Over the years, I have been lucky enough to visit many of the world’s most famous places. People often ask me which destination I would most recommend and without doubt, it has to be Canada: the friendly welcome, scenery beyond belief, wildlife, cuisine, quality hotels, the welcoming people, picture-postcard mountains, history, the people (have I said that before) and one absolute bucket list essential – a trip on the Rocky Mountaineer train.
This is the story of my experience on the world’s most spectacular rail journey.
I began in Calgary on a journey of nearly 700 miles through the Rocky Mountains to Vancouver. My first impression of the train was a relaxed, elegant, friendly, distinctly Canadian experience. The GoldLeaf carriage is a sociable place…everyone was chatting in anticipation of the glorious scenic delights to come. We followed the Bow River along a flat plain with the white tipped Rockies beckoning us towards them. It felt like approaching a mystical planet!
The group is mainly retired or semi-retired people from the UK, Australia and New Zealand, with a sprinkling of around forties. We were quickly ushered downstairs to the dining car for breakfast. Breakfast was very good, with juice, croissants, tea and a choice of cooked dishes. The train travels slowly, meandering in a snake like fashion, every turn revealing snow topped peaks, gentle slopes of conifer and potential for wildlife sightings. Glacier ice melts into mountain rivers of a stunning, fresh, blue colour. We travelled to the highest altitude of the trip, some 5000 feet.
Our first black bear is sighted, grazing on the trackside. The carriage erupts in excitement. Then on our right a frozen lake, with an eagle flying low. Everyone has their eyes peeled to the windows. It is like nature has connected with everyone’s inner soul. The mood is joyous. The advantages of GoldLeaf are many: one particular one being the height of the carriage allowing one to see over the tree tops for un-interrupted views of the majestic peaks. We are now heading downhill, through a section known as the spiral tunnels (only Rocky Mountaineer trains travel through this incredible engineering feat), created to ease the train downhill. The William Van Horn mountain range suddenly reveals itself…quite breathtaking, or as the Canadians say ‘yo ho’ meaning ‘it’s awesome’! Below is the wild Kicking Horse River.
Throughout the journey, Jennifer, our Rocky Mountaineer guide, describes the history, scenery and wildlife in an informative and amusing way. We pass Mount Cathedral (10000 ft) and Mount Ogden more “aahs” and “amazing’s” resonate from the carriage. Cameras are clicking, with the glass ceiling windows of GoldLeaf coming into their own. Jennifer told us a story about the rock slides, where her sister filmed a live slide. Rocky mountaineer include a newspaper, (The Mile Post) with great maps and articles on the history of train travel in Canada and the Rockies.
We arrive in Field at the end of the first sub-station. There are four sub stations on our journey, each about 120 miles apart. Here, we change train drivers and conductors. We enter a wider valley with the Kicking Horse River on our left and marshland on our right. Jennifer says moose love marshes, so all eyes are peeled! Drinks are served during the day and the choice is like business class on an airline (champagne excepted). You are very well looked after. We followed Kicking Horse River through the most beautiful scenery: the train traversing the river seven times. The route then opened out to a wider glacial plain, with snow covered summits on either side. We said goodbye to the Rocky Mountain peaks as the train’s speed increased and the terrain flattened.
On our right were the equally dramatic Colombian Mountains. Lunch was very enjoyable. Our meal was fresh, well presented and washed down with a glass of merlot. At lunch, the passing scenery is secondary to the conversation. When lunch ended, I headed outside on the tailgate for some fresh air and to enjoy the pleasant 20 degree temperature.
We arrived in Revelstoke, a small trading post town and where the driver and conductor changed again. Only one more sub-station left today…at our last stop Kamloops. We travel through incredible Shuswap Lake, a vast H shaped lake with over 1000 km of shoreline. The sun is shining, enhancing the scene of untold beauty. It is said that bold eagles and ospreys are common here and we sighted several nests. The train hugs the shoreline. Since lunch, many of the group have been sleeping off after effects of the merlot (myself included), but luckily all seem to be awake to admire Shuswap. I will never forget this part of the trip. It is also the point where sea salmon swim to every Autumn to lay their eggs. They swim from the Pacific Ocean inland and up river…stocks have dwindled recently due to rock falls and over fishing and the locals are trying to replace stocks with artificially inseminated salmon with some success.
We are now on the outskirts of Kamloops, our final destination for today and hugging the lower Thompson River, beautiful, gentle compared to the raging Kicking Horse River. This is a desert region: flatter, hotter and with more varied flora and fauna than the mountains. It feels at times like a river cruise, as the railroad borders all the major rivers and lakes in the Rockies. We disembark the train and transfer to the Thompson Hotel for an overnight stay. It is good to stretch my legs and have a good night’s sleep.
We are up at 7am to re-join the train. The sun was shining as we left Kamloops and immediately we travelled into more beautiful scenery. On our left Kamloops Lake (25 miles long) shone in the sunlight, with a dry, arid mountain desert providing a completely new panorama. Jennifer told us the story of the Olger Polgo, a large sea creature similar to the Loch Ness monster. Like a large snake. All eyes were peeled left towards the lake. Bears can also be spotted, but we were unlucky! We are now travelling along the banks of the stunning Thompson River, with gentle canyon like gorges on either side. A falcon appears on our right, posing for us on a post. The countryside is remote, sparse with very few dwellings. Breakfast was with a past Titan traveller and her Canadian cousin. Good company.
The Thompson River begun to flow more quickly, with white water now common. I transferred to RedLeaf, where we pass Devils Staircase, the rafting capital of the Rockies. We move from the mountain plateau and into the coastal mountains. Beautiful snow covered mountain peaks rise up high from the river. The views remain awe-inspiring. A friendly Aussie discusses the experience; he and his wife love it. The gorges are very steep now, in an area known as avalanche alley. The train authorities have a state of the art method of early rock fall detection. RedLeaf is less formal than GoldLeaf and the food and service still excellent. We arrive at Lytton, where the Thompson River meets the mighty Fraser River.
The anticipation rises. Our track is high above the raging river..magnificent. We cross it on an historic bridge at Cisco. The train slows and the cameras are out and for a reason: dramatic it certainly is. The scenery is much greener now. In RedLeaf, Alex, the attendant, runs the final of his impromptu poem competition. The subject was the spurning of the salmon and the entries were surprisingly good. Alex ran the recitals with great humour.
The river’s colour is darker chocolate colour now. We arrive at Hells Gate, the thinnest section of the Fraser River. The local fishery commission has created ladders to slow the flow of the river to help the spurning salmon swim upriver. The Fraser rages on, with steep gorges covered with pine trees with snow still topping the summits like cream on a cake. Back in GoldLeaf, lunch was excellent again. I had the soup and a lighter pasta dish. As the train nears Vancouver the Fraser widens. The steep hills give way to flat plains, villages and communities along the river bank. The Rockies become a distant backdrop; the snow topped peaks still mesmerising. Everyone is in a great mood; sorry to be through the magnificent scenery.
It has been an incredible trip; I have run out of adjectives to describe beauty and enchantment. We arrived in Vancouver, our journeys end. Rocky Mountaineer has their own station close to the centre of town. As the carriages were eased into position, we all said our goodbyes. People were saying that they did not want to get off! I felt uplifted, inspired – on one big Rocky Mountain High!
Don’t miss out, book your Rocky Mountaineer holiday with Titan in 2013 – we have 6 different itineraries to choose from (click here). And my advice is, it is worth the upgrade to SilverLeaf or GoldLeaf for a journey you will never forget…
Hugh Clayson, Titan Product Director