Track beauty - a journey on the Rocky Mountaineer
Canada | December 11, 2017
From rugged mountain ranges to crystal-clear streams, the scenery in the Canadian Rockies is stunning. Hollie-Rae Brader explains why it's best seen on board Rocky Mountaineer
My hands are bitterly cold and my eyes ache from staring at a carpet of green alpine forest. I’m two hours in to what I like to call Bear Watch.
I’m standing at the back of the Rocky Mountaineer train in a rattling open-air viewing vestibule, eagerly waiting and hoping for a bear sighting.
Just hours earlier over a sumptuous smoked salmon breakfast I was grilling Canadian guests on the likelihood ofa grizzly sighting. Some laughed at the prospect and shot down my hopes; others smiled politely and in true kind-Canadian fashion said it was a possibility. Of course, I sided with the locals who kept my dream alive.
Well-fed and happy, I left the dining car and headed to my seat on the upper floor of the dome carriage – one feature of Rocky Mountaineer’s GoldLeaf Service – for a relaxed morning of scenery watching.
I hit the recliner button to slump me back, followed by the foot rest switch, leaving me almost horizontal.
Next, I played with the seat temperature gauge to ensure my bottom was warm and toasty. “Perfect,” I sighed, and it really was.
There were stunning sights from all angles – looking up through the transparent roof of the dome I enjoyed endless vistas of mountain tops merging with fluffy clouds; to my side were views of quaint Canadian towns and villages dotted along streams and rivers. Everything was peaceful and still.
But the serenity of doing nothing changed the moment our guide informed passengers that we were rolling into bear territory. My heart skipped a beat (I’m not being overdramatic – I have a little heart condition which flares when I’m excited).
I was captivated by our guide’s tales of an infamous grizzly called Boss, aptly named because he ferociously rules his kingdom, roaming the area and killing other bears who dare to cross his path. With a team of fellow bear spotters (other eager young journos) by my side, we’d left the comfort of our seats and headed to the open-air platform. The brisk Canadian May winds brought an instant chill to my bones and the effects of that warm seat faded far too quickly.
“BEAR,” I shout, scrambling for my camera. News of a possible sighting quickly spreads through the dome.
But it’s a false alarm, our guide quickly informs us, as it transpires my so-called bear was actually a bush (although I still firmly believe it was a bear). Other sightings don’t disappoint. As the train cuts through picturesque mountain ranges we spot bald eagles, elks and ospreys.
After what feels like a lifetime of waiting to spot a bear, I retreat to the comfort of the dome car to warm up.
It’s here I realise there was no need to leave my seat in the first place, as the glass dome surrounding me is perfectly adequate for bear spotting.
Noticing I’m a little deflated by my unsuccessful bear mission, a member of staff rushes over with a Baileys
on the rocks; she’d remembered I’d ordered one on the train the previous day. “Need to drown your sorrows a little?” she asks with a smile.
Thanking her, I take a sip and stare wistfully out the window. Peace returns to the Rocky Mountaineer for a few moments.
“Bear on the left, bear on the left!” shouts our guide as she runs to grab the mic. Everyone on board jumps to the left side of the train and we gawp in anticipation.
As excited exclamations echo from the front of the train it becomes clear that this time it’s not a false
alarm – after hours of straining my eyes to filter through the foliage, I’m finally about to see a bear.
This enormous and hugely impressive creature is perched on all fours just metres from the train track. Cheers erupt from passengers young and old; the bear, completely unperturbed, turns his head as if to check what all the fuss is about.
Emotions come flooding in (can I blame the Baileys for this?) and I’m slightly overcome at what I’ve seen.
My journey on Rocky Mountaineer started a day earlier in Vancouver. From the moment you pitch up at the station, you know something special is in store. Bagpipes blast as guests chime glasses to toast the adventure that lies ahead.
The journey to Banff lasts two days, and unlike many train journeys around the world, passengers don’t sleep on board. Instead they disembark every day and head to a local hotel.
The scenery is starkly different on each day. On the first stage of the journey, between Vancouver and Kamloops (where we make an overnight stop), it is dryand desert-like, almost barren, but still incredibly pretty.
The second day is the highlight. The dusty red plains of the previous day make way for lush green forests filled with gigantic spruces all fighting to be the tallest. Snow-peaked, majestic mountains merge into one another, providing the perfect backdrop as we criss-cross through the Rockies. We follow streams through the mountain range, the water so clear that the adrenaline-filled kayakers appear to be floating on air.
I automatically reach for my phone, keen to share photos on social media as the train zips through the country into more remote areas. It’s only then I remember there’s no Wi-Fi, no phone signal, no interference from the outside world. It’s just you, the train and your surroundings. And it’s actually a breath of fresh (mountain) air. Time to sit back and enjoy the experience – social media can wait.
The beauty continues through to our final stop in beautiful Banff National Park – a haven for outdoorsy types, who can get close to nature by canoeing along the beautiful blue waters of the Bow River, or head to the peak of Sulphur Mountain for sweeping views across the park.
Then there’s heavenly Lake Louise. Just a 40-minute drive from Banff, this place is worth a visit at any time of year. Nestled between mountains, the lake, when thawed, is famed for its glistening blue and emerald waters and is a playground for kayakers.
But I visited in the spring, when the water was still just frozen enough to walk from one side of the lake to the other.
With the lake edges thawing a little, I felt like a daredevil as I sprinted across and posed for pics jumping in the air, ignoring the thought of falling into the freezing waters below.
Spending two days in Banff I fell in love with my surroundings, but quickly realised that I missed the service and comfort of Rocky Mountaineer.
Train travel – with beautiful scenery, mouth-watering breakfasts and lunches, and the most exquisite service – has tobe the most romantic form of travel. I certainly left a piece of my heart in the Canadian Rockies.
Rocky Mountaineer’s First Passage to the West Classic itineraryleads in at £1,633 per person in GoldLeaf Service. rockymountaineer.com