Mt. Wilson to Juniper Peak on the Upper Crest Ridgeline | Rainbow Mountain Wilderness, Nevada
Overview | Mt. Wilson to Juniper Peak on the Upper Crest Ridgeline | Rainbow Mountain Wilderness, Nevada
Closing the Last Remaining Gap on The Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline
This adventure closes the last remaining gap on the Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline from the North Loop Trailhead on Rocky Gap Road all the way to Mountain Springs Trailhead on Highway 160. I’m referring the entire ridgeline that has anything resembling a faint trail.
Find links to the complete video documentation, maps, detailed descriptions and images of the Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline here: https://lasvegasareatrails.com/rainbow-mountain-wilderness-nevada-overview/
Now, there is one brief remaining stretch to document, the far North stretch on the ridgeline between Willow Spring in Red Rock Canyon and Buffalo Wall. This stretch is seldom in ever traversed as it is basically a rock climb up a gully with no trail and perhaps no evidence of human passage. Still, I’ll give that far North stretch a try soon.
What You’ll See on This Stretch of The Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline
- You’ll top the ridgeline looking straight across at the summit of Mt. Wilson, so close you can almost touch it!
- Head North (left) to an even more spectacular 360-degree view at First Creek Overlook Cliff.
- Continue North to a high point looking straight down on Rainbow Mountain’s summit.
- Look across to Juniper Peak’s and Bridge Mountain’s summits.
- Look further North all the way to the Buffalo Wall summit plateau.
- See spectacular views including Mt. Charleston Wilderness, Lovell Canyon, Sheep Range, Gass Peak, the Las Vegas Valley and strip, Lake Mead, Potosi Mountain and too many points beyond to list here.
- And, of course, spectacular views of the entire Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline from the Southern end at Mountain Springs and Potosi Mountain to the Northern end at Willow Spring and White Rock Mountain.
Best Time of Year for This Adventure
- Mid Spring to Early Summer (April – June)
- Late Summer to Early Fall (Late August – October)
- Mid-Summer risks high temperatures approaching 100 degrees.
- Mid-Winter risks snow creating some potentially treacherous conditions.
Why Traverse The Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline?
- Spectacular 360-degree views, like being on a mountaintop the entire way.
- Experience of wilderness solitude: You’re not likely to see anyone on the ridgeline, especially the mid-section stretches.
- Light-to-moderate wilderness navigation skill building
- Mountain climbing experience without the vertical rock climbing element. It’s all basically a walk, though steep, loose rock sections in places.
- The ridgeline provides the least technical access point to the Rainbow Mountain peaks. However, accessing the peaks from the ridgeline requires a longer approach distance and does involve some rock climbing at a class 3 level, possibly some class 4. Be prepared and experienced.
Access Points for The Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline
Normally, those traversing the Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline or sections of the ridgeline use the following access points:
- North Loop Trailhead Northern Access Point on Rocky Gap Road
- Bridge Mountain Trailhead on Rocky Gap Road
- Saltgrass Road from Lovell Canyon Road (seldom used, but pretty magnificent)
- Rainbow Springs Road from Lovell Canyon Road (mostly used to access Little Zion, but a genuine Upper Crest Ridgeline access point in its own right)
- Mountain Springs Trailhead Southern Access Point
Navigational Strategy for The Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline
The entire Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline from the North Loop Trailhead all the way to Mountain Springs Trailhead has a faint trail to help you navigate. Here is the basic navigation strategy to stay on that faint trail:
- The entire ridgeline between the North Loop Trailhead and Mountain Springs Trailhead can be traversed at the class 2 level of climbing (basically, no hands needed).
- One side of the ridgeline has a sharp cliff drop-off, the other side is a more gradual, but steep loose rock slope.
- The sharp cliff drop-off is on the East side of the ridgeline from the North Loop Trailhead access area to North Peak.
- The sharp cliff drop-off is on the West side of the ridgeline from North Peak to Mountain Springs.
