…..Our Rocky Mountaineer arrived at the halfway point in our journey, in the late afternoon of the first day, shunting slowly into Kamloops. I had not done my usual advanced research so wasn’t sure what to expect of Kamloops. I knew it was a connecting hub for trains but did not appreciate its size. It is at the confluence of the two branches of the Thomson River and is near Kamloops Lake, has a population of about 100,000, and is otherwise an un-spectacular town. We were waved-into the Station by a number of uniformed railway staff which was a nice touch. The contrast between the raw natural beauty we had all witnessed, and the industrial landscape into which we had come was very stark.
The organisation was great and we were all coached to various hotels throughout the city. We ended up in a motel, which seemed to be in the middle of a retail park! It had excellent sizeable accommodation, but no on-site eating facilities (just like the Premier Inn in the UK), but this was no problem. We were glad to have to go out to eat in the evening, and we decided that a local laid-back burger eaterie should be the destination (not the KFC of the photo!)
It was a brash, bright restaurant and we were given a rather large menu, which, when unfolded was almost as large as the table! As if that wasn’t enough, when the very-pleasant waitress came, she rattled-off a large number of specials, and options of sauces etc. ….and all I wanted was a simple meal. Again, having looked around at the portion sizes, we shared a main course, and finished-off with a lovely ice-cream sundae….evil!! And the Canadians can make good coffee!
Most people who know me understand that I love to observe, and chat to people! Such a venue as a restaurant allows people-watching , and especially in a foreign country. What astonished me most was the love affair which the men appeared to have with jeans and baseball cap. If, as a child, I had sat down at the table with a cap or hat, it would have been swiftly removed by a parent or grandparent. It was obviously the custom here for skip-caps to be worn, but I wonder……. are they all hiding a balding pate!
For convenience and security, our suitcases had been retained on the train overnight, and so we had been instructed to have overnight bags (rucksacks in our case). Now, with most men, this is no problem; but to ask a woman to decide what was the minimum to make her feel presentable to herself and her peers, and compress it into a rucksack is not simple, or to be undertaken lightly. Lady of the House did it with panache, and looked a million crisp dollars (Canadian dollars, that it!). On the other hand, I managed with the normal toiletries (I even used a wet razor, to save space), minimal hygenic clothing changes, and a top that I was assured would not crease (Ha,bloody Ha!). I also looked a million dollars (crumpled, scruffy, and needing ironed!).
Next morning, we were picked-up at another un-sensible time for the short drive to Kamloops station. (I somehow, in my ignorance, thought that this was going to be some kind of restful holiday……how wrong I was!) This time our train had joined-up with those coming direct from Banff and Calgary. So we now had another 400 passengers on board, and the train now stretched into the distance, in both directions.
Breakfast on the train was most welcome, and we settled down to watch the scenery gently drift by…now there’s a phrase! I was always interested in Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, which said that when on a train, or any other moving object, we could consider ourselves at rest and everything else moving relative to us (hence the name of the theory). It is easy to imaging scenery drifting-by, but of course the natural order had been there for many millions of years and we were simply intruding on it. (SCIENCE LESSON OVER!)
This scenery was quite different to the previous day’s. We still mainly followed the course of rivers, which were now slow-running but were almost at their level. The few hills which we saw on some stretches had few trees and little vegetation, and bare rocks were the order of the day. Mining, logging, and old ruined buildings were in evidence, and we spent a considerable time in spotting osprey nests on the top of telegraph poles, and eagles hovering, all with squeals of delight!
As the volume of rivers continued to increase, so we were able to see the development of rapids, starting in the Black Canyon, which was more awesome than beautiful, with the river in spate. At the confluence of the Thomson and Fraser rivers, it was possible to see which one carried more silt and was therefore muddy whilst the other was relatively slow-moving and clean. Before you ask me, I can’t remember which was which!
Contrary to the bravery (fool-hardiness?) of the Lady of the House, I don’t like heights, especially when it involves a large weight of moving steel traversing a spider-like structure, over a raging torrent some distance below. She revels in leaning out of available windows to grab photographs, whilst I suspect every creak of being the beginning of a dramatic disaster for all of us, and retreat like a snail into its shell, fearing to change the centre of gravity to beyond the wheel-base.
This one looked a bit safer….
…and if only a train had been coming the other way
We were well into the second afternoon and eyes were starting to droop as the weather had been perfect and the sun very bright. The countryside started to become more tree-covered again and the river narrowed even further to Hell’s Gate. The water here is so fast that ‘fish ways’ have been constructed to allow them to rest in cavities of still water as they gather strength to progress upstream.
Click on the picture to see the detail of the raging torrent of water, and the restaurants built out on stilts. The red framework in the middle was part of a cable-car which crosses the river and rises steeply to the mountain behind….you wouldn’t get me on that to see any view! As chance would have it, the train heading in the opposite direction could be seen on the opposite side at Hell’s Gate.
Our approach to Vancouver was actually quite slow. Unlike on the rural lines, we did not have priority here, so we had to go along at a snail’s pace, but very noisily, over several bridges and running alongside large freight trains setting off on their journey.
And so our two-day journey through the Rockies was over. Unfortunately it is impossible to adequately pass-on the concept of size, age and majesty of this area, ‘the unutterable beauty’ (to borrow a phrase from elsewhere), the raw nature and power of the countryside, the occasional glimpse of wildlife, and the opportunity to enter this world by standing on a glacier! We felt honoured to be able to have the chance to enter this world for a couple of days…and we knew we had more beauty to see.
We taxied to the Blue Horizon Hotel in Robson Street in Vancouver, and if you want to look along this street, click on the link below the picture…