Canada in 2013 page 3 -- Rocky Mountains (Kamloops/Banff/Lake Louise/Jasper) 14-19 June 2013
All pictures, unless otherwise noted, are copyright 2013 by John A. and Elizabeth B. Lucas. All rights reserved.

Introduction Vancouver/Victoria Kamloops/Banff/Lake Louise/Jasper Toronto/Niagara Falls Montreal Quebec/Baie St. Paul Halifax Wildlife Second Thoughts Technical Details

This will be the longest section because of the scenery as well as the number of days, so it is broken up into this page and a second page to help those with a slow connection or a slow computer.

14 June Rocky Mountaineer (Vancouver-Hell's Gate-Kamloops, BC)

The Rocky Mountaineer is an operating company using Canadian Pacific and Canadian National tracks throughout the Canadian Rockies. The trains travel only during daylight so nothing is missed. For the first leg of our transcontinental rail journey we were booked on the "First Passage to the West" which follows the Canadian Pacific route through the Rocky Mountains.
Unfortunately, when we were driven to the station near Vancouver there was no train! There had been a freight derailment in the famous Spiral Tunnels (east of Kamloops) and the train had been unable to get to Vancouver in time. It would meet us in Kamloops for the second day's travel. So, the first day turned into a bus trip with a fleet of full-sized tour buses, using the Trans-National Highway Canada 1 which parallels the tracks for much of the distance to Kamloops. We felt that the company and staff did an excellent job with the contingency plans for a situation clearly beyond their control.

The route follows the Fraser River upstream through the Coastal Range and the Selkirk Mountains, through the Fraser River Gorge to the confluence of the Thompson River with the Fraser. The Fraser is a vigorous river laden with silt and rock "flour" -- we could see the murky water from the Fraser side-by-side with clearer water of the Strait of Georgia during our ferry trip from Vancouver to Victoria. This effect stretches for miles down the coast from the delta of the Fraser River.

About 25 miles (40 km) downstream from the Thompson-Fraser River confluence is Hells Gate, a constriction within a deep gorge. The river, the Transcontinental Highway, and both the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National pass through the gorge. So we would have seen Hells Gate from the Rocky Mountaineer train, just not a great view. Traveling in buses, however, we were able to stop and take the cable car/tramway down and across the Hell Gate.

At this point, it is relevant to point out that John is NOT fond of cliffs, fire towers, glass elevators, cable cars, suspension bridges and floors with open grid or, worst, glass. He has always had this acrophobia, even a step ladder is a trial. (Italics indicate "features" present here. Add a 30 mph (48 kph) wind with higher gusts blowing upstream, swaying the gondolas just for "fun".)

Nevertheless, we both went.

(Above) The view from the upper station and the highway. Beyond the lower station are the Canadian National tracks.

(Below) Looking downstream and more or less south from the lower station.

(Above) John standing well back from the edge, thinning hair blown back by the wind.
(Below) A statue commemorating the first water level traversal of the Hells Gate. White water rafters now do navigate this when the flow and depth are within safe limits.

Downstream from Hells Gate on the suspension bridge. The freight train is westbound to Vancouver on the Canadian Pacific tracks. The Rocky Mountaineer would have been using these tracks in the opposite direction. Eastbound freight trains use the Canadian National tracks because of lesser grades. Near the top of the photo is the ledge on which the Trans-Canada Highway runs.
Both railroads and the highway leave the Fraser River and use the Thompson River heading upstream and east to Kamloops, BC. The Rocky Mountaineer disperses its passengers (whether arriving by bus or by train) throughout Kamloops in various hotels, which one apparently determined by which railroad car you are in. There was major shuffling as the buses had not been assigned by railroad car. (The next morning's transfer, however, was easy and direct.)
Kamloops is

We were assigned to the Hotel 540 in Kamloops by the Rocky Mountaineer and ate across the street at Frick and Frack, pub with outside tables, 130 beers and ales, and a mildly eccentric character. It was a fine evening and we enjoyed our meal. We walked after dinner, crossing over the railroad tracks and finding both the Rocky Mountaineer offices and Riverside Park right at the confluence. There was an Ogopogo fountain in the park! (This photo taken on John's smartphone as we had not taken our cameras to dinner.)

