Rocky Mountaineer Winter Rail Vacation
Day two of my Rocky Mountaineer Winter Wonderland adventure dawned clear and cold, but not quite as spectacular as the first day’s bright sunshine. My plans were to take the video and still cameras, and try to record some spectacular images of the train during its crossing of the Rockies via Kicking Horse pass, and the Selkirks via Rogers Pass.
I stayed in the Mountain View Inn, an economically priced, clean and cozy hotel in Canmore, a few minutes from Banff proper. My early plans were derailed by a mistaken schedule, and some awesome donuts and coffee from Tim Horton’s, which I am sure must be a Canadian institution.
Three times, I have tried to get to the awesome photo location known as Morant’s Curve, made famous by CP company photographer Nicholas Morant. The spot bearing his name features a sweeping S curve of the tracks and the Bow River, set dramatically against the backdrop of the Rockies. The curve is a few miles east of Lake Louise, AB, right along Highway 1A, the Bow River Parkway.
As a note, I learned that trains passing “forward” through the curve are headed eastbound, toward Banff and Calgary, while the Rocky Mountaineer that I was chasing west would have presented a nice view of its trailing domes. Though I finally succeeded in reaching the curve, my target train had already passed through, and I didn’t feel like I had the luxury to wait for an eastbound freight. After taking a shot for posterity, I continued on my way.
The train had gotten enough of a jump on me in my coffee-laden state that I had to bypass the spiral tunnels and head straight to Field, BC. The train arrived about 15 minutes later, where I got my first look at the exterior as it drifted down to the depot for its first crew change. It might have been possible to catch this train exiting the lower spiral tunnel, but the highway observation point was closed by snow.
The train had a delay of some sort in Field, and I spent about 45 minutes in bitter cold at Ottertail Creek waiting. This was the coldest temperatures I noted on the trip – the thermometer in my rental car registered –24C, or about –10F. Yep, that’s cold. Like Morant’s Curve, I had been wanting to get to Ottertail for quite some time as well. Despite the cold, it was worth the wait.
The delay had at least one positive effect, though. When I first arrived, a thick haze almost completely covered the mountains in the background. It had moved along enough by the time the train arrived that I was able to frame up the shot above. The photo hardly does justice to how clear the emerald green waters of the creek were. (For a closer look, check out the roster shot of the 9523 that I shot at the same time.)
The domes trailing away from the trestle merited another frame. I came away quite satisfied by the spectacular spot, though I would later find that the cold temperatures played havoc with one of the two video cameras I was shooting with. Fortunately, it wasn’t the new high definition camera...
I caught up with the train again just east of Glenogle, BC. This was a shot that I had toyed with trying during my only other visit to the area, but had to bypass because of a road construction project. I like it better with snow anyhow.
One thing that really strikes me about the entire line from a photo perspective is the dominance of the scenery along the rail line. To do anything less than pull back and let the train become part of the scene is almost cheating the viewer.
For a long stretch out of Golden, the route breaks away from the highway, follows the Columbia River, then starts the climb up Rogers Pass in earnest, crossing the spectacular Stoney Creek Trestle a few miles before it punches into the Connaught Tunnel. CP maintains two routes over Rogers Pass, with most of the heavy westbound trains tackling the lesser grades of the new McDonald line, while the empty eastbound trains take the Connaught line. The Rocky Mountaineer trains take the very scenic Connaught line both directions.
Unfortunately, it looked as though road access to Stoney Creek trestle was out of the question thanks to the deep coating of snow, and I knew I didn’t have time to make the four-mile hike from the entrance to the tunnel, so I decided to save that location for a warmer month.
What I did find was almost as exciting. Just across the western side of the pass, a few miles beyond the Rogers Pass visitors center, lies Glacier, and the west portal of the five-mile long Connaught Tunnel. An old swaybacked depot was virtually buried under the snow there, but it was obvious that the small army of workers stationed there had been hard at work clearing snow from the rest of the facility, as well as the tracks on both sides of the pass.
The temperature had started to drop again at Glacier, and a howling wind stung the face with bitter cold and frozen bits of snow and ice. My hat is off (now that I am warm and comfortable) to the people who work there on a regular basis, charged with facing the winter’s bitterness to keep the line open.
After watching the train begin its descent down to Revelstoke and an after dark arrival in Kamloops. I turned my mind toward the long drive home as well. I would get in one more look at the train, but no photos after dropping my camera in the snow and covering the lens moments before the train arrived.
The Rocky Mountianeer’s passengers would spend the night in Kamloops, then board the train again the next day for the trip through the Thompson and Fraser river canyons and back to Vancouver, BC and journey’s end. Much better than the dense fog, snow and ice I faced on my return to the states.
Rocky Mountianeer’s Winter Wonderland trains are truly a thing of intense beauty, whether you chose to take as many pictures as possible, or just relax in your seat and absorb the incredible scenery first hand. I hope you have enjoyed this look at the train’s crossing of the Selkirks and Rockies, and I hope you decide to make the journey yourself some time in the future.
For more information regarding Rocky Mountaineer’s operations in the summer and winter, take a look at their website, which includes schedules and plenty of other information.
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