Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Elbow Canyon - A Great 4wd Trail

This is a great 4wd trail! I really enjoyed driving this little road in the northwest corner of Arizona. And I would have enjoyed it even more if I'd gone the other direction. I drove it westward = downhill. I find it less stressful to drive challenging boulder sections uphill. I'd rather put the truck in low range and just crawl up and over the rocks. Instead, I was riding the brakes almost constantly to control speed as I descended down over the boulders.

I'd say the difficulty is 4 and 5 on the Mitchell scale. The middle 5 miles is like the "rock garden" of Mengel Pass in Death Valley, or like the hard parts of Shuteye Peak in the southern Sierra mountains. However, 5 miles of hard stuff is more challenging than the short stretches of Mengel Pass or Shuteye Peak.

It grabs your attention and keeps it, for a long time. It was slow going, with typical speeds slower than walking speed. I was so focused on the road, I forgot to get out and take photos.

Here's a map of the road. If you're interested, it's an easy side trip (or loop) out of Mesquite, NV. Warning: Do NOT drive this in a standard street car. You will need high clearance, and possibly 4wd if you go uphill = eastward. The red section is Elbow Canyon (the most difficult of the roads hilited). The orange section is only moderately difficult due to an unending stream of embedded rocks in the road. The purple sections are easy.

I was returning from Utah, and I left I-15 just south of the AZ border. I've driven through the Grand Canyon Parashant National Monument several times, but I wanted to take a new route. The main roads in Parashant NM are graded and I wanted something more challenging and interesting. I was very happy to find both. The road got more difficult as soon as I turned west. Crossing a high plateau at around 7,000 feet elevation, the road had plenty of embedded rocks (the orange section). Enough to keep your speed down.

It's possible to make a loop of Elbow Canyon by starting or ending with the green section. I've driven most of that previously and it was easy.

When I finally got to the bottom warning sign, I could then relax (and pee).

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Courtney Purcell's Book of Zion Hikes

I've mentioned it in a few recent posts. While visiting Zion NP, I stopped off at the Zion Adventure Company store located just outside the park and bought a copy of Courtney Purcell's book "Zion National Park: Summit Routes."

He's amassed quite an assortment of hikes throughout the park. I'm mostly interested in the ones on the east side, but now I might try a few others.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Bighorn Sheep

I normally don't take many photos of the bighorn sheep at Zion, unless it's a big one. I took these because they caused a traffic jam of tourists stopping to take photos. Their group had become split by the highway.

I felt sorry for the sheep. They wanted to cross the highway and rejoin their group but they were afraid of the people stopped there taking photos. The bull of the group was calling to them from the top of a hill on the other side of the road.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Nippletop Peak

During my last trip to Zion NP, I tried hiking Nippletop Peak (Peak 6715) on the east side of the park. Here's a google map centered on that peak. I did not make it to the summit, and I'd really like some tips because I could not find a straight-forward route over the cliff below the summit (at 6,500 ft). Here's a photo taken from Progeny Peak showing Nippletop.

Here's a map showing my route.

This was a fun hike. The route I took was surprisingly easy. All class 2 with a short section of class 3. Here's the view from highway 9.

The initial slickrock canyon/gully looks really steep from the road, and as you approach it. But it was pretty easy to walk up.

I was reminded of the steepness each time I turned around and looked down toward the road. From that view, it looks really steep.

I was armed with the information from this post about Nippletop. It had a handy photo of the "crux" to gain the north ridge from the top of the gully. That was very helpful for finding it, as was Courtney's description in his book. I was a little above that spot, when I saw a small herd of big horn sheep taking that exact route. I barely got my camera out in time to snap 1 photo showing the tail of one going up the crux.

Here's my photo of the crux after I arrived. I was very unsure about the poor handholds, so I decided to take my alternate route.

I continued south along the east side of the hill to the large bowl on the right. My original plan was to go up via the crux route, then descend down the bowl. Continuing south toward the bowl looks like this.

The bowl is very easy. Basically, you just head deep into it, then turn right uphill (north) near the back. I followed some obvious inclines that had plenty of trees. Near the top it got steep and I was using my hands for balance. This turned out to be a nice route.

Reaching the ridge, here's a shot facing south toward Nippletop. Then some as I walked toward it.

I took these next shots where I got stuck right below the top edge of the cliff. It's quite steep there with lots of soft sand.

From back on the ridge, I took these shots using the zoom lens. I did this so I could examine them later and find a better route. I marked where I was (you can see how they correspond to the photos above).

Here's a shot of Nippletop that I took from the north ridge of Lost Peak. My GPS said I only made it to 6,500 feet.

Please leave me a comment if you know where I messed up. I wouldn't mind trying it again since it's so easy to get up there.

