Tag Archives: Railway

Rocky II

Saturday 3 September 2022 – Timing had not permitted us a chance to experience the delights of Kamloops in person, so here is a photo of it that I found on the wall of our hotel bedroom.

Through sheer effort of will, combined with a certain amount of sleepwalking, we achieved the 0610 rendezvous with the coach that would take us back out to the industrial wasteland where we could board the Rocky Mountaineer for the second part of our journey that would end in Banff.

As the journey started, the scenery was very different from the previous day’s – much more greenery to be seen.

(more Hoodoos to be seen in the above)

and also, since the sparrows were still farting in the gathering dawn outside the coach, we got some nice sun rising photos

as well as some lovely reflections in the waters beside the railway.

The scenery then reverted to being broadly similar to what we’d seen the previous day,

i.e. subject to the same challenges of grabbing a shot between the trees lining the railway track.

We took a latish breakfast, since we were Second Sitting today, and passed a nice hour or so chatting to Judy and Tom, who are from Maui, Hawaii, which sounds a lovely place to live.

There were some moments of variety.  Jane spotted these snow sheds protecting the railway on the far side of the valley from winter avalanches

and I got a shot of some on our side.

And then it was time for lunch.  We passed lunch having a pleasant chat to an Australian couple, Nikki and Mark, from Fingal Bay, some 200km up the coast from Sydney.  At the same time, we were passing some spectacular scenery with some gorgeous colours, so part of the lunch consisted of a game where Mark would spot approaching gaps in the trees and Jane (sitting opposite) would miss them in trying to capture a photo through the window.

After a while, I simply couldn’t resist the lure of getting to the (rather less hot and smelly) open platform to try to capture some of this scenery, but I was a bit too late.  It didn’t, overall, matter, though – see later. I did get some decent photos as we went along, in many cases being still unable to resist the bendy train cliché.

We even saw some evidence of snow, or more likely glaciers, in the distant mountains, although the view was typical Walker “would have been better if it were clearer”.

There were some other nice scenes to capture as we went along, though nothing as arresting as what had rushed by us at lunch time.

Just as I was ruing my failure to take up on the photo opportunities on offer during lunch, as we were nearing Lake Louise and Banff, things really looked up.

The following 30 minutes provided an elegant demonstration of the reasons I no longer do any film photography.  The scenery was really spectacular with photo opportunities rushing past in rapid succession at 60mph.  Had I been using film, I would have missed almost all of them and/or got unsatisfactory images through not being able to quickly review as I went and having to change film rolls every 36 shots.  As it was, I took over 200 pictures in that half an hour.  Most of them were flawed in some way, but some were utterly lovely.  Well, I think so. Here they are, taken from either side of the train on that final rush into Banff.

These were worth letting my gin and tonic go warm for, I can tell you.

Then before we knew it, there we were in Banff and it was time to say goodbye to friends we’d made during the journey – Judy and Tom and Nikki and Mark – and Bonnie (and George) from Toronto, who Jane had had a long chat with whilst I was in photographic ecstasies on the carriage photo platform. It was also time to say goodbye to the four young folk who had worked so hard to keep us fed, watered and organised for the last two days

Stephanie, David, Vivek and Sian.

The transfer from train to hotel was as well-organised as all the other logistical elements of the trip and very soon we were checked in to the Fox Suites in Banff.  We have a couple of days here, with much potential for enjoying ourselves and getting some good photos.  One can’t ask for much more than that, except perhaps to wish that you will come back and take a look at how things unfolded.


A Rocky Start

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.



Skagway – It’s The Rail Thing

Sunday 14 August 2022 – Another eventful day beckoned, which meant, you guessed it, an earlyish start, for we had to be out and about by 0845 with our tourist faces on. The weather forecast was once again uncertain about whether it would rain, and the view at breakfast supported that uncertainty.

It was cool, but we were still able to sit outside for breakfast which was pleasant. We decided that we would laugh in the face of the prospect of rain, mainly because we would be spending almost all of our tourist minutes under cover: the morning was a train ride, the afternoon a trolleybus.

Rather conveniently, because Silversea had managed to get a good parking spot for the ship, the railway came to us, rather than us having to be ferried to it. A short walk took us to our train

and what seemed like a slightly longer walk took us to a carriage which we picked randomly. As carriages go, it was fine, but (from a photographer’s perspective) we should have taken a carriage near the rear of the train for maximum cute “here’s the train going round a bend” photo potential.  And once we were in a carriage and a kindly gent dressed as a ticket inspector had, erm, inspected our tickets, we were enjoined not to move carriages, so we had to make do with where we were.

