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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



Jasper's Heritage Station and the 1932 CNR class U-1-a 4-8-2 Mountain type locomotive #6015 on display


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

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