- Stay high on the ridgeline, near the upper edge of the side where there is a cliff drop-off. That’s where you’ll find the faint trail, and the view is better.
- Don’t stray down the more gradual side unless you have to do so. If you do, you’ll be more likely to lose the faint trail and spin off the ridgeline.
- Keep your eye on the next high point as you navigate from high point to high point along the ridgeline.
Single or Multiple Adventures on The Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline?
Single Adventure Strategy:
- Have 2 vehicles, one parked at each end or,
- Be prepared to spend one or more nights on the ridgeline or,
- Be an ultra-distance athlete prepared to traverse the entire ridgeline in both directions on one of the longest days of the year.
- Note: If you’re doing the single adventure strategy, I strongly suggest you have first become familiar with the various stretches on the ridgeline between the above access points. See the “Multiple Adventure Strategy” below.
Multiple Adventure Strategy:
- Take the ridgeline from one access point to the next.
- You can return to your starting point via Rocky Gap Road or Lovell Canyon Road or,
- You can do an out and back on the ridgeline beginning and ending at the same access point.
- Build your ridgeline familiarity with shorter ridgeline stretches before going for longer stretches.
Route Starting Point Directions | Mt. Wilson to Juniper Peak on the Upper Crest Ridgeline | Rainbow Mountain Wilderness, Nevada
Take Hwy 160 from Las Vegas toward Pahrump. The highway ascends over a “hump” (the Potosi Mountain area). There’s a saying around here, “Over the hump to Pahrump”. Well, you’ve just traveled over that hump. Around 4-5 miles from the point where the highway begins to descend toward Pahrump there is a well-marked sign on the right for Lovell Canyon Road.
Locating the Intersection of Lovell Canyon Road and Saltgrass Road
Proceed a couple miles up the well-paved road to Lovell Canyon Campground. You will park at the intersection of Lovell Canyon Road and Saltgrass Road which will be on the right. However, there is no sign that says “Saltgrass Road”. Your only indication that you are at the intersection of Lovell Canyon Road and Saltgrass Road is a small marker on the right indicating Road: #45540. If you’re going to proceed from this point on foot, find a place to park near that intersection.
Route Observations | Mt. Wilson to Juniper Peak on the Upper Crest Ridgeline | Rainbow Mountain Wilderness, Nevada
Lovell Canyon Road to the Ridgeline Access Ridge
Beginning at the intersection of Lovell Canyon Road and Forest Road #45540 (Saltgrass Road), head up Saltgrass Road.
- Note: You will not see any sign identifying Saltgrass Road, only a sign post identifying Road #45540.
- I mistakenly parked on Lovell Canyon Road about a half-mile below the intersection with Saltgrass Road. It was still possible to make the Saltgrass Road connection.
- At the end of the adventure I located the exact intersection of Saltgrass Road and Lovell Canyon Road and video documented that location.
- There is a large, long bluff immediately to the West and above Lovell Canyon Road. The Saltgrass intersection is at the upper edge of that bluff. This bluff will be the landmark you can see all the way to the summit of the Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline.
Saltgrass Road will end at a gap in the Wilson Ridge. If you have a 4WD road you could park at the upper end of Saltgrass Road and begin there. From the upper end of Saltgrass Road, continue on foot straight through the Wilson Ridge gap on a trail or in a wide wash.
Upper Crest Ridgeline Access Ridges and High Points
Once through the Wilson Ridge gap, angle left to ascend the first in a series of high points. You could alternately stay in washes to avoid the initial high points, but the high points give a better view. As you ascend that initial high point look back and note the landmark bluff, remembering that your car (if 2WD) is at the right edge of that bluff.
