Canadian Rockies, 1/2 of Day 3 : Vancouver to Hell’s Gate

I had to wake up pretty early as my driver was picking me up a little after 6:00a.m. We were heading to the Rocky Mountaineer train station. He met me right on time.

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I prefer to call it a depot, as that is what we call the building beside a train track here in West Virginia.  Anyway,  the Rocky Mountaineer train depot is a former Canadian National locomotive maintenance building. It’s a cavernous structure, and I am pretty sure that when the “alllll aboard” whistle sounds, it will echo about the place. I’ve watched a video about the Rocky Mountaineer and remember seeing a bag pipe player. I look around to see if there is someone wearing a kilt.

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The place is abuzz with people like me, excited this day has finally come. I see a lot of people standing by themselves, so either their partner is in the restroom, or they are like myself, on a solo adventure through the Canadian Rockies. Last week I emailed Rocky Mountaineer and asked them if they could put me in the last car so I can take pictures from behind, or at least place me in a car with a bunch of rowdy Australians. I mean, I don’t want anyone reading or sleeping on this trip like I have read. One should never nap on a luxury tourist train, right? They immediately sent back an email, apologizing they are not able to handle requests, but then posted several photos of how no matter where you sat, you would get great pictures. It didn’t hurt to ask and I appreciated the quick response from Rocky Mountaineer. They are a class act.

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There is a 60% chance of rain this morning, which should move to 100% as it is raining. But, you know, I don’t care right now. I’m about to embark on a great adventure. As I look around, I see a full-length glass wall so we can get a great view of the Rocky Mountaineer waiting for us on the tracks. It made me smile even more. I even see a red carpet leading to the double leveled Gold leaf cars (or carriages as they say in Canada). I feel special.

The waiting area within the train depot provides guests with an array of services while we wait for that all important “All Aboard” whistle.  There is  softly playing music in the background by a lady with a harp while we may enjoy complimentary tea or coffee. There is a lady walking around with a tray of orange or apple juice.  Since there is no departure board as we are the only train leaving the station, I mean, depot, we just check in with the person at a kiosk. Our bags are marked and placed altogether as they travel separately by truck and will be waiting in our rooms in Kamloops. Now, that’s something you don’t see every day.

After everyone was told it was time,  the bag piper started piping, and the “All aboard” was called, the glass doors opened and we all made our way out to the platform….in the pouring rain. Yeah, it’s raining cats and dogs and Canadian loons.  I don’t care. I’m getting ready to travel on the Rocky Mountaineer. The Gold Leaf cars were right in front of the depot, so I didn’t have far to walk. It seems like the red leaf single level cars were right behind the engine, and also at the end of the train. I had previously made a mental note to count how many carriages were on this particular trip, but in my excitement, I forgot.

I could already feel the pampering beginning. Each of the Gold leaf carriages had a Rocky Mountaineer attendant standing beside the red carpet, Canadian flag flying in the background. I climbed the spiral staircase to the upper level of the Goldleaf dome coach and settled into my comfortable and spacious reserved seat. I knew from the time I sat down that this was going to be one hell of a trip of a lifetime.

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I did notice that Rocky Mountaineer put me in the back gold leaf car in the very back seat. All I had to do was turn around and snap some pictures. And I sat with a lovely family from Austrailia. This was already starting great and it was only going to get better, for the four seats right in front of us were vacant and the car manager told us we could spread out if they didn’t show up. So, we all got window seats. It was perfect!

I chose the First Passage to the West route, also known as the Kicking Horse route and will go on to Banff.  With the horrendous flooding in Calgary, our second day may be abbreviated by  two hours as they will only be able to go as far as a town called Golden. We will be put on buses at that time and taken to our hotels in Banff.

Rocky Mountaineer then announced it was giving us each $150 to spend in their catalog free as an apology for the abbreviated trip. I thought that was great and eagerly filled out my request…I’m getting a jacket and a bunch of  other stuff. This was like Christmas on the Rocky Mountaineer. I applaud them as they are trying so hard to make everyone comfortable during an unforeseen event.

