The Province

RIDING ROCKY MOUNTAINEE­R TRAIN TRIP FROM VANCOUVER TO BANFF IS FULL OF WONDER

Rocky Mountainee­r brings the beauty of B.C. to you

- JIM BYERS

The rounded shape of the Sumas Mountain creeps ever closer as our Rocky Mountainee­r train clickety-clacks north and east of Vancouver. I spot wild blackberri­es alongside the train tracks and rows of corn in the fields next to perfectly weathered wooden barns.

We’re gliding past a thick green carpet of grass outside of Chilliwack with black and white cows powering through an early morning breakfast on a misty September morning.

We cross the Fraser River and begin our passage through the narrow valley. The green is replaced by dusty shades of brown and gold with perilously steep cliffs hugging the river. The Fraser has gone from wide and mild to narrow and wild with raging torrents of water slashing past the open rock as our train hugs the side of the canyon.

We make our way further up the valley and slowly slide past the fury that is Hell’s Gate. The Rocky Mountainee­r folks provide travellers with a wonderful magazine called Mile Post, which outlines hundreds of highlights along the way, complete with milemarker notations so you know where to look. They also have guides on the train to explain the history and unique attributes of each area.

The magazine talks about the thousands of Chinese workers who helped build the CP Rail section with horsedrawn scrapers, black powder and “muscle and sweat.”

Hell’s Gate makes for an exciting adventure now, but the magazine quotes 19th-century explorer Simon Fraser in a slightly less generous turn of phrase.

“We had to pass where no human being should venture,” Fraser said of the canyon in his diary in 1808.

We roll past wonderfull­y named landmarks such as Skuzzy Creek and Jackass Mountain and make our way to Lytton, where the Thompson and Fraser rivers meet.

The scenery between Lytton and Kamloops is mesmerizin­g: Dry rocky canyons with copper cliffs and slashes of red rock, deep forests of pine and old-time bridges. Our route takes us past Rainbow Canyon, but also Avalanche Alley and the Jaws of Death Gorge. I get the feeling the names in this part of the province were not dreamed up by the local tourist board, but I love the honesty.

We pull over briefly outside Lytton so a freight train can continue on its way, giving me time to admire the brilliant yellow flowers on the dusty chaparral along the Thompson River. Our guide points out a giant osprey nest on top of a telephone pole and I spot black hawks circling as well as a bald eagle overlookin­g a small lake. It flies away before I can take a picture.

The guide also talks about the colourful history of the town of Walhachin, which in the early 1900s was sometimes called “Canada’s Camelot” and was home to a vast number of apple orchards. Fancy shops and hotels sprung up, offering high tea in the fanciest dress of the times.

Then the First World War broke out and most of the young male residents, British subjects at the time, returned home to help England. The town never recovered, although there are some scattered buildings and a few residents today. Google lists the population at 31.

The light on this part of the trip is particular­ly stunning; the wide bends of the Thompson River bathed in brilliant sunshine as we pass beautiful, mirror-like lakes outside of Kamloops. As the train pulls into downtown Kamloops, a couple stands on the balcony of their apartment/condo and waves at passengers on the Mountainee­r as they get ready to disembark and bed down at a hotel for the night.

I knew the Rockies would be a highlight ; I’d driven along the Fraser, but I was navigating. This time, letting our train conductor do the work, I soak in the beauty of the Fraser Valley and the canyons.

Our second day begins with more golden light spilling onto the fields, vineyards and dry hills along the South Thompson River. We make our way to Shuswap Lake, where our guide tells us the story of Doris, a woman who lives in a yellow house in the lakeside community of Canoe.

“Doris comes out every day and waves as we go by,” the guide says. “I’m told her dog can tell the difference between the freight train whistle and the Rocky Mountainee­r whistle and barks when we’re approachin­g town.”

To thank her for the greetings, Rocky Mountainee­r hosted her on the train one day. When Doris’s train rolled past her house, a large group of Rocky Mountainee­r workers from the Kamloops office were standing on the porch waving at her.

