Travel: dis­cover the beauty of Canada’s Rocky Moun­tains

Ni­cola Rus­sell takes a jour­ney on Canada’s Rocky Moun­taineer train, learn­ing to chill out and re­lax as na­ture’s majesty un­folds be­fore her eyes.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS - Ni­cola Rus­sell trav­elled to Canada and on­board the Rocky Moun­taineer cour­tesy of Rocky Moun­taineer. rocky moun­

I’m sit­ting with an ex­cel­lent glass of Bri­tish Columbian pinot gris in my hand, some aged Cana­dian ched­dar at the ready, my good pal be­side me and an in­creas­ingly spec­tac­u­lar view of the Cana­dian Rock­ies play­ing out be­fore me through glass-domed win­dows.

We’ve just had a lightly roasted salmon fil­let for lunch served on a white table­cloth in the din­ing car, where we met an en­gag­ing cou­ple who shared their love story with us, warts and all – just the way a jour­nal­ist likes it. That was fol­lowed by a stroll out to the vestibule be­tween car­riages to cap­ture moun­tain goats on our phones, which are cur­rently be­ing used only as cam­eras.

On this two-day rail jour­ney on the Rocky Moun­taineer there’s no Wi-Fi, and mo­bile cov­er­age is spo­radic at best – what it does have is some of the most dra­matic scenery in the world ac­com­pa­nied by first-class cui­sine and wines. The cliché – “it’s about the jour­ney, not the des­ti­na­tion” – is made for this trip (although the des­ti­na­tion, mag­i­cal Jasper, is it­self re­mark­able, but that’s an­other story). For now, we are about to scale moun­tains, roar through tun­nels and travel be­side miles of rivers with cas­cad­ing rapids, and I don’t even have to worry about hav­ing the right shoes.

We are on the “Jour­ney through the Clouds”, a unique train trip from Bri­tish Columbia to Al­berta,

Mt Rob­son’s snow­topped crown is an awe-in­spir­ing sight.

fol­low­ing the route of the Fraser

River and pass­ing Mount Rob­son, the high­est peak in the Cana­dian Rock­ies. The jour­ney de­parts from Van­cou­ver, stops overnight in Kam­loops and then heads for Jasper, the na­tional park fa­mous for its wan­der­ing elk and crys­tal clear lakes.

We have al­ready got off to a grand start – be­ing wel­comed onto the train with Scot­tish bag­pipes, a red car­pet, a glass of Cham­pagne – and there is a pal­pa­ble level of ex­cite­ment, plus a few nerves on my part. Not some­one who can sit still for long, I am anx­ious about how I will man­age two days lit­er­ally with my bum on a seat. The only ex­er­cise you can get on the train is walk­ing the stairs for breakfast and lunch, and strolling the aisles to get to the be­tween-car­riage vestibules for wildlife and scenery spot­ting.

Later, af­ter nine hours on the train, I find that Kam­loops’ River­side Park pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity to con­trol my hy­per­ac­tiv­ity. I go for an evening stroll in the park and a short run the next morn­ing be­fore re­board­ing. But for now I learn there is more to the com­fort of long-dis­tance train travel than remembering to stretch my legs.

As the train chugs along in its med­i­ta­tive way, I soon re­alise I need to breathe in and out in a sim­i­lar rhythm, chill the heck out and sim­ply en­joy the ma­jes­tic (a word we use re­peat­edly on the jour­ney – to the point of ridicule – but it re­ally sums it up like no other) land­scape we are lucky to be privy to. It’s ac­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble not to ab­sorb the rhythm of the train – on our overnight stay in Kam­loops I text my friend in the ad­ja­cent ho­tel room to ask if our beds are mov­ing! They’re not.

While there is not a lot of op­por­tu­nity for phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity on

the train, there’s plenty to hap­pily sit still for.

Pas­sen­gers need not fear a postlunch snooze, be­cause the crew an­nounce any sig­nif­i­cant sight­ings or land­marks so no one misses out. On day one, as we fol­low the Fraser River through the Fraser Canyon, one of the many at­ten­dants in our car­riage points out the pass­ing at­trac­tions.

One of the most dra­matic is Hells Gate. Here the abrupt nar­row­ing of the tow­er­ing gra­n­odi­or­ite rock walls forces the wa­ter through a 35-me­tre pas­sage, which an early ex­plorer de­scribed as “a place where no hu­man should ven­ture, for surely these are the gates of Hell”. Quite safe from where we are sit­ting, but still gasp-wor­thy.