Any way, each trip is two days long with an overnight stay at a hotel on the way because the Rocky Mountaineer does not travel at night. We would miss so much of the wonderful scenery if it went all the way to Banff, and would defeat the whole purpose of this scenic train.

In the pocket in front of my seat is a Rocky Mountaineer newspaper, called The Milepost. This will be important as it will let me know when I need to jump up and head downstairs to the outside vestibule to snap some great pictures. It is possible to get photos right from my seat, but there may be a glare from the windows. But, then again, maybe not.  Oh my, those windows!  I can see right above me. Rocky Mountaineer is right; there is no bad seat on the train. The transparent, domed roof throughout the carriage ensures us that we won’t miss a moment of the splendid Canadian Rockies.

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Right away I look around at the other guests in my carriage. Since I really don’t know a stranger and could talk to a wall ( and did a few times in college), I won’t have a hard time conversing with others. My ears perked up as I thought I already heard an accent. Most of the clients on board the Rocky Mountaineer are generally from Great Britain and Australia. I wonder if anyone from West Virginia has ever had the pleasure of riding on the Rocky Mountaineer. I’d like to think I am the first. Actually, an attendant who met me at the door of my car told me I was the first from West Virginia for him, anyway.

I couldn’t wait until we started this trip. I felt a slight tug and then realized it was time to start the show. I looked outside my spacious window and noticed that all of the employees were standing outside, all in a row, waving to us as we left. I smiled and waved back at them. I thought that was sweet…especially since it was raining.

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Our carriage has 72 reclining seats with a lot of leg room and drop-down tables just like you see on an airline. Downstairs, there are restrooms, a galley kitchen, and a 36 seat restaurant for breakfast and lunch. And at the end of each carriage there is a small open-air viewing vestibule for fresh air and perfect photography.

There are 4 attendants in each Goldleaf carriage who are extremely attentive and knowledgeable about the area. As we begin our journey, we are all served a chilled class of mimosa for a toast to our Rocky Mountaineer adventure.

Breakfast and lunch are served downstairs in two sittings, and guess what? We got to go first.  Well, that excited me because I was quite hungry. The attendants passed out hot towels and as we walked downstairs, another attendant was waiting to squirt some anti-bacterial soap into the palm of our  hands. I sat with my new Austrailian friends. Their son, who is in eight grade, or 8, as they say in Aussie Land, kept kicking me under the table. It hurt one time so I gave it right back to him. The rest of the meal was injury free.

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The presentation of each meal choice was wonderful.  I decided upon the Rocky Mountaineer. We first got a plate of fruit.

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And shortly after, our breakfast arrived.

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It took us a while to get out of the Vancouver suburbs, or perhaps I was just excited to see some different scenery. I wanted out of the city and into the wild. I wanted to see a bear…..from far away. One of the first bridges we went over was the Fraser River Swing Bridge. I have never been on a swing bridge. I have been on one where there is a drawbridge that lifts up a section of the bridge so a boat may pass underneath, but this is my first time on a bridge that actually has a portion swing over so the boat or ship may pass through. It moves horizontally at a 90 degree angle to let the passing boats through. Pretty neat for just starting out on the trip.

We had a full day of train travel ahead of us and I hoped to multi-task the best I could. I wanted to meet people but also at the same time watch the mileposts for that all important first photo. I did my research and hoped to be downstairs when the first photo op approaches. I have to laugh at that, hours later, as the whole trip was a photo op.

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One of the first towns we passed was Fort Langley. Fort Langley is the exact location where, a century and a half ago, a huge fur trade business called the Hudson’s Bay Company established a small post to trade with the First Nations of the West Coast.  (First Nations is the same thing as what we call our Native Americans). The furs were shipped to Europe and other local produce was traded with the Russians in Alaska. In 1858,  there were rumors of  “there’s gold in them thar hills ” ( a saying that was made popular after gold was discovered in some areas.)  The gold rumors near this small town on the  Fraser River caused a massive influx of Americans to the area. Fearing annexation by the United States, British Columbia was proclaimed a colony.