Safety Warning: Consider wearing leather work gloves when hiking down the steep slickrock (like in that gully). If you slip, the natural reaction is to brace your fall with your palm. That will result in a bad abrasion and losing much flesh from your hand. I am very comfortable and careful on the slickrock, and yet I slipped once coming down.

Friday, September 23, 2011


I enjoyed reading "Collaboration - How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results" by Morten Hansen. Unlike many management books, this one isn't another tomb of nice ideas and suggestions. It presents some field-tested approaches and defines what the author names disciplined collaboration, offering actionable direction and advice.

Hansen identifies 4 barriers to collaboration, and offers ways of spotting them in your organization: the not-invented-here barrier, the hoarding barrier, the search barrier, and the transfer barrier. Then he outlines 3 broad levers for attacking these barriers: unify people, cultivate T-shaped management, and build nimble networks.

Because I'm lazy, I won't try to explain the work in more detail. There are already several well written reviews on Amazon.

I will say that I liked a couple points quite a lot. I've personally seen manifestions of the not-invented-here and hoarding barriers. I also think that his T-shaped management approach would go a long way in improving collaboration. He suggests holding people accountable for how well they collaborate using measurable metrics included in their performance reviews and compensation.

I recommend this book.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Hiking Videos

I've been experimenting with different methods of recording videos of my hikes. I've learned a lot.

Mounting my GoPro to my backpack shoulder strap didn't work out so well. Lesson: the old standard GoPro has a very wide FOV lens and the result makes any flat surface look rounded. It was annoying to watch, plus the camera wasn't always pointing where I thought it was.

I also mounted my Kodak Zi8 to the backpack shoulder strap. Lesson: the video was good, but the audio was messed up by rubbing against the mount I'd fashioned.

The GoPro chest harness mount worked well, with reservations. Lesson: the video is terrific (using the new HD model). The shots were jerky when hiking on hard surfaces like Zion NP sandstone, but smooth when hiking on soft sand in the desert. The audio is very quiet, due to the GoPro plastic case. I didn't try the 2nd case with the air holes for improved audio.

I've tried taking a series of photos every minute or so, then assembling those into a video. Lesson: very very annoying to watch. The scene changes too much between the photos, so the video is very jerky. It might work better if the photos were every 30 seconds or less.

I've also recorded video and then sped it up afterward. Lesson: annoying to watch. The viewer doesn't get the sense of a hike. More annoying than enjoyable.

One of the biggest challenges has been keeping the camera steady.

During my Lost Peak hike, I tried something different. My goals were to keep the camera steady and not speed up the video. I realized that it's not necessary to record the entire hike. I used my Lumix ZS7 point-and-shoot camera. I keep it in my cargo pocket while hiking in the backcountry so I can get to it fast when I encounter wildlife.

I recorded many very short clips at sorta regular intervals. Holding the camera in my hand while walking and trying to keep it stable. Then later I strung them together in iMovie.

I'm going to use this method until I think of something better.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Management Books

Here are two books on management that I recently read, but did not find very useful.

"What to Ask the Person in the Mirror - Critical Questions for Becoming a More Effective Leader and Reaching Your Potential" by Robert Kaplan.

A primary theme of this book addresses the stark reality that many leaders and executives spend far too much of their time on matters that should be delegated or postponed. The author's time management approach helps align leaders' activity with their priorities. This involves the standard method of keeping a log of your activity and later comparing that to your previously identified priorities.

Kaplan further discusses the need to effectively communicate the team's priorities both up and down the chain. This communication must happen all the time. It must become almost habit.

He also makes the point that effective leaders coach their people and actively seek coaching themselves. Routine review and improvement in management practices and behavior can improve the performance of the entire organization.

I wasn't impressed with this book. I've seen too much of the content in other books. If you're well read, then this book will not add much.

"Read This Before Your Next Meeting" by Al Pittampalli.

Meetings are everywhere. Some days are filled with nothing but meetings. They are scheduled, attended, endured, hated, and then scheduled again. Most people are bad at holding meetings. Most people are bad at attending meetings. Most people agree with everything I just wrote. And yet, nothing changes.

A culture of meetings is very hard to change. Meetings have become ritualized in many companies. They are simply part of the work. Sometimes they are held to corner people into getting something accomplished. These are called "working meetings."

Suggesting that we change how or when we hold meetings can face stiff resistance. Almost as if you're asking people to change what neighborhood they live in. The existing dogma offers a comforting predictability.

