Switchback Spring Ridge is the ridge immediately South and above Switchback Spring off Rocky Gap Road just above Red Rock Canyon, Nevada. The spring runs year-round creating an oasis in this area of the Mojave Desert. The ridge offers a unique perspective of the entire Northern stretch of the Rainbow Mountains Upper Crest Ridgeline, the Wilson Ridge (division between Red Rock Canyon and Lovell Canyon) from below, the La Madre Ridgeline, Red Rock Canyon and beyond to the Las Vegas Valley, Strip and points beyond. As if that is not enough, the ridge is beautiful and wild ascending through a few climate zones from mid-desert to the upper Juniper and Pinyon Pine zone.
There is evidence of faint trails on the ridge (animal or human), and I found a fire ring (Native American? Modern Contemporary?) on the upper ridge at the base of the Wilson Ridge cliff line. It looks like a beautiful area to escape the heat of the lower desert during late Spring and early Fall. On this day it was comfortable even though the temperature in the Las Vegas Valley below was 90 degrees.
My original intent was to locate an ascent point through the cliffs to the summit of the Wilson Ridge, then create a circuit route along the Wilson Ridge and La Madre Ridge, finally descending through the La Madre Spring area back to the starting point at Willow Spring in Red Rock Canyon. I’ve already perfected and streamlined that descent route from the La Madre Ridgeline summit back down through La Madre Spring.
Why work out these ridgeline circuit routes? The upper ridgelines (Wilson Ridgeline, La Madre Ridgeline) are isolated and difficult to reach. Multiple approach points are necessary to make the more isolated stretches on the ridgelines accessible without multi-day, multi-vehicle, adventures. And, every stretch along these ridgelines has its own unique beauty with expansive views of the surrounding wilderness. The ridgelines are incredible, spectacular and traversing every stretch along the way is extremely rewarding! Very few, if any, people traverse these ridgelines because they are so difficult to reach due to distance and difficulty. So, I’ll try again until I discover the key that unlocks these isolated ridgeline stretches without the need for technical class 4-5 rock climbing skills. I’m not a technical rock climber, and if you’re not one, you may appreciate the non-technical routes I’ve been discovering to these isolated, beautiful ridgeline stretches.
The Eastern side of the Wilson Ridgeline is guarded by high vertical headwalls requiring class 3-5 climbing skills. It may be possible to reach the Wilson Ridgeline from Switchback Spring Ridge without exceeding the class 3 level. On this day the Wilson Ridge cliff line looked too imposing to scale. However, further exploration might still uncover a route to the summit of the ridgeline. In the meantime, Switchback Spring and the ridge above are well worth the visit.
90 degrees in the Las Vegas Valley was just at the upper edge (perhaps a bit beyond) the comfort level for this adventure. It was the first week in October. Mid Fall to Mid Spring are likely to offer the best weather conditions.
Take the Highway 159/Red Rock Canyon exit off I-215. Take a right onto the Red Rock Canyon Scenic Loop. Circle the scenic loop past the high viewpoint and on to the far Northwest side of the loop. Take a right turn to Willow Spring and park at the upper picnic area where the paved road ends.
From the Willow Spring picnic area, continue up Rocky Gap Road. You’ll soon pass the turnoff to your right for La Madre Spring and the White Rock Mountain Loop. Continue on Rocky Gap Road past that turnoff to the gully on the right just below the first sharp switchback stretch on Rocky Gap Road. You can recognize that stretch coming when you look above and see wooden fences on Rocky Gap Road guarding a few sharp curves.
As you turn right into the gully at the base of the switchback stretch, you’ll notice a faint trail. Soon a small flowing, cascading stream will appear in the gully. I believe this stream flows year-round as it was still running at the driest time of year after the heat of the Summer.
Since the gully was fairly choked with brush and there were slick mossy boulders, I ascended the ridge above and to the left (South). It was fairly easy to follow faint trails of animals or humans who had gone before, possibly for the same reason to avoid the complicated gully below. The ridge was steep, the surface was loose rock, but nothing beyond moderate difficulty, all class 2 walking. During the ascent the surrounding views became more and more expansive–another reason to choose the ridge over the gully below.
Here’s a bit of hindsight: I would later descend back to Rocky Gap Road on the far side of the ridge, landing above and a bit beyond the switchback stretch. The far side (South side) of the ridge is much more gradual, easy and could be a quicker ascent route in the future.
Once on the upper spine of the ridge, the going became much easier, the ascent more gradual. There were faint signs of trails all the way up and along the ridge. On this day I was stopped at the base of a line of imposing cliffs guarding the summit of the Wilson Ridge above. It may still be possible to weave around the right (North) side of that cliff line then circle around and up to the summit of the Wilson Ridge.
Returning down the ridge was much more gradual on the South side, all the way to its landing on Rocky Gap Road.
As I often do when reaching a barrier, the next exploration will be from above, hoping to locate a mid-point passageway weaving up and down that final rocky approach below the Wilson Ridgeline summit area. No promises at this point!!