Kamloops to Banff

British Columbia Travel Blog

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May 25
Train: Kamloops to Banff, Rocky Mountaineer Gold Leaf
Hotel: Fairmont Banff Springs
A long day in store today, 12 hours on the train from Kamloops to Banff. The shuttlebuses showed up at 6:15 to pick up everyone from the hotels. We left our bags in the room, they would be picked up and delivered to our hotel in Banff tonight. Our driver today was quite a character; instead of taking the highway to the train station he took us on a tour through town, down the 'Marigold Mile' and telling jokes all the way.
The agents at the station had radioed him to find out where we were.

The train left on time this morning at 7AM.. ours was the last car today as the other cars would be heading to Jasper. That meant we would get a clear view back down the tracks from the vestibule at the end of the car. The Rocky Mountaineer newspaper is provided at every seat; this gives a detail of the route sections and history on the building of the Canadian railway through the Rockies. The route today left Kamloops, crossing over Notch Hill, down to Salmon Arm, then across the Colombia River at Revelstoke, across the Rogers Pass and through the Kicking Horse canyon before crossing into Alberta near Field and ending at Banff.
Last Spike Monument, Craigellachie, British Colombia
We would go through 4000 feet of elevation gain today, Kamloops is only at 1100 feet and the Kicking Horse Pass between Alberta and BC is over 5300 feet. We were in luck with the weather today, clear and sunny.

The train set out, passing through small towns along the Thompson river. We were the first seating for breakfast today, I had the pancakes with maple syrup. The route climed gradually through Notch Hill, then down to Salmon Arm. The glacially carved fjord-like lakes around here are very popular for renting boats, from the simplest pontoon to hitech with jacuzzis and flatscreen TVs. Soon after we passed Craigellachie; site of the 'last spike' where the first trans-Canada railway was completed in 1885. The name came from Scotland; when the president of the CPR was trying to obtain funding to complete the railway, he telegraphed back a clan motto 'Stand Fast, Craigellachie!' when he was successful.
The route soon crossed the Colombia River, then started climbing up and up towards the Rogers Pass. There are two tunnels here built after the original route over the mountain turned out to be too treacherous during the winter. The train still passes through several avalanche sheds; the mountainsides here are steep and avalanches occur every year. We took the higher tunnel, the Connaught, a 5 mile tunnel. This upper route allowed us to pass over the famous Stoney Creek bridge, although you can't really see it from the train itself. The train descended from here, then down through the town of Golden, crossing the Colombia River again. There had been some bear sightings along the route here; I missed it but someone had caught a blurry picture of it as it crossed the tracks behind us.

The train next headed up the Kicking Horse canyon, deep dramatic cliff walls on either side and the raging river mere yards away. The train crosses the river 7 times so there are good chances to get pictures of the whole train. The weather had clouded up a bit by now. We passed a few rafters on the river before reaching the town of Field. We were approaching the Sprial Tunnels. Originally when the railway went over the Kicking Horse pass, the grade was 4%.. twice as high as anywhere else on the line. Extra engines had to be added on to get the train cars up and over the pass. All extra weight was discarded; even the dining cars would be disconnected on either side of the pass. In the early 1900s, this was remedied by building two 'spiral' tunnels; these tunnels circle around inside Cathedral mountain, increasing the length of the rail just enough to decrease the grade to a more manageable level.
At the time this was quite a feat of engineering; building the tunnels from both sides they met in the middle only inches off. Again not much to see from the train itself, though there are a few spots where you can see both the entry/exit of the lower tunnel. Just after passing through both spiral tunnels, the train crosses the Kicking Horse Pass and the Continental Divide into Alberta. We also had lost an hour; crossing into eastern BC and Alberta where clocks are on Mountain Time while Kamloops and Vancouver are on Pacific Time. The train next passed through Lake Louise, though you cannot see the lake from down below in town. The train route follows the dramatic route along the Bow River with mountain peaks on both sides. Finally the train pulled into Banff station where our train adventure came to an end.

Unlike last night, we did not get our hotel keys ahead of time. We had booked a transfer to the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel on the train at $10 each, assuming that finding a taxi at the train station might take some time with so many passengers. Most were on tours though and were already pre-booked onto the bus shuttles. We got a bit of tour through town, which seemed very neat and clean, lots of restaurants, shops and hotels. Banff gets visitors all year, we were there in late May which is just the start of the high summer season. We arrived at the Fairmont, a huge grey stone chateau-style. The Fairmont was one of the original hotels built by the CPR to attract tourists to the train. I'd seen pictures but was still impressed with the size of the place. It's located a bit out of town itself along the Bow River and just above the Bow River falls.
We used the FPC checkin and found out we had been upgraded to a huge King Suite in the conference center wing. The view was stunning, over across to the main building with Tunnel Hill behind it. Like the night before, our bags were already waiting in the room, so again they must bus the luggage in from Kamloops. We went down to the German pub for dinner where we met Alan, a Kiwi who had been sitting behind us on the train. The hotel has a bit of everything, from tennis to a bowling alley. There are several restaurants here, a German pub & restaurant, fine dining, Italian and Japanese. There is also a minimart where you can buy usual supplies.
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Last Spike Monument, Craigellachie…
Last Spike Monument, Craigellachi…
Rafters, Kicking Horse River, Brit…
Rafters, Kicking Horse River, Bri…
British Columbia
photo by: hummingbird50