Flying to Sandpoint, Idaho, Canada (Calgary, Invermere, Tsuniah Lake) and San Juan Island
June 30-July 15, 2018
Index page and full trip reports

A 2-week flying vacation, from California to Canada! This is a condensed flying-focused and mostly-photo trip report - for more details go back to the main page.

The first leg of our trip was from Truckee to Sandpoint, ID (KTRK to KSZT). The kids were super stoked, and 10 minutes into the flight fell asleep... few things in life are as good as that feeling :) We basically flew direct, with a small deviation to go over Baker City Oregon to keep us away from the mountains west of it, due to turbulence. We were mostly at 9500'. Unfortunately, it was pretty bumpy and we had a constant 20-30 knot headwind the entire way - ugh! We couldn't go higher because of clouds once we got to Idaho - the clouds appeared around Moscow ID. The weather in Sandpoint was forecast to be 4000' ceilings but it ended up being 2500' OVC and it started raining shortly after we arrived. There was a gusty south wind and we landed on runway 20 - reminded me of landing on 20 in Truckee in similar conditions! It was a good thing we had decided to spend the night there... On our last trip to Calgary we just stopped for fuel and lunch before continuing on, but it was a bit too exhausting on everyone.

The next morning we flew from Sandpoint to Calgary. The weather was scattered clouds on both sides, but there were was a more solid broken layer over the mountains. We could have flown under it and followed the highways, but it would have meant wind and turbulence... instead, I elected to stay on top of the clouds and we enjoyed extremely smooth air and a nice tailwind (the only leg of the trip that had a tailwind, as it happened). We flew at 11,500' but had to go higher to stay on top of the clouds... but in Canada the limit for VFR flight is 12,500. To go IFR we would have needed to climb to 15,000, and put on oxygen on everyone... while we had cannulas for the kids, we weren't prepared for this. I detoured a bit south over Crowsnest Pass and things worked out - once we were east of the Rockies the clouds dissipated and we could descend. The flight into Calgary was straightforward and once we landed, I taxied to the flying club and called CANPASS once we got out of the plane. I was on hold for about 10 minutes but eventually someone answered, asked me if anything changed (it hadn't), and wished us a happy stay in Canada! Gotta love the Canadian customs experience. :-)

After a week in Calgary/Canmore/Banff, we decided to fly to Invermere BC (CAA8). It's a private airport, so I contacted them a few days before and they were super welcoming, also giving me permission to land. We were planning to fly at 12,500 but ended up staying at 10,500 and taking some pictures of the mountains, including getting close to Mt Assiniboine. I had climbed Assiniboine in 2007 and hiked through there a few years before that, so it was great to see the area from the air! Flying over the Rockies on a day like this was absolutely amazing, a few snapshots below:

From Invermere (CAA8) we flew to Tsuniah Lake (CAF4). We had lunch at the Kicking Horse Cafe that's right next to the Invermere airport, and departed at the kids nap time (a trick we've learned over time) ;) The plan was to gain some altitude flying north in the valley, and then fly over to check out the Bugaboos. I've been there a few times, and most recently Melissa and I went climbing there in 2013. Flying over was absolutely amazing. We flew at 10,500 and just south of the Bugaboos. We flew through more spectacular mountains (some peaks named Pitons? that I couldn't find info on), Revelstoke, Shuswap lake, etc. and next thing you know, we were pulling into Tsuniah Lake airport about two hours after departing Invermere! :)

Tsuniah Lake is a premier fly-in destination, more photos here. It has a 4000' grass runway - runway 04 slopes uphill but of course both can be used for take-offs and landings. I took a short video of our take-off from runway 22 to give an idea of what it's like. In our 4th day it was time to go onto the next chapter - we were planning to fly to Friday Harbor airport on San Juan Island in Washington, clear customs there, and stay for a couple of nights. The flight from Tsuniah Lake (CAF4) to Friday Harbor (KFHR) is one of the most spectacular flights we've ever done - we flew over Chilko Lake, then Tatlayoko lake, and we followed the Hamathko river to Bute inlet and Campbell River. From there, we followed the east shore of Vancouver island down to San Juan Island (basically direct from CYBL to KFHR).

Landing at KFHR was uneventful but we did have to clear customs there. We were 12 minutes late mostly because we had a 20 knot headwind, and the forecasted wind was supposed to be a 15 knot tailwind, so my flight calculations weren't accurate. The CBP officer asked me why I was late and was very grumpy throughout... kind of put a bad taste in our mouth. Then there was no taxi company available, and no uber on the island, so I had to walk over and rent a car (luckily one was available). Nevertheless, we had a fantastic 2 days touring around the island, and before long it was time to go home! After 2 weeks of travelling we were excited to go home. :) We flew direct from Friday Harbor and Truckee which took us right over Mount St Helens. Checking it out was cool! We were at 9500 at the time and when I was getting close, Seattle Center asked me "N997R, confirm you have Mt St Helens in sight, 12 o'clock 3 miles" :) Yes, we didn't have our heads down and weren't planning to run into it! After that, the flight was a bit hot and bumpy, we were at 11,500 and had to deviate slightly for a couple of thunderstorms between Susanville and Truckee - but it wasn't bad. We were on the ground about 4 hours after starting!

Here is a skyvector link.

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