Sunday 17 May and Monday 18 May 2015

I have rolled these two days together for the photographs and thought I might as well do the same here in the blog.  Wordpress seem keen for me to use a new format for writing the blog so I wait to see how long it takes to learn new software (or revert … why do people who improve things actually make them worse?).

Once at Banff station the train headed by a surprising total of three diesels, one in a scruffy CP livery, brings in the train from its overnight resting place.  The operational arrangements are that the train working up from Vancouver uses the CP rails and splits at Kamloops on the outward journey overnight with a section going over CN rails to Jasper.  We are using CP rails from Banff to Kamloops, our overnight stop but tomorrow we use CN rails after the two sections re-unite.

We board, knowing our total tour group has split; a number are in Red, which is discontinued after this season, Silver which is a relatively new introduction and a small group of us in Gold as we always said that if we did it we would do it in style.  Gold has the benefit of hot food (so we only need light food if anything for dinner) and alcohol.  Our group is sandwiched between Americans (in front) and a large and increasingly raucous group of Australians behind.  Surrounded by colonials!

Once a very long freight train has passed us by we head out after it heading towards Kamloops.  We follow much the same route as yesterday so the surroundings look familiar and our first stop isthe  at Lake Louise station used in the film Dr Zhivago.  It looks very different in the spring sunshine!  The seating is more or less full and we are travelling in a brand new coach – only a week old we are told.  There are lots of announcements over safety and other aspects and we have a team of six hosts (normally four) as two are new recruits on their first trip.  Even so they are pretty busy.  They swap around so the three on the upstairs team on this return journey were downstairs on the table waiting team on the outward trip; with a further three in the galley.

The front half of the coach are given first sitting today (second sitting tomorrow) and we descend the stairs to the lower level where a cooked breakfast is served – with about five choices.  All good stuff and better eggs benedict than at the hotel in Banff.  There is no hurry over service and second sitting is called down about two hours after us.

Outside Canada rolls gently past.  This section is mainly single track and our progress is no doubt not enhanced by the freight train ahead, especially when another train has to be passed.  Key to this section are the famous spiral tunnels where we loop around losing height.  These were built to replace a very sharply graded bank which suffered numerous runaways and problems.  Being inside the mountains they are harder to comprehend but we cover a cursive L shape as we descend.  Inside we can see the lights of the coach ahead are at quite a sharp angle to our own coach.

On the first day we are clearly still in the real Rockies with mountains, snow capped above the tree lines, and for a while we follow the Kicking Horse river, so called because an early explorer was kicked so hard by his horse that his fellow explorers deemed he had died and he recovered to find that they had already dug his grave and were preparing to bury him (I believe he was the medical man in the party!).  One other major site we pass is “Craigellachie” the place where the “Last Spike” was driven to link the CP line from east to west and also cementing Canada into a single nation as British Columbia had only agreed to join if a railway was completed within ten years (it was achieved in six).  The name came from the Scottish financiers who sent the clan cry “Stand fast Craigellachie” to confirm that they money to pay for the line had been raised.

Our train’s progress is steady and gentle and we sometimes pass a freight going the other way.  These can have locos at both front and rear and front and middle to ensure they can cope with the climbs.  There are some sharpish curves as well but getting decent photographs proves difficult due to the internal reflections on the windows which tend to inhibit decent pictures.

Soon after 12 we descend again into the lower cabin and this time we have a wide choice of main meals to follow on from a tomato and basil soup.  Rib of beef to follow – we are advised the menu tomorrow will be different so make your first choice here!  Following the heavy lunch, I develop heavy eyelids and spend part of the afternoon snoozing (although it could also be something to do with the alcohol consumption too I suppose).  For once the diabetic information did reach its destination and I enjoyed a large bowl of strawberries for dessert and fruit was distributed during the afternoon.

Early on the trip we are lucky to see a black bear and then a grizzly bear – the latter have only been spotted a couple of times in recent years; sadly getting a picture proved beyond my competence – I was more interested in seeing it!  Other wildlife seems to be keen on avoiding us, although some eagles are seen and one even made it into a photograph.

Overnight is spent in Kamloops.  Like other towns which have been based around railways it is not overly attractive and we do not venture out of the hotel.  Nachos followed by biscuits and cheese and then to bed.  We have another full day tomorrow.

Coaches return us to the “station” which is situated on a link line between CP and CN and the train has been completely reformed with the combination of the segment from Jasper.  We now have the beenfit of a good view out of the front of our coach along the train allowing some better trains shots during the day.  Getting the road coaches in the right order alongside the rail coaches is quite a good demonstration of getting organisation right – but it is done very well.  As yesterday our main luggage goes by road to our destination and will be waiting in our hotel room in Vancouver for our arrival.

The scenery is more open today for much of the journey as we have descended out of the mountainous area.  We pass the Painted Bluffs which is a very small national park near Kamloops, the Black Canyon (no photos sadly) and “Hells’ Gate” canyon which proved very difficult to navigate with only one steamship – the SS Scuzzy – managing to negotiate the river at this point in the lowest of water in early spring carrying construction kit for the railway.  The original explorer found travelling through the area using the First Nationals paths and routes so difficult that he felt he had reached the “Gates of Hell”.

On second sitting today but the food is again of excellent quality and well presented.  Salmon and scrambled egg at breakfast.  The diabetic information has gone missing and I do not share the chocolate brownies which look lovely when they turn up for dessert at lunchtime.

For the Canadians it is a “long weekend” and I think this accounts for the paucity of crossing trains on the second day.  We certainly make very good time reaching Vancouver by about 6pm.

Overall we are well looked after on this service and enjoy the  friendly hosting, the comfortable seats and we can acknowledge that this is a well run business with some wonderful scenery to do.  Very much part of a trip of a lifetime.