Calgary and Denver: Part 2

Boise, ID to Calgary, AB

We started out very early this morning by waking up at 4:00 (yes that’s A.M.) and learned a valuable lesson … don’t plan an early departure on July 5 when everyone else in the neighborhood stays up late the night before celebrating with fireworks.

The sacrifice was worth it. By the time we got to the airport, the sun was up and revealed a clear blue sky — ideal conditions for a smooth and enjoyable flight. We ran through a typical preflight and placed a call to Canadian Customs so they knew what time to expect us in Calgary. Surprisingly, they still had the aircraft information on file from a trip we made in 1999. Phil only had to update their records with the new colors of the plane since it had been painted.

Our actual ground track (blue) vs. our planned route (magenta). You can see the nice shortcut we got from Donnelly to Cranbrook.

We departed Nampa, got our IFR clearance from Boise Approach: “Cleared to Calgary via heading 360 to join V253, then as filed, climb and maintain 12,000.” Even though we’ve got an IFR-approved GPS installed in the plane, I filed an airways routing rather than direct. Going direct would have required us to be at 14,000 which would mean stronger headwinds and less power output from our engine.

ATC also gave us a routing shortcut which we didn’t even request. Shortly after passing the Donnelly VOR, we were cleared direct to Cranbrook VOR (the first VOR we’d use inside Canada). That saved us several zigs and zags along the airways route, and still let us remain down at 12,000. Seattle Center handed us over to Vancouver Center just before we flew over the Canadian border. There wasn’t much difference in dealing with Canadian ATC other than a slight change of accents and a lot more “thank yous” exchanged over the radio. Not that the US ATC is rude, it’s just that most Americans pilots and controllers try to minimize the amount of time they spend on the radio.

Across the Border

We entered the tops of a few scattered clouds just before we crossed the Cranbrook VOR. The previous 3 hours of flying had been in 100% in blue skies and no turbulence. We turned right at Cranbrook and followed V112 to Calgary. The tops of the clouds were lower in this direction, and we saw a few peaks of the Canadian Rockies pushing their way up through the cloud layer.

Above the Canadian Rockies

One of the reasons we bought the Garmin GPSmap 296 is that is has a full terrain database. One the pages you can view shows any terrain within 1,000 feet of your current altitude in shades of red and yellow. As we approached the Rockies from the west, I brought up that screen and it was very reassuring to see that we were well above all the mountains in our area. Of course that same information is on our paper charts, but it was nice to have the GPS confirm that we really were in the clear, especially when flying near the Rocky Mountains.

My favorite controller was the one working the Calgary Arrivals. Each time a “roger” transmission was appropriate, he would just say “sure” with a bit of a Canadian accent. Either that or he was just emphasizing the last syllable of roGER. We were too busy laughing to know for sure. In case you were wondering “sure” is not one of the terms in the official Pilot-Controller Glossary.

Expect the ILS 16 Approach

Clouds blanketing Calgary. The speck (view the larger image for a better look) in the center is a 737 on final approach to runway 16. He was #2 in the landing sequence when we were #6. When this picture was taken, he is lined up for runway 16 and we’re being vectored downwind to get lined up for the ILS.

We enjoyed beautiful blue skies above the flat layer of clouds that was blanketing the Calgary area. Every few minutes you could see a plane appear from the cloud layer as they departed Runway 16 at Calgary. Just a few miles to the NW, you could see the planes in front of us on approach for runway 16 as they disappeared into the clouds. We were vectored for the ILS 16 approach and were informed that we were sixth in line to land. We’ve gone through clouds before, so I wasn’t expecting anything unusual. However, clouds are never routine. Though we were stabilized on the approach, the winds shifted direction as we descended requiring a new heading to keep tracking the approach. Phil did an awesome job juggling the new conditions. ATC requested him to keep our speed at 140 knots until the marker adding another challenge. As expected the airport appeared right in front of us with just another 800 feet to descend.

Our ground track on the ILS 16 approach.

When the controller first asked us to maintain 140 knots until the marker (SARCEE on the chart shown here), I was tempted to tell him “unable.” However the reported cloud ceilings were pretty high, and runway 16 is almost 13,000 feet long so getting stopped wouldn’t be a problem. After we broke out from the clouds and saw the airport, I actually had plenty of time to get the airplane slowed down enough to lower the landing gear and then down to our normal final approach speed. I ended up using only about 1,300 feet of runway.

For those of you that have read our previous trip reports, you won’t be surprised to hear that Phil had another excellent landing. I could go on and on, but that just makes him blush. I’ll stick with my usual description of feathers on marshmallows.

The Official Yellow Sticky

Our first stop was the Canadian Customs office. When traveling commercially, a customs stop is usually a time consuming process. Our experience was quick and pleasant. Phil had provided detailed information to Canadian Customs over the phone just before departing Nampa including passenger names, purpose of visit, length of stay, etc. We pulled up to the customs office, opened the door and were immediately greeted by an officer with a small yellow sticky with our “CANPASS” number written on it. We didn’t even have to unfasten our seatbelts and get out of the plane. He simply confirmed that we were visiting on holiday for three nights, and instructed us to put the number in our logbook and to enjoy our stay in Canada. Mission accomplished in a matter of minutes and no paperwork except for a yellow sticky note.


We taxied to the Shell Aerocentre, the same FBO we parked and fueled with in 1999. I called them a few weeks ago to ask for help with rental car arrangements and they were extremely helpful and efficient. They also helped me find a hotel in Calgary for Wednesday night prior to our early departure on Thursday. We found a spot to park and checked in with the front desk to pick up our rental car. The receptionist replied, “Right, you’re the ones that wanted the minivan.” She could immediately tell by the terrified look on our faces that we were not expecting to drive a minivan. Phil responded “My goal in life is to never drive a minivan.” Luckily they had other cars available and quickly redid the paperwork.

I confirmed the rental rate and proceeded to sign and initial all the appropriate places on the rental agreement. One document required a signature confirming the car was undamaged when we took possession. Phil wanted to take a look before signing and asked where the car was parked as well as the make and model. This was the first time we had realized the importance of declining the minivan. Our new rental car was a shiny red Ford Mustang GT convertible! Phil checked out the car and returned with a big smile and a bit of drool on his chin.

Prior to seeing our car, Phil and I had agreed that I would drive the 1.5 hours to Banff from Calgary since he had just flown for almost 4 hours straight. It’s the least I could do given all the work he does to make our flights well planned and safe. Besides, he wanted a chance to play with the automobile mode of our Garmin 296 GPS. However, I could see this arrangement was up for negotiation by the tight grip he had on the car keys. I was sure we would soon be arm wrestling or playing rock, paper, scissors. Lucky for Phil, I’m a total softy when it comes to his big, brown eyes. We loaded the car and Phil jumped behind the wheel. I think the top was down before I could fasten my seatbelt. Woo hoo! Fortunately Nancy is low maintenance, so she wasn’t too worried about the wind messing up her hair.

We had partly cloudy skies for the first 45 min, and then it darkened a bit and started to drizzle and we saw flashes of lightning in the distance. We weren’t ready to put the top up until we saw proof of rain. It would be a waste to drive through such beautiful scenery in a convertible with the top up.

We checked into our hotel in Banff, took a little nap and got ready for the next few days of hiking.

Series Navigation<< Calgary and Denver: Part 1Calgary and Denver: Part 3 >>

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