Switchback Spring Pinnacle is a sharp rocky point on the Wilson Ridge at the summit of Switchback Canyon in Southern Nevada. The Wilson Ridge is West of the Red Rock Canyon and the Rainbow Mountains and East of Lovell Canyon. This area is very isolated, seldom visited and largely unknown. Thus, the detailed location description.
Switchback Spring Pinnacle is positioned at a low point on the Wilson Ridge that may be a cross-over point between Lovell Canyon and Red Rock Canyon. It looks possible on maps, but actual sight of the route from above shows a steep, loose rock surface with ledges over significant drop-offs. The cross-over is at this point a “no-go” to all but highly experienced climbers until it is tested.
That said, the access route to the Pinnacle from Lovell Canyon is easy, beautiful and holds some interesting discoveries. As with the many other approach ridges between Lovell Canyon and the Wilson Ridgeline, this approach ridge ascends fairly gradually to a high point or pinnacle on the ridgeline.
The view from the Pinnacle is spectacular including key stretches on the ridge to the North and South, Lovell Canyon to the West, Mt. Charleston Wilderness to the North, the La Madre Ridgeline, Rainbow Mountains, Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas Valley and points beyond to the East.
The best time of year for this adventure is Spring or Fall in order to avoid treacherous icy conditions on the Wilson Ridge in the Winter and high temperatures in the Summer.
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.
Lovell Canyon Road is a beautiful stretch passing through a Joshua tree forest that soon becomes populated predominately with junipers and pines. There are ridges and meadows and many camping pull-outs along the way. This stretch reminds me a lot of the high desert area around Bend Oregon. Very open and majestic. All the while you’re looking up at the Spring mountains with Griffith Peak standing prominent. The road has very little traffic and would make a great bike, walking or running route. In fact, what an awesome backdrop for a marathon (pretty easy to add 2 miles to the 24-mile out and back stretch)!
Proceed about 11 miles up the well-paved road. There is a large parking area on the right just before the CC Springs Road intersection.
Unlike the other Wilson Ridgeline approach ridges from Lovell Canyon, this approach ridge is tucked away closer to the base of the Wilson Ridge. There are two routes to reach the approach ridge, and both begin at the start point just below the intersection of Lovell Canyon & CC Springs Roads.
In both cases, once you reach the base of the Wilson Ridgeline the incline on the approach route increases dramatically, but is still fairly gradual. And since the stretch of the Wilson Ridgeline above is at a low point, the final approach is fairly tame.
It’s important to sight your target on the Wilson Ridgeline as early as possible. In the beginning, you’re in a forest so visibility of the larger area and your target is limited. You’ll see brief glimpses of a sharp descent in the Wilson Ridgeline to the South. Aim for the base of this descent on the ridgeline. Another guiding reference is to follow a route just left of the rising sun. At any rate, you’re heading for a long low stretch on the Wilson Ridgeline. You can see the ridgeline rising dramatically on either side of this stretch. The Switchback Spring Pinnacle is on the Southern (right) edge of the long low stretch.
In this adventure I approached the Wilson Ridgeline a little above and just South (to the right) of the wide gully wash. The terrain was very open, wide and gradual. Traversing about 200ft above the gully avoided the obstacles in the gully and revealed some fascinating discoveries.
There were many sheltered areas both all along the approach and up on the Wilson Ridgeline that could have been camping areas. All appeared to have been modified with fallen trees or rows of stones for windbreaks, leveling of the ground and in many cases, fire rings. Some of the sites looked recent. Some looked as if they may have been historic Native American. In one case, there was what appeared to be a collapsed wooden structure reminiscent of the miner’s cabin at the summit of La Madre Springs, but much older.
About mid-way between Lovell Canyon Road and the Wilson Ridgeline, about 200ft above the gully there was a very extensive irrigation system complete with a central PVC pipe and smaller tributary pipes with water nozzles similar to the irrigation systems most Las Vegas area residents have on their property. The water source would likely be Sheep Spring. The main pipe stretched over a hundred yards. There was a 3-foot high plastic netted fence enclosing a large part of the irrigated area and even a stack of plant stakes. The whole system looked as if it had been abandoned for 20 years or more. Why such an extensive irrigation system in this isolated forested area? It’s a mystery.
I arrived on the Wilson Ridgeline at a distinctive bald hilltop about mid-way on the long low stretch of the ridgeline. The hill was a previous burn area. From there I headed South toward the Switchback Spring Pinnacle. This stretch of the Wilson Ridgeline is the widest, most level stretch on the entire ridgeline. It would have made a great location for Native Americans who wanted to escape the Summer heat in Red Rock Canyon and Lovell Canyon below. It’s known that the ancient inhabitants in the Willow Spring area of Red Rock Canyon, not far below, were nomadic, moving upward into the mountains during the Summer and down to Willow Spring during the Winter. This long wide level stretch on the Wilson Ridgeline is prime suspect for Summer dwellings. And, there are areas on this stretch that appear to have ancient rock borders and fire rings.
The potential descent route into the Red Rock Canyon area is located just North of Switchback Spring Pinnacle, actually between that and another prominent rocky pinnacle just North. There is a steep, loose rock channel with some exposure over ledges with significant drop-offs. I will not try this for the first time from above, but rather from below in Switchback Spring Canyon or the ridge on the South side of the canyon. This way, if the obstacles become too difficult, you can simply turn around and stay safea.
Descending back to the Lovell Canyon Road start point, I diverted to the long low ridge just North of the gully. This diversion provided some variety, a visit to Sheep Spring, and the ridgeline had a better view with an easier route than the gully wash below.
In summary, the long, low stretch on the Wilson Ridgeline is incredible. It’s wide open, level, has a spectacular 360-degree view of a large slice of Southern Nevada wilderness and would make an awesome camping area under the brilliant night sky! And, there’s a potential cross-over point between Lovell Canyon and Red Rock Canyon. If that cross-over actually pans out, a grand loop route could be made that began at the intersection of Lovell Canyon & CC Springs Roads, ascended to the summit of the Wilson Ridgeline, descended from Switchback Spring Pinnacle to Rocky Gap Road below, took Rocky Gap Road to Lovell Canyon Road, finally returning to the start point at the intersection of CC Spring Road.
But for now, I cannot recommend the descent from Switchback Spring Pinnacle to Rocky Gap Road. It’s untested and looks risky. It may not pan out. Definitely, at this point, it’s not for any but the most experienced climbers.