This will be the longest section because of the scenery as well
as the number of days, so it is broken up into this page and a second page to help those with a slow
connection or a slow computer.
14 June Rocky Mountaineer (Vancouver-Hell's Gate-Kamloops, BC)
The Rocky Mountaineer is an operating company using Canadian
Pacific and Canadian National tracks throughout the Canadian
Rockies. The trains travel only during daylight so nothing is
missed. For the first leg of our transcontinental rail journey
we were booked on the "First Passage to the West" which follows
the Canadian Pacific route through the Rocky Mountains.
Unfortunately, when we were driven to the station near Vancouver there was no train! There had been a freight derailment in the famous Spiral Tunnels (east of Kamloops) and the train had been unable to get to Vancouver in time. It would meet us in Kamloops for the second day's travel. So, the first day turned into a bus trip with a fleet of full-sized tour buses, using the Trans-National Highway Canada 1 which parallels the tracks for much of the distance to Kamloops. We felt that the company and staff did an excellent job with the contingency plans for a situation clearly beyond their control.
The route follows the Fraser River upstream through the Coastal
Range and the Selkirk Mountains, through the Fraser River Gorge
to the confluence of the Thompson River with the Fraser. The
Fraser is a vigorous river laden with silt and rock "flour" --
we could see the murky water from the Fraser side-by-side with
clearer water of the Strait of Georgia during our ferry trip
from Vancouver to Victoria. This effect stretches for miles down
the coast from the delta of the Fraser River.
About 25 miles (40 km) downstream from the Thompson-Fraser River confluence is Hells Gate, a constriction within a deep gorge. The river, the Transcontinental Highway, and both the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National pass through the gorge. So we would have seen Hells Gate from the Rocky Mountaineer train, just not a great view. Traveling in buses, however, we were able to stop and take the cable car/tramway down and across the Hell Gate.
At this point, it is relevant to point out that John is NOT
fond of cliffs, fire towers, glass elevators, cable
cars, suspension bridges and floors with open
grid or, worst, glass. He has always had this acrophobia,
even a step ladder is a trial. (Italics indicate "features"
present here. Add a 30 mph (48 kph) wind with higher gusts
blowing upstream, swaying the gondolas just for "fun".)
Nevertheless, we both went.
(Above) The view from the upper station and the highway. Beyond the lower station are the Canadian National tracks.
(Below) Looking downstream and more or less south from the
(Above) John standing well back from the edge, thinning hair
blown back by the wind.
(Below) A statue commemorating the first water level traversal of the Hells Gate. White water rafters now do navigate this when the flow and depth are within safe limits.
Downstream from Hells Gate on the suspension bridge. The freight train is westbound to Vancouver on the Canadian Pacific tracks. The Rocky Mountaineer would have been using these tracks in the opposite direction. Eastbound freight trains use the Canadian National tracks because of lesser grades. Near the top of the photo is the ledge on which the Trans-Canada Highway runs.
Both railroads and the highway leave the Fraser River and use the Thompson River heading upstream and east to Kamloops, BC. The Rocky Mountaineer disperses its passengers (whether arriving by bus or by train) throughout Kamloops in various hotels, which one apparently determined by which railroad car you are in. There was major shuffling as the buses had not been assigned by railroad car. (The next morning's transfer, however, was easy and direct.)
We were assigned to the Hotel
540 in Kamloops by the Rocky Mountaineer and ate across
the street at Frick
and Frack, pub with outside tables, 130 beers and ales,
and a mildly eccentric character. It was a fine evening and we
enjoyed our meal. We walked after dinner, crossing over the
railroad tracks and finding both the Rocky Mountaineer offices
and Riverside Park right at the confluence. There was an Ogopogo
fountain in the park! (This photo taken on John's smartphone as
we had not taken our cameras to dinner.)
15 June Rocky Mountaineer (Kamloops, BC to Banff, AB)
At last a train! A bus carried us the four or five blocks we had walked the night before. And there it was! We were in the last of the "Gold Leaf Service" cars and thus also the last car on the train. Gold Leaf uses bi-level cars with seats upstairs under full wraparound windows and dining room, restrooms, and open-air vestibule downstairs. The Rocky Mountaineer lives up to its reputation for quality, service and drama.
Though we had missed the first day,
the second day was certainly spectacular. From Kamloops, the
scenery gets more and more vertical with each mile eastward.
Finally about 10 miles west of Lake Louise, the tracks enter
the Lower and then Upper Spiral
Tunnels (inside Yoho National Park). The two tunnels
are in different mountains and gain about 105 feet (32m)
elevation in the climb to Kicking Horse Pass and the
Continental Divide. Freight trains are long enough to cross
over themselves but not the passenger trains. Fortunately,
there was no derailment that day so we could enjoy the
experience. The following was a quick-grab shot, but it does
illustrate the drama of this location. We have just emerged
from climbing through the Lower Spiral Tunnel and are
crossing the valley and the tracks to enter the Upper
Tunnel. As with so many other attempts the best railway
photography is not on the train but beside the
After dropping off some of the passengers at Lake Louise, Alberta (new province, new time zone, eastern side of the Continental Divide), the train traveled to Banff where we got off and were transferred to our hotel, the Rimrock Resort Hotel.
We've been in some great hotels, but the view from this room 718 was jaw-dropping, drop-dead gorgeous. We just stood and stared for a couple of minutes. We suppose there are hotels in the Alps to rival this, but this tops our list at the moment. (The following is a two-frame merged shot out of the windows, reflection and all. Late afternoon, 15 June, facing roughly northeast) We turned the two side chairs around from facing the room to facing THIS!
The town of Banff lies below the central peak of
Cascade Mountain. At the far left is part of Mount Norquay
and at the far right is part of Mount Rundle. The two
smaller mountains just outside the town are Snow Peak (left)
and Tunnel Mountain. The Bow River is visible twice in right
center. The Bow River flows east to Hudson Bay and
eventually the Atlantic Ocean. Just a few days after we left
the area, the Bow and other area rivers severely flooded
Calgary and other downstream communities after heavy
rainfall. We were on our way to Toronto when this happened
though the rains were in the forecast while we were there.
The hotel sits on the side of Sulphur Mountain.
Ground floor is the seventh floor (the one our room was on),
with seven floors down and two up from there.
16 June (Banff, AB)
We had a "Best of Banff" tour in the morning
(Sundog) which included the Banff
Gondola ride up Sulphur Mountain. The lower station is
only about a quarter mile or so from Rimrock, an easy walk,
but our tour guide picked up at the hotel and took us there
first hoping to beat the other tours (only partially
successful). Yes, it was another gondola ride, but this one
John had been prepared for and well worth it! (A four-frame
merged panorama, looking roughly northwest)