The Canadian Rockies

Our party of four; Jenny and I together with Margaret and Arthur flew out on a long wide sweep through the Far East and depositing us in Vancouver, British Columbia. Canada has always been high on Jenny’s bucket list and I was more than happy to tag along – a good move.

Off on the Rock Mountaineer

We set off in the Rocky Mountaineer early the next morning on our Canadian Rockies tour, the first two day leg taking us to Jasper The Rocky Mountaineer was a surprisingly big operation with 2 locos, 20 cars and 745 passengers all farewelled by a kilted bag-piper who played various tunes including a verse of Waltzing Matilda.

The fearless foursome

Our carriage with its domed half-glass roof enabled a wonderful view of the countryside through which we passed, and being almost at the rear of the train we were able to see most of the long procession as it snaked its way alongside a number of rivers. First it was the Fraser River, then branching off on the Thompson and on the second day, the North Thompson. I must remind myself to research the pioneers, Simon Fraser and David Thompson who gave their names to these streams. The rivers were always fast flowing with intermittent rapids indicating both the quantity of water and the continually rising terrain. The scenery was very different to the Aussie landscape and I found the uniform shape of the conifer trees on the hills and mountains strangely relaxing. At times it was almost as though a patterned cover was thrown over the slopes.

Aboard the Rock Mountaineer

Jenny was the designated chief wildlife spotter. She was quite successful with our feathered friends including a couple of bald eagles. However, she disappointed in terms of elks and moose, but a black bear and cub were sighted at a distance frolicking across the river. We were notified by radio from the front of the train when approaching some bighorn sheep and we saw a couple close to the tracks. The males (rams) have longer curved horns than the females – they are hornier (Canadian Joke).

We soon realised that the railways play a big role in this part of the world. The trans-continental Canadian Pacific line opened up western Canada when it was completed in 1885. Twenty years later in answer to increased demand another line, the Canadian National Railway was also finished. We were amazed by the amount of freight traffic that we passed on the trip either in sidings off the main single line or across the river on the opposing line. Much of the freight was in containers stacked two high. At one stage Jenny counted 166 cars as we passed and we are told trains can be over 200 cars long.

Our long train

We over-nighted at Kamloops on the Thompson River. This city ranks highest for hot summers in Canada with a semi arid climate and an annual rainfall of 8 inches (200mm), being in the northern part of a desert system that runs up from near the Mexican border.

On the train, the service was exceptional and we really didn’t want for food or drinks. With and sight-seeing the two days passed quickly.

The second leg of our Rockies tour started with a motor coach to Banff. This is normally a three hour drive but with all the sight seeing our bus took nine hours for this trip and, oh boy, did we some magnificent scenery. It was quite different to the first two days as we got away from those big rivers and into in the Rockies proper where the higher rocky mountain peaks were snow-covered and with glaciers in between. At one stop we transferred to a large 4WD vehicle and drove up onto one glacier. Part of the commentary during the trip included sad facts about how quickly the glaciers were receding.

The next morning in Banff started very cold with low clouds which fortunately cleared enough in the afternoon so we could take the gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain. There, while a light dusting of snow fell, we were able to appreciate the view of the various mountains surrounding the town and between which the Bow River wound its way through glacier shaped valleys.

Banff from Sulphur Mountain

Today the coach took us just down the road to Lake Louise; that idyllic spot with our Chateau Hotel and one end of the turquoise lake and snow-covered mountains and glacier, that looks like a painted scene, at the other. My photos could not possibly do it justice. A few minutes sitting and gazing at the scene provokes an almost unreal sense of peace.

Lake Louise
Lake Louise and the Chateau Hotel

Tomorrow we head off on the last two day stage of our Rockies tour by coach back to Vancouver again via Kamloops.

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