass and rock. There are steep sections, several of which require you to use your hands for balance, but there is only minimal exposure at worst. About midway up, where the terrain gets very rocky and the trail forks multiple times, take your time to find the trail that best suits your abilities. Options on solid rock and scree exist. This was the hardest section for us and required a bit of stamina and balance at times.
After passing through the difficult rocky section, the multiple trails converge on a rocky and grassy hill just below the ridge and the walking becomes pleasant once again. Only one marginally difficult section remains - right below the ridge - but it is much easier than what you just passed through.
The views from the ridge are fantastic, but if you've got a little extra time and a little energy, the ridge traverse to the south summit is actually the easiest part of the hike and affords even better views. The cairn at the top has a summit register too, and there is a rocky shelter a few people can use to hide from the wind.