We see the in­cred­i­ble Pyra­mid Falls, de­scend­ing from a hang­ing val­ley above North Thomp­son River, and are told to watch for moun­tain goats, ea­gles and elks and, if we are for­tu­nate, bears and moose! We see all of the for­mer, none of the lat­ter, but dis­ap­point­ment is far from our minds.

Day two sees us wind­ing our way into the glo­ri­ous Cana­dian Rock­ies, where our pho­tos of yes­ter­day are usurped by the in­creas­ingly stun­ning and dra­matic scenery, peak­ing with Mt Rob­son, the pin­na­cle of the Rocky Moun­tains. Reach­ing nearly 4000 me­tres in height, its snow-topped crown is an awe-in­spir­ing sight.

We’re seated on the up­per level of the two-tier train, which is like a trav­el­ling liv­ing room, but bet­ter. At home I don’t have this view or a stream of good­ies de­liv­ered by friendly crew, who must have wellde­vel­oped stom­ach mus­cles from stay­ing up­right as we travel along the tracks. Over the two days our stom­achs get a work­out too – not from ex­er­cise but from di­gest­ing the in­cred­i­ble food pre­pared on board.

De­liv­ered to our seats are scones and jam (be­fore breakfast!), an ar­ray of snacks and a steady stream of fine Bri­tish Columbian wines – and that’s in be­tween meals. In the din­ing car we have breakfast and lunch pre­pared by a team led by award-win­ning chef Jean Pierre Guerin, who honed his culi­nary skills at Bri­tish Columbia’s five-star ho­tels and fine din­ing es­tab­lish­ments, and runs the on­board kitchen like a well-oiled ma­chine.

The food is con­sis­tently ex­cel­lent and var­ied, quite re­mark­able con­sid­er­ing the re­stric­tions of a train kitchen. Breakfast choices in­clude such things as Cana­dian ched­dar

It’s im­pos­si­ble not to ab­sorb the rhythm of the train.

souf­flé, baked and served with roasted nugget pota­toes; smoked ba­con and coun­try chicken sausages; or cran­berry ap­ple French toast. Lunch? Ten­der Fraser Val­ley chicken breast roasted whole and served over a creamy sweet pea purée; or Steel­head salmon fil­let, lightly roasted and ac­com­pa­nied by nugget pota­toes and a shaved fen­nel slaw, to name a few.

“The hard­est thing is move­ment and space,” the charm­ing Jean Pierre tells us. “Ev­ery­thing has to have a place and it has to be syn­chro­nised. Ev­ery­thing hap­pens at the same time – every gal­ley is do­ing the same task within a few min­utes.”

Dur­ing our jour­ney, the kitchen crew pre­pare 3000 meals in eight gal­leys – six gold class and four sil­ver. All food is made in the GoldLeaf gal­leys, and Sil­verLeaf pas­sen­gers have theirs re­heated in the sil­ver gal­leys. Both classes of pas­sen­ger have the same qual­ity of food; the dif­fer­ence is GoldLeaf pas­sen­gers have a greater choice of meals and eat in a din­ing room, while Sil­verLeaf are served at their seats. A tour of the train shows Sil­verLeaf is hardly a poor re­la­tion how­ever, as it too of­fers equally com­fort­able seat­ing; the main dif­fer­ence is high win­dows in com­par­i­son to domed ones.

There are a num­ber of routes to choose from on the Rocky Moun­taineer train, which runs from April through Oc­to­ber, span­ning Seat­tle, Van­cou­ver, Whistler, Kam­loops, Jasper, and Banff, all giv­ing pas­sen­gers a chance to be part of Canada’s long his­tory with rail. Be­fore the 1800s this part of the world was largely in­ac­ces­si­ble. Now the tracks are used for both tourism and freight, and I don’t tire of watch­ing the epic freight trains pass by us as they head from the United States to Canada. In my newly dis­cov­ered Zen state I at­tempt to count the car­riages, but my still busy brain com­bined with the length of the mon­strous ma­chines means I never quite make it to the end.

The two-day, 18-hour, 45km-per­hour jour­ney ends in Jasper, 900km from where we started. It would have taken eight hours to drive, but the ex­pe­ri­ence of train travel is one where time is for­got­ten – some­thing few of us get to do these days.

Mind­ful­ness is pretty trendy right now – but train trav­ellers have been prac­tis­ing it for cen­turies.

When trav­el­ling by train, time is for­got­ten.

LEFT: The Rocky Moun­taineer on its Jour­ney through the Clouds. ABOVE: Pas­sen­gers are served high-qual­ity cui­sine pre­pared in the train’s gal­leys.

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