A Family Adventure


Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

Flying to my parents vacation home in West Virginia isn’t as glamorous as flying to wild back country strips, but it still takes a bunch of planning and effort. Their vacation house is in Canaan Valley, up in the mountains. After much hemming and hawing in May, my parents and Tyson and I decided we had all been socially distancing enough that we could visit. Isaac could get some much needed social time. Because of our respective schedules, we couldn’t do multiple weeks back to back together. And our food ran out. So we flew down to visit on two different weeks. The flight is shorter than the drive, only four to five hours. But the flight is much harder to plan because of weather.

First leg of the flight

NH and WV often have completely different weather. So it may be good weather in one and bad in another. Or Pennsylvania may have something bad in between. The whole trip is 480 miles. By the time we fly from one end to the other, fronts can move and thunderstorms can pick up.

Mount Storm

Canaan Valley is in the West Virginia highlands, so it picks up the worst weather coming through West Virginia. Just like Mount Washington does in New Hampshire. Often the clouds sit on the Allegheny front, and fog fills the valley. The airport is at 3,210 feet. The surrounding mountains are above 4,000 feet.

Usually on the trip down we try (and fail) to get packed fast in the morning and get out of New Hampshire early enough so that thunderstorms don’t pick up in West Virginia before we arrive. We have several alternate airports short of Canaan Valley that we could use if needed. We haven’t had to use them yet.

Fog lifting from Canaan Valley

Coming back north after visiting, we pack up, and then we wait, and wait, and wait for the fog and clouds to lift enough for us to sneak out of the valley, and then drop down into the neighboring lower lands. One time we spent all day from 7AM to 3PM waiting for the clouds to lift.

Sometimes we get tailwinds and make the trip in under four hours. Sometimes we get cross winds and play with ridge soaring along the Appalachian ridges. Except for one or two grueling trips, we have stopped halfway for a rest break. Our preferred strip is the grass glider port Beltzville in Pennsylvania. It has gas, restroom, grass for the big tires, friendly people, and room to run around. I hear if you follow the dirt road down to the lake there is a small beach covered in shale flakes with fossils.

We pass over my favorite rock climbing cliff from grad school, the Shawangunk Mountains, or “Gunks” for short. I point it out every time. Isaac is never impressed. We always mean to fly 20 minutes out of the way in WV to show Isaac Seneca Rocks, but we never have time or favorable weather.

Above the clouds

And every single trip, Tyson grumbles that we need to get the Bearhawk equipped for instrument flight, and then this would be simple. We could fly up through most of the weather and into the clear.

Parked at Windwood

For pilots:

Photos from the first flight down

Photos from the first flight back

Photos from the second flight down

GPS Track from a flight to WV

The GPS track seems to be in the wrong units, so the altitude and speed graph is not working.