Where we were was towards the front of a train that would take us along the White Pass and Yukon Route.  This is a railway that in its entirety goes to Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon Territory in Canada.  We would not be going that far today – simply climbing nearly 3,000 feet to the White Pass summit, looping round and coming back down again, a distance of around 40 miles in total. The Silversea blurb described it as a scenic railroad journey, so I had high hopes of being able to take photos of some, you know, like, scenery and that.

The railway has a huge historic influence on the origins of Skagway, all bound up in the 1896 Yukon Gold Rush. Skagway (we learned later, as you’ll find out if you keep reading) has unique attributes – the furthest north deep sea port, and a convenient notch in the surrounding mountains to make access a fraction less than impossible.  There had been two routes from Skagway to the Canadian Klondike: the ridiculously steep Chilkoot Trail and the longer but flatter White Pass. The founder of Skagway, William Moore, discovered the White Pass and busily set about creating an infrastructure to exploit support the hopefuls who would rush there in their tens of thousands in the – faint as reality demonstrated – hope of getting rich. Part of that was getting a railway built; this started in 1898 and it took just over two years to build the route.  For many years after the gold rush it was used to carry ore and concentrates to the deep sea port of Skagway, and then, after a period of disuse, it was reinvented as the tourist attraction it is today.

It is scenic, but in the early part of the journey those damned trees tend to get in the way of the view. Inside the carriages, a (rather stilted) commentary is broadcast, including alerts for things to look out for.  However, the best place to be to take actual photographs is standing on the platform outside the compartment, where you can’t hear the commentary.  So I spent practically the whole journey standing outside on the carriage platform, which was a bit chilly. I missed a few decent shots on the way up; but since the way down is simply the reverse, I made some mental notes of things I wanted to capture if possible on the return journey.  There were gaps in the trees to capture the odd scene, though

(that’s Skagway in the distance – you can tell by the cruise ships) and Jane did a great job of passing on alerts from the narrator to give me the best chance of catching decent scenes.

Bridal Veil waterfall

a bridge higher up on the railway – looks dangerously flimsy to me.

Regrowth after a landslide, or glacial erosion

Going over the “flimsy” bridge.

A steel bridge, in use until 1969 and once the tallest cantilever bridge in the world.

Eventually, we reached the border with Canada, marked with an obelisk and the flags of each nation

and we looped around and headed back down again – stopping, somewhat bizarrely, for customs purposes when we reached the US border.

I caught some video on the way down

and also this scene, which was one I missed on the way up and wanted to be sure to capture.

The train duly delivered us back to the ship, where we snatched a swift lunch before heading out for Phase II of the day – a Street Car tour of Skagway.

Our driver and guide was Anna,

who was clearly a larger-than-life character and had a robust delivery to match, full of historical nuggets and pungent comment. She took us around Skagway, which is a very attractive little town, telling us stories about the buildings we passed;

the church, for example, was the first granite building in Alaska.

She took us to an overview point to give us a, erm, overview of the town

before taking us to the Gold Rush Cemetery, where many who died during the gold rush years are buried.

Two key characters in the development of Skagway were the villain, Jefferson Smith, who got the nickname “Soapy” by conning customers with bars of soap, and the hero, Frank Reid, who killed Smith.  Actually Reid was a thief and murderer on the run, but that seems to have been forgotten because he was the cause of Smith’s death, as part of which, he himself was killed.  Anna, as one might expect, milked this strange and sorry saga for all it’s worth.

Anna ended the tour back in town, which gave us the opportunity to go for a quick walk around it taking better photos of this attractive place than can be easily done from inside a bus. There are many colourful timber buildings, especially on Broadway along which the railway used to run

including the Skaguay News above, which used to publish the news regularly, once every month. (The original name of the town was Skagua, meaning “that windy place” in the Tlingit tongue, and the name has since been anglicised). There was the odd occasional mural or other quirky item,

an extraordinary rotary snowplough for clearing the railway,

and a statue of Skookum Jim, a Tlingit native, and Captain William Moore, representing their discovery and mapping of the White Pass.

This brought us back to the ship for its 4pm departure for our next port of call, Sitka.  We’re due to go on a hike and much scenery is promised in the blurb about it.  Therefore, in theory, there should be some lovely photos to look through tomorrow to distract you from my commentary.  You’ll just have to check in to find out, won’t you?