The Rocky Mountaineer in British Columbia, Canada is one of the World’s great train journeys. Although I am not especially a train buff I do enjoy travelling by rail and taking this special locomotive from Vancouver to Whistler and back was another milestone in my life as a traveller.
This particular journey a particularly special Rocky Mountaineer route; the scenery is stunning and of course terminates in epic Whistler. As I had never visited the adventure resort it was another highlight of a great trip.
Rail travel where it is possible is preferable to taking a plane for many travellers. It is more carbon friendly, the slower means of travel is relaxing enabling the passenger to enjoy the views and avoid the hassles of airports and security checks. I am also drawn to the romanticism of rail history, steam locomotives and the adventurous spirit of the pioneers that built the great railroads crossing vast expanses of open land.
They blasted tunnels through whole mountains, built impressive rail bridges across mighty rivers and laid mile upon mile of track through some of the World’s greatest wildernesses, thousands of men involved in the back-breaking labour. It maybe a somewhat flawed perception but it is the imaginative inner child in me that it appeals to rather than the more questioning adult.
Taking the Rocky Mountaineer is a full on luxury experience, which even includes collection directly from the major hotels in Vancouver. My own particular experience was the newly introduced ‘Silver Leaf’ Sea to Sky Climb Dome Service which includes overhead windows and a meal in the seat.
It provides great views and is extremely comfortable but of course taking pictures through a window poses a few difficulties. So as soon as dinner was finished eating, I headed to the open car for unobstructed views. It is perfect for taking pictures and unsurprisingly can get a little crowded.
It does mean missing the enthusiastic and pleasant commentary of the train staff. Throughout the journey they provide passengers with detailed descriptions of the major sights and a few of the stories or myths behind them too.
The views from the open car however are worth it. Kodak moments line up along the route, every few miles there is stunning vista or interesting scene.
A pleasant surprise was that everybody seems to wave at the train as it passes. Villagers stand on their porches or in the gardens, they wave from cars, boats and buses, while waiting at level crossings or bus stops, everybody seems genuinely seems pleased to see the train.
Small but perfectly formed waterfalls or spectacular mountain scenery with huge rock walls and climbers testing their skill on recognised routes or creating their own line up the sheer faces. Idyllic little coastal coves where small boats are often moored, their owners hoping for the salmon of a lifetime to take their bait.
Passing through small towns like Squamish that are squeezed between the ocean and the mountains, it seemed a shame not to stop there as well. It appeared a great little town and a great place to experience all that both environments have to offer.
There was plenty needed the attention of my lens, logger boats herding the lumber in small inlets or the powerful, tumbling, white-water rivers. At one point we crossed a bridge and all that we could see was the edge of an obvious huge drop of a cascade.
It is a trip filled with jaw-dropping scenery and the added excitement of bald eagles soaring high overhead or even possibly seeing a bear.
Taking photographs from a moving train provides its own special challenges, ensuring a sharp image is difficult and usually requires a fast shutter speed to capture the subject. The train driver helps when possible, the train slows at most of the major highlights and warnings are provided for which side to aim the camera at.
Tress line the route on both sides along much of its length and this provides another challenge. Getting a picture of the subject is a further challenge; most images seem to have branches or trees obstructing the spectacular views. Timing is important and having the camera poised and ready is the best way to get a cool image.
On this journey though the train is as photogenic as the scenery, and including it in many pictures as possible is as important. It is quite striking in the blue and gold livery though some lament the loss of individuality that the old decor used to offer.
Arriving in Whistler which was the next great adventure on my trip was exciting and more of that later. However this is one journey which is as special as the destination.
Just a few days later I was making the return trip to Vancouver, and the romance of rail travel must have influenced me. Seated next to a lovely young woman from Brazil called Nara, I spent most of the journey chatting with her. She was in the city studying English and we got on so well, we hooked up in Vancouver too, with me acting as her personal tutor. Her proper teacher probably isn’t too pleased with the results however.
Rail travel really is as romantic as perceived, and this journey between two of Canada’s great destinations has piqued my appetite for further rail adventures.