This book offers some drastic views about how to change your meeting culture. I think its advice will achieve limited gains unless an entire organization (or sub-unit) envokes the same changes. The author proposes that meetings only be held when they meet these 7 rules:

  1. Meet only to support a decision that has already been made.
  2. Move fast and end on schedule.
  3. Limit the number of attendees.
  4. Reject the unprepared.
  5. Produce committed action plans.
  6. Refuse to be informational. Reading memos is mandatory.
  7. Work with brainstorms, not against them.

It's a very short book and is worthwhile for those serious about changing their meeting practices. Some of its advice is not new, and can be found in other sources such as GTD practices.

I have attended effective meetings that adopted a few of the 7 items above, so I think improvements don't require all elements.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Lost Peak

I hiked Lost Peak (Peak 6460) on the east side of Zion NP. Once again, I failed to reach the summit. I think I'm missing some detail about the route. I got further up this time, but stopped at a 12 foot wall. The only way I could see around it required stepping around the wall to the right onto a very steep slab. That path would be rated class 4, since if you slipped and fell, you'd die. The puzzle is ... I've seen reports by others that the north ridge route is no more than class 2. And so, I think I'm missing something here. Even Courtney Purcell reports it as class 2 in his book: "Zion National Park: Summit Routes."

This photo shows the east side of Lost Peak (taken from Nippletop). The blue line shows my route.

This photo shows the section on the north ridge where I got stuck. Please post a comment if you know where I went wrong.

Then I walked around the west side of the hill to the south side. I wanted to try the steep slickrock slope up the SE ridge. I almost attempted the SW face. It looked doable as I walked below it.

Instead, I continued to what I thought was the base of the SE ridge. I later concluded that it wasn't. I left my backpack at the base and started up the ridge. It got very steep very fast. I knew from examining the topo maps and GE that the steepest section is the bottom 80 feet or so.

I hike alone a lot, so I tend to be a bit cautious. Having said that, I still get caught going up things I can't get down safely. About half way up the steep section, I decided to see if I can safely downclimb. If I can, then It'd be easy and quick to return and continue up the hill. Well, I was glad to be wearing heavy-duty work gloves because I had to crab-walk down the hill. LOL Once down, I tried another route. The same thing happened. This photo looks up the ridge I was trying.

If I were with others, I'd probably be easily pressured to go on up the hill. But I was getting tired after having already hiked the north ridge and then around the west side. So I gave up. This photo shows the steepness of the sandstone.

About 5 minutes later, from the saddle to the east of Lost Peak, I saw what looked like a better ridge. I don't think it was the one I just abandoned. That's probably the correct ridge. It's more on the SE and less on the S side. Oh well.

Even though I failed to summit, I had a great time. Hiking around the backcountry of Zion is fun. It wasn't very hot. It might have been in the low 80s. The sky was clear with almost no breeze. A great morning to be walking around in the wilderness. Here's a google map centered on Lost Peak.

Here's a gratuitous photo of the moon before it hid behind The Watchman. I took this from my hotel room balcony at the Cliffrose Lodge. That's my current favorite hotel in Springdale, Utah.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Secrets of the FBI

I listened to the new audiobook from Ronald Kessler: "The Secrets of the FBI." I've read many of his books over the years, and they've all been interesting. This one was no different.

While the book includes plenty of material about the history of the FBI, back to the Hoover years, most of it covers the changes that have happened since 9/11. It also includes many war stories about the TacOps teams who perform legal break-ins for both criminal and intelligence cases.

After describing the history and controversies surrounding the past FBI directors, Kessler points out that Robert Mueller is the best FBI Director since Hoover. He's the only one who has lasted through his 10 year appointment. Then this year, President Obama asked him to stay on for another 2 years.

I enjoyed the book. I'm pleased to learn that the FBI has definitely grown and improved itself since 9/11.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Mazourka Canyon

After Papoose Flat, I continued south to Badger Flat and then down Mazourka Canyon to rejoin 395 at Independence. I wanted to continue on some utility roads south to Lone Pine, but a barbed wire fence across the road left me wondering if that route was open.

The road to Badger Flat was the most difficult I encountered on this trip. Several spots were harder than Laurel Canyon Road. I actually had to get out and recon two sections before driving them. I was still able to drive it all without engaging low range. Although, one spot would have been much easier if I had used low range. I almost got hung up on the tree root in the next photo.

The next photo was supposed to show the pointy jagged rocks sticking out of the road surface. But the camera auto-focused on the dirty windshield.

Here's some more pointy rocks to drive over.

More views of the Sierra mountains from the top of the Inyos.

This shot looks north, back down on Papoose Flat.

Mazourka Canyon is a boring downhill run down a windy graded dirt road. I just put the truck in 2nd gear and coasted, to save my brakes. I decided to not explore the spurs, such as Mazourka Peak. Maybe another day.