From Sky To Sea On The Rocky Mountaineer


Kalpana Sundar hops on aboard the Rocky Mountaineer for an experience of luxury and breathtaking views.

On board the blue and gold Rocky Mountaineer train at Whistler, Canada, I browse through a pamphlet in the seat pocket, I learn that this route follows the Pacific Great Eastern (PGE) Rail line built to connect Vancouver with Prince George. Way back in 1912, the construction of the line was started; it was criticized as the line from ‘nowhere to nowhere’. Finally in 1956, because of a great demand for lumber and coal, the last sections of the track were completed. We are travelling in the luxurious Glacier Dome compartment: seats that recline like first class air travel, huge glass windows up to the ceiling for a panoramic view and ongoing commentary on the passing geography.

Pulling out from Nita Lake, we pass Alpha Lake belonging to a series of four lakes that surround Whistler. Soon passing through forests of spruce, firs, wild ferns and foxgloves, we catch sight of the foamy water spilling over a ridge of rock: this is the Brandywine Falls, so named as the result of a bet about the height of the falls. One surveyor bet brandy against the other group’s wine. Suddenly there’s a flurry of activity. “Get your cameras out,” says Elizabeth, the cherubic attendant. We run to the open Heritage Observation Car. With the wind whipping through our hair, we follow the path of the train, as it runs above jagged rocks and the thundering waters. This is Cheakamus Canyon, along a narrow gorge created by glacial action. In the distance, the iconic Black Tusk volcanic mountain is seen, and pictures taken.

Fine china and crisp white napkins roll out of the shaking railway kitchen, and we are plied with finger sandwiches, buttery cones with Devon cream and strawberry jam and Earl Grey tea. Next, is the town of Brackendale, which is famous for its population of 3000 bald eagles in the fall and the winter when the salmon spawn up the river. In the distance we see the saw tooth of Mount Garibaldi, named by an Italian Sailor, after his hero, as it was sighted on his birthday. Slowly the landscape becomes rugged, with huge monoliths of granite coming in to sight. We are in Squamish meaning ‘ the birthplace of the winds’- a place renowned for wind surfing. The other buzz about the place is obvious as we can see ant- like Spidermen scurrying up the rock far away. The gigantic 700-metre high, glacier polished, granite rock is called the Stawamus Chief and is a favourite with rock climbers. Dating back millions of years, it’s said to be the second largest freestanding monolith in the world, after the Rock of Gibraltar. Squamish’s recent claim to fame: the latest offering in the ‘Twilight’ series of movies was filmed here.

For the next forty minutes we pass through green glacial waters of Howe sound and the distant mountains, and parallel to the Sea-to-Sky Highway on the other side. We pass Britannia Beach which was once the greatest copper manufacturer in the British Commonwealth; today it’s the BC Museum of Mining built like steps carved in to the mountainside, where you can take tours of the mine shafts and even try your hand at gold panning. For fans of the X Files, many episodes were shot here.

This train moves at a snail’s pace, the ‘Kodak crawl’, sometimes even slowing down further, allowing us to lean out photographing the curved train, the hills and dales. We pass Porteau Cove, a provincial campsite and the rim of the Howe sound, the most southerly fjord in North America. Porteau Cove is famous with divers, as large shipwrecks have been sunk to create an artificial reef attracting marine life.

Slowly the train approaches civilisation after miles of glorious wilderness. Passing through the Horseshoe Bay tunnel we are in West Vancouver, a rich beach community with multi-million dollar homes. There are homes with gardens ablaze with geraniums and honeysuckle and elderly couples working in the yard. There is the waft of cedar and hemlock trees and the cool invigorating breeze.

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