From Canoe we begin to steadily climb into the Rockies. We pass Craigellac­hie, B.C., where the final spike was driven into the CP Rail line, uniting Canada by rail for the first time. We also skirt past glorious, deep-blue mountain lakes and craggy, snowcapped peaks.

As we roll through Glacier National Park, a woman from southern California standing next to me in the open-air compartmen­t (your best bet for shooting photos) says, “I can’t believe it.”

I’m thinking she means the mountains, but she’s talking about the air.

“That smell,” she says. “That pine tree smell. It’s fantastic!”

We roll over a bridge that sits high above a steep-sided valley and I peer over the edge to get a photo, trying to conquer my fear of heights. On the other side is a lovely waterfall, but I’m taken with the view of the valley below.

I’m in awe as we slide past Cathedral Mountain and Yoho National Park. Soon we’re in the spiral tunnels that burrow into the mountains and allow the train to climb the steep inclines near the B.C.-Alberta border.

Before I know it we’re back outside and we’ve crossed into Alberta. The rivers are suddenly running the opposite direction, toward the Atlantic Ocean instead of the Pacific, but the jaw-dropping scenery is the same.

As we get closer to Banff, the train starts rolling through a narrow valley. The Bow River, all icy green and in a mad rush out of the mountains, is only a few metres outside the train.

Soon, we roll past the bold and beautiful peaks of Castle Mountain, which commands everyone’s attention.

We have dinner in Banff and sleep at the Moose Hotel and Suites, a fine place with a huge fireplace and a nice, woodsy feel to the rooms.

The next day we have a fine lunch at Vermillion, the recently opened French brasserie-style spot at the Fairmont Banff Springs and take the Sulphur Mountain Gondola to the top of the hill so we can overlook the majesty of Banff National Park.

A memorable way to finish a remarkable trip.

JUST THE FACTS

ONE SMALL CRITIQUE: For some reason, the train’s public address system started playing 1960s tunes during the late afternoon on both days of our trip. For an hour or so, we were serenaded by The Beatles and other pop/rock stars.

HOW THEY DO IT: The Rocky Mountainee­r runs trips through B.C. and Alberta as well as train trips from Seattle to Vancouver. They also have trains between Vancouver and Jasper that stop either in Kamloops or in Whistler and in Quesnel. Extra hotel nights can be added. You can also take a circling journey from Vancouver and back. The routing includes a motor coach along the Icefields Parkway to get you between Jasper and Banff.

SERVICE LEVELS: SilverLeaf service features oversized windows and a single seating level. Meals are served at your seat. GoldLeaf service features a glass-domed coach, full-length windows and a two-level train car with meals served in a dining room on the lower level. Both include great food, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages as well as gourmet snacks. Seats are wide and comfortabl­e with buttons for reclining, a pop-up footrest and even an in-seat heater.

SPECIAL ADD-ONS: The Rocky Mountainee­r offers dozens of packages, including cruises to Alaska and special drive packages with a rental car to explore B.C. or Alberta.

COSTS: The Vancouver-Banff, Vancouver-Jasper and Vancouver-Lake Louise two-day trips start at $1,579. INFORMATIO­N:

www.rockymount­aineer.com

 ??  ??
 ?? JIM BYERS PHOTO ?? The glorious Rocky Mountains near the British Columbia and Alberta border are one of the many highlights during a trip on the Rocky Mountainee­r.
JIM BYERS PHOTO The glorious Rocky Mountains near the British Columbia and Alberta border are one of the many highlights during a trip on the Rocky Mountainee­r.
 ?? — JIM BYERS ?? Taking a two-day ride on the Rocky Mountainee­r is a tremendous way to take in the natural wonder of British Columbia, such as this view outside of Kamloops.
— JIM BYERS Taking a two-day ride on the Rocky Mountainee­r is a tremendous way to take in the natural wonder of British Columbia, such as this view outside of Kamloops.
 ?? — ROCKY MOUNTAINEE­R ?? The views aboard the Rocky Mountainee­r while travelling along the Fraser and Thompson rivers in central British Columbia are stunning.
— ROCKY MOUNTAINEE­R The views aboard the Rocky Mountainee­r while travelling along the Fraser and Thompson rivers in central British Columbia are stunning.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada