Friday 2 September 2022 – We didn’t exactly spring out of bed with a song on our lips, but at least we were conscious and operational in time to make it down to the hotel lobby to catch the 0645 coach to the Rocky Mountaineer that would whisk us, over the course of two days, to Banff. Many other people had the same idea
and before long a sturdily-built lady with a sturdily-built voice started the process of getting us all organised as part of the cohort of 791 guests who would be on board the train. The whole logistical process was a little slow to get going, as we stood in a queue just long enough to wonder WTF was going on, but once things started to move it all proceeded smoothly – roll call, hand over bags, get on coach, transfer to station, get on train.
The only thing I was worried about was how my backpack was going to be treated. This is the 30lb monster full of photographic and ancillary gear that I’ve been toting around as hand baggage trying to pretend that it’s not heavy in case an airline operative smells a rat; but there is no room by the seating on the train for items this chunky, so I took out the laptop before handing it over with my fingers crossed that the contents would make it OK.
We were Gold Leaf class – obviously – so we had seating upstairs with big windows, the better to see our reflections in when trying to take photos.
Dining would be downstairs – immediately in our case, as we were first seating for breakfast.
Experience – or luck – pays when choosing the right breakfast. Jane chose yoghurt and fruit, and I chose bacon and eggs. I came out ahead, as the yoghurt and fruit portion was miserably small. We also had to get used to the pace and quality of the service which were, respectively, leisurely and somewhat random. In our carriage, all the staff were friendly and willing, but not particularly skillful or well-organised. Upstairs, two lasses dispensed commentary on the passing countryside and drinks; downstairs a pair of waiters dispensed food. All were young, all were enthusiastic, all tried really hard, but I think lacked experience; and, of course, space is limited, which makes things more complicated, but we didn’t come away from our time on the Rocky Mountaineer particularly overawed by the service.
There were some notable scenes to be, erm, seen on day one as we made our way out of Vancouver
towards the overnight stop at a place with the unlikely name of Kamloops. The route broadly follows the Canadian Pacific Highway, which, in turn follows first the Fraser River and then the Thompson River. This gives the opportunity to catch the odd occasional decent photo of, for example, bridges.
The suspension bridge shown above ran into a big problem after it was opened because of the Canadian climate; the steel suspension cables would get encased in ice during the winters, occasionally dropping ice on passing cars during the thaw. This caused too much paperwork, so technology has been installed to heat the cables to stop them freezing.
Jane got some nice photos of the passing landscape from her window
while I was sure that the best place to take photos was on a platform which was the entrance vestibule of the carriage, as I wanted to avoid reflections. This was noisy, smelly (mainly because the platform was just downwind from the toilets) and, eventually hot, as the temperature went above 30°C in places. But one could get decent photos of some passing scenes, mainly by waiting for gaps in the trees. These were a rare and precious commodity, but every so often one could get a nice shot, such as these of Hell’s Gate.
It has to be said that the landscape didn’t vary hugely for the rest of the day. We were beside the river, which offered many nice views
that gradually opened out into Bigger Country
but there was relatively little variety. I did, of course, look for the inevitable “train going round the bend” shots, which are hugely cliched but can give quite nice results.
Every so often there was an extra element one could include, like a bridge,
(this is at a junction called Cisco, where Canada national and Canada Pacific railways cross each other)
or a tunnel,
or a rock formation such as these Hoodoos,
(which are hard rock on top of soft rock, giving a risk of rock falls which led to a superstition that the Hoodoos were alive and threw rocks at anyone settling below them)
or one of the unimaginably long freight trains which also ply this route,
(seen above on the opposite bank)
occasionally coming right at you.
Right in the centre of one bridge, you can see an osprey’s nest which has been in use by a particular osprey family for over 100 years
and the odd occasional eagle’s nest could also be spotted,
and also, as we headed towards Kamloops, bighorn sheep.
I’m indebted to Jane who took some great pictures from her (cool, comfortable) window seat whilst I teetered around on the (hot, smelly) platform down below.
The heat we experienced was not unusual – the area we passed through is the “hot spot” of British Columbia and wildfires are common and sometimes tragic. There had been one recently, which was still affecting the light as the sun began to set.
I took this photo under the fond impression that we were on the outskirts of Kamloops;
wrongly, as it turned out – we were still some 10km away from our destination. We ended up in a vast great set of railway sidings a good 20 minutes’ ride from Kamloops town, with many other dull trains and rolling stock. Jane spotted one brighter moment among the typical railside desolation.
Once we’d arrived at Kamloops (meaning “convergence of the waters” in the native language), a central spot in BC, the smooth logistics continued. We were issued with hotel room keys and a coach number. We boarded the relevant coach which took us to the right hotel where we found our bags actually in our room. My backpack contents appeared to have made it OK. Overall, an impressive process. So far….
Our hotel was the Wingate, not at all fancy but perfectly comfortable and well-organised, and the view from the room was nothing to write blogs about;
more importantly, there was a kettle in the room and Jane scored some milk so we could have a Nice Cup Of Tea. It was after 8pm by this stage, and we had to be ready to depart the hotel at 6.10am the next day; for some reason, a wander around downtown Kamloops didn’t seem as attractive a proposition as, say, getting some sleep. Therefore a swift burst of internetting, a final cuppa and getting our heads down with the alarm set for 0500 marked the end of the day.
The Rocky Mountaineer adventure continues, with the promise of more varied and interesting landscapes to be photographed, so please come back and find out if the promise was fulfilled.