15 June Rocky Mountaineer (Kamloops, BC to Banff, AB)

At last a train! A bus carried us the four or five blocks we had walked the night before. And there it was! We were in the last of the "Gold Leaf Service" cars and thus also the last car on the train. Gold Leaf uses bi-level cars with seats upstairs under full wraparound windows and dining room, restrooms, and open-air vestibule downstairs. The Rocky Mountaineer lives up to its reputation for quality, service and drama.

Though we had missed the first day, the second day was certainly spectacular. From Kamloops, the scenery gets more and more vertical with each mile eastward. Finally about 10 miles west of Lake Louise, the tracks enter the Lower and then Upper Spiral Tunnels (inside Yoho National Park). The two tunnels are in different mountains and gain about 105 feet (32m) elevation in the climb to Kicking Horse Pass and the Continental Divide. Freight trains are long enough to cross over themselves but not the passenger trains. Fortunately, there was no derailment that day so we could enjoy the experience. The following was a quick-grab shot, but it does illustrate the drama of this location. We have just emerged from climbing through the Lower Spiral Tunnel and are crossing the valley and the tracks to enter the Upper Tunnel. As with so many other attempts the best railway photography is not on the train but beside the tracks.

After dropping off some of the passengers at Lake Louise, Alberta (new province, new time zone, eastern side of the Continental Divide), the train traveled to Banff where we got off and were transferred to our hotel, the Rimrock Resort Hotel.
We've been in some great hotels, but the view from this room 718 was jaw-dropping, drop-dead gorgeous. We just stood and stared for a couple of minutes. We suppose there are hotels in the Alps to rival this, but this tops our list at the moment. (The following is a two-frame merged shot out of the windows, reflection and all. Late afternoon, 15 June, facing roughly northeast) We turned the two side chairs around from facing the room to facing THIS!

The town of Banff lies below the central peak of Cascade Mountain. At the far left is part of Mount Norquay and at the far right is part of Mount Rundle. The two smaller mountains just outside the town are Snow Peak (left) and Tunnel Mountain. The Bow River is visible twice in right center. The Bow River flows east to Hudson Bay and eventually the Atlantic Ocean. Just a few days after we left the area, the Bow and other area rivers severely flooded Calgary and other downstream communities after heavy rainfall. We were on our way to Toronto when this happened though the rains were in the forecast while we were there.

The hotel sits on the side of Sulphur Mountain. Ground floor is the seventh floor (the one our room was on), with seven floors down and two up from there.

Accommodation: the Rimrock Resort Hotel
Tours and Transfers: SunDog Transportation and Tours

16 June (Banff, AB)

We had a "Best of Banff" tour in the morning (Sundog) which included the Banff Gondola ride up Sulphur Mountain. The lower station is only about a quarter mile or so from Rimrock, an easy walk, but our tour guide picked up at the hotel and took us there first hoping to beat the other tours (only partially successful). Yes, it was another gondola ride, but this one John had been prepared for and well worth it! (A four-frame merged panorama, looking roughly northwest)

The town of Banff, Alberta from atop Sulphur Mountain. In the distance, the Trans-Canada Highway bypasses the town at the foot of Cascade Mountain. The Bow River flows through the town from left to right. We saw a mature male elk drinking at the riverbank between the two visible bridges in the noonday sun. Black bear and wolves are also encountered within town limits though we didn't see any them here.

Back down the mountain and onto the bus. Just downstream from the town is the Bow River Falls.

Still further downstream, the Bow River flows past "hoodoos," formations of eroded sandstone thought to be petrified evil spirits in the legends of the area.

Upstream from the town and west, here is a view of Sundance Peak.

While we were in Banff, we also window shopped in the town, had a very good lunch at the Banff Avenue Brewing Company, and saw the upper mineral springs (there is a reason that Sulphur Mountain has that name).

17 June (Lake Louise AB)
A Sundog van took just the two of us the 30 miles or so to Lake Louise (still in Banff National Park.

Accommodation: Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
Tours and Transfers: SunDog Transportation and Tours

Another unbelievable room although we did not like the hotel nearly as much as Rimrock at Banff. First in afternoon sun, then the following morning.

After settling in, we grabbed our cameras hiked beyond the end of the lake to the first patch of snow still on the ground. In all honesty, the patch of snow we reached is not visible in the picture above and considerably lower than what you can see. As with most of the lakes in the park, the head wall is the continental divide. Beyond the exercise and the scenery, this is when we spotted a mountain goat high above the trail (see Wildlife).

Continued on the next page...

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