THE "ROCKY MOUNTAINEER" AdVENTURE
Eastbound: Vancouver >> Quesnel >> Jasper
This page recounts the eastbound leg of a 2013 trip on the Rocky Mountaineer running through spectacular scenery in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. This phase of the trip was more relaxed -- no freight train or maintenance problems obstructing the route. Until the floods and mudslides ended the final bus ride from Jasper to Banff. Nature can throw some interesting curve balls.
Sea to Sky: VANCOUVER -- Whistler
This is a short half-day Rocky Mountaineer ride on single-level dome cars. Breakfast is served at your seat, lunch upon arrival at the Squamish Ceremonial Center. The views over Vancouver and English Bay as you climb from sea level are spectacular. Container ships and ferries attest to the vigorous economy of western Canada, as do the snazzy homes along the shore of the Pacific. A native drummer chants stories of his ancestors during the trip.
The Museum at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Center gives further insights into the local culture. Everyone is encouraged to learn how to make rope from strips of birch bark.
Squamish drummer onboard the Whistler Mountaineer
The rails were originally laid by the Pacific Great Eastern Railway (PGE) but they ran mostly North and not very far East. Later taken over by BC Rail and nearly abandoned, the tracks are now well used by CNR to haul lumber to Vancouver for export overseas. Whistler was the site of the 2010 Winter Olympics -- hard to image on a sunny summer day. Surrounded by massive peaks in all directions, it must have been something to see in the deep snows of the Pacific Coast Range in winter.
Lion's Gate Bridge English Bay
Gulf Island Ferry Mountains from the UltraDome
Roiling waters abound Ceremonial Bear at Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Center
Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Center at Whistler: Ceremonial Mask and Eagle
Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Center at Whistler: Dugout Canoe and Cermonial Dahl Sheep
UP The FRaser River: Whistler -- Quesnel
Following the Fraser River almost due North from Whistler on CNR tracks, we reverse the route of the early 18th and 19th century explores who connected the west to the east during the early fur trade, setting the stage for settlement and industry. The main industry here is logging and lumber. Sawmills and huge log decks dot the countryside, some abandoned, others obviously very busy. Cattle and sheep are here too, along with elk, deer, bear, and eagles.
Meeting the freight Original settlers cabin, early 1900's
Upstream on the Fraser River Our train in the rain
The Cottonwood Bridge Quesnel fireplugs are people too
WildErness: Quesnel -- Jasper
This is definitely bush country - trees as far as the eye can see. Still lots of lumbering and stockpiles of logs. We skirt the city of Prince George as we turn east to head for Jasper. It takes a while to climb the long steady grade to the Continental Divide near Mount Robson, the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies at 9281 feet. Large enough to create its own weather, we see most of it, with just a wisp of cloud at the top. The Yellow Head Pass at 3711 feet is the lowest pass through the Canadian Rockies, making Mount Robson appear even more prominent.
At Jasper, we bid farewell to our RM crew and are escorted to Jasper Park Lodge, renowned since the 1920's as "The" place to stay at Jasper. There is no real "lodge"; it is a series of 2, 3, and 4 unit log cabins set in the woods. The main building houses restaurant, lounge, spa, pool, and other amenities. The golf course is well known too.
Many famous movie stars have stayed here at some point in their careers, as well as a few US Presidents. So if you want to sleep in the same bed as Marilyn Monroe, you can do it here. She won't be there with you of course.
Elk outside Quesnel Bridge over the upper Fraser River
A "Grand" Canyon view Ancient Lift Bridge from the paddle-wheel days
Another view of the Lift Bridge Mount Robson 9281 feet
1932 CNR class U-1-a 4-8-2 Mountain type locomotive #6015 on display
Elk downtown Jasper Lake at Jasper Park Lodge
Cabins at Jasper Park Lodge The only bears we saw were stuffed
Our patio at the Lodge Elk at the Lodge
ROAD CLOSED: JASPER -- COlumbia ice fields -- JASPER
This trip with a Brewster tour bus should have taken us back to our car at Banff so we could drive home. It started out well on a cloudy morning. We stopped at Athabasca Falls, took the boat trip on Maligne Lake to Spirit Island, and took the Ice-Bus up the glacier at the Columbia Ice Fields. This bus is amazing, with wheels that are 10 to 12 feet high. Built by Foremost Industries in Calgary, 11 buses shuttle tourists up and down the glacier with a stop on the ice to check out your walking skills. I had been onboard similar flat-bed versions of the Foremost units, without the comfy passenger seats, 35 years earlier while working in the Canadian Arctic Islands - brought back some old memories.
On the Athabasca Glacier
Meanwhile, south of us, all hell was breaking loose. It had been raining heavily for three days in the Bow Valley, where Banff is located. A mud slide blocked the road south of the ice fields. The bus driver hastily gathered us up and headed back to Jasper in case more slides trapped us. Back at Jasper Park Lodge, we learned from the TV that major floods had washed out the TransCanada Highway east of Banff and had isolated Canmore and several other communities. No wonder the bus driver was anxious.
Calgary, a city of a million people, was forced to evacuate over 100,000 residents and all downtown office towers were flooded and out of power for nearly a week afterward. Most Calgary residents were back in their homes a few days or weeks later but some are not going to see a "home" for a year or more.
The 13,000 residents of aptly named High River were out of their homes for many weeks and many are still living in temporary accommodation Some have nothing to return to. Only 4 people were lost to the flood waters. It has been reported as the most expensive natural disaster in Canadian history.
Brewster paid the extra night at the Lodge, but no one could predict how long the roads would be closed, so we rented a car and drove home by a northern route untouched by floods. It was 4 more days before the Jasper to Banff road was re-opened and we drove the rental to pick up our car at Banff. The town was a ghostly sight with no tourists -- the main highway to Calgary would remain closed for another 6 days.
Maligne Canyon Medicine Lake
Maligne Lake boat dock Maligne Lake Tea House
Cruise ship on Maligne Lake Brazeau Icefield at south end of Maligne Lake
Spirit Island Waterfall into Maligne Lake
Athabasca Falls Columbia Ice Field "Ice-Buggy"
===== Ice-Buggy Road to Athabasca Glacier An original Bombardier snow-mobile from the 1960's
Continue to Rocky Mountaineer: Reprise