From the first high point beyond the Wilson Ridge Gap, you can clearly see your target point on the Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline. It’s just South of the First Creek Overlook Cliff. There’s a kind of level, rocky plateau just South of First Creek Overlook Cliff. Aim for that plateau. Note the various high points and ridges between where you are and your ridgeline target point. Read the intervening terrain and chart your course. You’ll descend and re-ascend a few intervening high points before reaching the final approach ridge. See the video and slideshow on this page which document the route. There’s more than one route. Curiously, I’ve accidentally varied the route each of the three times I’ve made this ridgeline ascent, but the variations did not make a huge difference.
Arrival on The Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline!
As you top the Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline, you’ll be surprised by a spectacular view of the summit of Mt. Wilson along with the length of First Creek Canyon to the right (South). Enjoy the 36o-degree views including Indecision Peak, just South, the ridgeline all the way to Potosi Mountain and the Rainbow Mountain peaks to the North including Rainbow Mountain and Bridge Mountain. To the East you can see portions of Blue Diamond Hill, the Las Vegas Valley, Lake Mead area and points beyond. To the West you can see all the way to the Panamint Range on the West side of Death Valley.
Heading North on The Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline
The first high point to the North is First Creek Overlook Cliff. Watching for the faint Upper Crest Ridgeline trail, head North to First Creek Overlook Cliff for even more spectacular views. Watch for a natural arch (see the video and slideshow) in the First Creek Overlook Cliff area. The arch perfectly frames Mt. Wilson!
Ridge Above Rainbow Mountain
Remembering to navigate high on the Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline to stay on the faint ridgeline trail, now continue North to the next 2-3 high points, until you reach the high point ridge above Rainbow Mountain. This ridge presents spectacular views of the Rainbow Mountain peaks to the North including Juniper Peak, Bridge Mountain, the Buffalo Wall high plateau area and beyond, all the way to Harris Mountain, Griffith Peak and Mummy Mountain in the Mt. Charleston Wilderness. From that high point you can also look down upon a saddle in the Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline you will need to descend to in order to continue North on the ridgeline or circle around back to Saltgrass Road.
Circling Back to Saltgrass Road – The Gully from Hell!
Here is where I took a route I might never take again! I headed West on a ridge back toward the Wilson Ridge, imagining that ridge would descend to the lower wash that would take me back to Saltgrass Road. Wrong! That ridge ended in a cliff. So I took a gully to the left (South) which angled toward that lower wash. That turned out to be “The Gully from Hell“! It was narrow, chocked with brush so thick in places you would not see the ground including small boulders and ledges you needed to descend. There were places that it took a lot of effort to push through the brush. No open stretches in this gully! But, to say something favorable about the gully, it did gradually take me down to the lower wash without any vertical cliff drop-offs.
Better Descent Couse Suggestion
If I had it to do over again, I would have descended to the Upper Crest Ridgeline saddle just North of Rainbow Mountain, then circled left (West) back toward the lower wash that led to Saltgrass Road. Perhaps this could have presented a more open, gradual descent. Not sure, but it could not have been more difficult that “The Gully from Hell“.
Lower Wash to Upper Saltgrass Road
Regardless of which descent route you take, once you land in the lower wash at the Eastern base of the Wilson Ridgeline, head left (South) down that wash. The wash is fairly open. In places you may need to briefly ascend to the right or left above the wash to avoid fallen trees, but these minor deviations are no real problem. Eventually, as you near the Wilson Ridge gap you passed through originally, ascend to the right above the wash to find a trail that will take you all the way back to Saltgrass Road. See the video on this page where I document finding and staying on that trail.
Once on Saltgrass Road, it’s a straight shot back to Lovell Canyon Road. It’s probably later in the day by this time, so the lighting of Lovell Canyon and back up your route toward the Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline is at its best. Turn around often for some great photo opportunities!
Summary of This Adventure on The Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline
Congratulations! You’ve immersed yourself totally in the wilderness for an entire day, in a magical area with spectacular views. You’ve probably not seen another human the entire day. And, you’ve grown or tested some wilderness navigation skills along the way!