Day 2 Kamloops to Calgary or Bust! (foreshadowing)
Rocky Mountaineer makes it very easy for passengers. Instructions are clear and easy. We are to be ready at 6 am. Luggage is left behind in rooms to be trucked ahead and waiting in Calgary. Very civilized this leaving behind of luggage to be dealt with by someone else. Buses to the train are to be boarded at 6:15. Train departs at 6:30. We have a potentially 14 hour day or more ahead. By 6:15, 13 passengers are unaccounted for. By 6:30 the buses are told to depart. We leave two behind. What part of 6 am is unclear?
Leaving Kamloops is much like leaving Vancouver. We move slowly through the ‘burbs to the open rail. Soon we are passing cottage country and the houseboat capital of the world, Lake Sicamous. Mountains hover in the distance. Today we are first service for dining. We spend a pleasant breakfast with Jean, a fellow traveler and Sens fan from the capital city.
Shortly we pass by the mouth of the Adams River, the largest Sockeye salmon run in the world. We are fortunate at this time of year to spot bright crimson kokanee salmon in the shallow waters of the Eagle River meandering alongside the tracks. Kokanee are Sockeye salmon that never go to sea but spend their lives in fresh water.
The landscape is dotted with sheep. Firs, paper bark birches and cornflowers fly by. The lake is alive with boaters. Cottagers wave in greeting to the train passing by their front yards. We pass Craigallachie and the cairn monument erected to commemorate the last stake driven in the railway in 1885.
The temperature drops noticeably as if a ghost had entered the room. A verdant cacophony of green on green comes to the fore. Every shade in nature is represented here. Deciduous trees become more sparse struggling for sunlight against their dark, heavy, coniferous brethren. Firs dip their boughs elegantly, soft blue-green pines and delicate, lacy cedars add layers of texture to the view. Skunk cabbage however adds a less than charming sulfuric nose to the air. Lemony yellow goatsbeard and vibrant orange fruiting mountain ashes lend a little colour here and there.
Our journey continues along the Illecillewaet, Beaver, Columbia and Kicking Horse rivers to Golden and Kicking Horse Pass. We cross over Canadian Pacific Railway’s Stoney Creek Bridge, which due to heavier locomotive weight was replaced in 1929. No other foundation other than the original could be used so the new bridge had to be built directly over the old one without placing any pressure on the old bridge. Onward to Field. Mountains and aspens and Douglas firs fill our senses.
After lunch we are treated to gorgeous views of waterfalls, snow capped peaks and jade green alluvial waters. Around a bend we come to the striking turquoise waters of Kinbasket Lake. The water takes on colour from “rock flour”, glacial stone that is ground to the consistency of baking soda as it makes is way down the mountain. One of our Rocky Mountaineer crew, Laura, says she passes the lake very day and it changes colour on every visit. Spectacular!
Onward we travel past the Burgess black shale mountains and Victoria Glacier which feeds Lake Louise.
Our train is running over an hour behind schedule. We are approaching the Spiral Tunnels, a series of tunnels that are modeled after the spiral tunnels in the Swiss Alps. This engineering marvel will allow the train to ascend the step grade through Ogden and Cathedral Mountains. A train, more than 80 cars long (today ours is only 23. We added an engine in Kamloops for this ascent) can see itself enter and exit the tunnels and pass over itself. We are slowing to a stop and pulling into a siding to allow a 12,000 ft. freight train, that has lost an engine in the tunnel and cannot make the climb, to back down the mountain and allow us to pass. This and other delays due to rail traffic means we will not reach Banff before nightfall and therefore will miss the spectacular views. This delay is beyond the control of the train company and they make an executive decision to have us detrain in Banff and continue our journey to Calgary via motorcoach. Disappointing indeed, but it is a working railway.
We emerge from the spiral tunnels to magnificent views of the aptly name Rocky Mountains. The steep, sharp peaks are so high that conifers can no longer be sustained and a demarcated treeline is evident. This, the border of British Columbia and Alberta and the Continental Divide, becomes the highest point of our journey. Rivers have been flowing against us until this time. Water will now flow with us as it makes it’s way to the Atlantic ocean, where previously it’s destination was the Pacific.
This was the experience of a lifetime. A highly recommended way to see Canada’s Western wilderness.