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Along the route, I have noticed  many decaying telegraph poles. Some of them are photo worthy.  Once used to send messages between villages on the railway line, advances in technology has left telegraph standing behind. Time has not been kind and many are sitting precariously close to the Fraser River. ….The Telegraph Trail

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We approached the town of Hope, which is known as the Chainsaw Carving Capital of the World. But, it is better known as being the “Hollywood of the North” as many movies have been filmed in and around Hope. Sylvester Stallone starred in Rambo:First Blood 30 years ago and the town is still going strong with the cult following of the movie. Rambo put this small town on the proverbial map, that’s for sure.  A free map of filming locations is available at the visitor center.

The attendants gave us a heads up when a great photo opportunity came up. Some stood up, and some, like me, ran downstairs to the vestibule. It became apparent later on that if an attendant needed me, they had to come outside because I was out there when it wasn’t raining.

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After breakfast and before lunch, the attendants were busy filling drink orders. We were able to order anything from water to Coke, to juice, wine, beer, and mixed drinks….complimentary and for the whole trip. I didn’t see anyone swagger and lose their footing on the vestibule, so I would say everyone drank and rode the train responsibly.

Next thing you know, it’s lunch time. We’ve been traveling for several hours by now and first seating people are called to go downstairs after we get our hot towel. Some people put it directly on their face. I would have needed a nap if I put mine on my face. We were given a menu and I took  another photo of it. I told my new Aussie friends that I blog, because it seemed a bit weird to take photos of the menu. Oh well.

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We are coming to an area that I have been looking forward to: the rushing waters of Hell’s Gate. I imagine it would be a creepy place to visit on Halloween.    The towering jagged rock walls create an abrupt narrowing of the Fraser River, forcing the waters through a passage only 115 feet wide. I sort of gobbled down my chicken so I could head out on the vestibule. The server had to come looking for me to see if I wanted dessert. I didn’t want to budge from my spot.

The other guys outside had great cameras and I could hear that quick shutter speed noise. I quickly realized that my Canon Power Shot may have a great zoom, but missed a lot of photos because it wasn’t as fast as the others. I felt inferior, but that didn’t stop me from taking hundreds of photos.

So, anyway, we have arrived at Hell’s Gates. It looked imposing.

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According to the journal entry in 1808 of  explorer Simon Fraser, the name Hells Gate was described for this narrow passage as “a place where no human should venture, for surely these are the gates of Hell”. And the name sort of stuck. Nowadays, there is an aerial tram that carries visitors aboard one of the only descending gondolas in North America over the thundering waters.

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We had a bird’s eye view of the historic landmark from the Rocky Mountaineer, where 200 million gallons of water per minute push through the narrow passage. It was easy to picture what Simon Fraser first thought when he came upon the area.

This area is also of importance because there is a fishway that was designed to improve the run of salmon to the spawning beds. First Nations people…attracted to area for the salmon fishing. Fishways help the salmon through the difficult areas of Fraser River. Remember, salmon swim upstream. Can you imagine how difficult it is to get through an area that has 200 million gallons of water rushing from the other direction.

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This was also the site of the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway.  Supposedly, for each mile of track laid, three chinese workers were killed. Hey, maybe it is haunted. Ghost Hunters International paid them a visit.

We saw many more old telegraph poles along the tracks. From what I found out before the trip began,  there used to be a telegraph line secured to them and that men used to live in shacks near critical areas.The railroad would send telegraph messages, which the men would record on paper and clip to a wooden pole attached to the telegraph pole. If the engineer saw a message attached to the telegraph pole, he would slow the train and grab the message

Like I mentioned above, the attendants made sure that we had enough tine to get our cameras ready for photo opportunities. The train slows so we can all hurry down to the vestibule and get our photos. I don’t know how, but I was able to find eagles perched left and right, so I would yell out, “eagle on the right,” etc. I could not believe my eyes, as we saw at least 16 eagles on this leg of the journey. There were many osprey nests and we even saw a herd of some sort of horned sheep goat deer. I don’t know what they were called, but the atttendant said that the females had horns but the males were “hornier.” Oh, that made the laughing women travelers four seats in front of me cackle for about 5 minutes. It was great to see everyone having a great time on the Rocky Mountaineer.

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Next up: Day 3, Part 2-Hell’s Gate to Kamloops.

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