Our train, boarded in Clearwater, had left Vancouver at midnight the previous night, most of its 25 carriages being sleepers. Those passengers had a dining room but at least our snack bar had coffee – at last. But first, “Which way is the toilet?”
“Both ends,” said the conductor who had already stowed our luggage.
“Which one is closest?” I begged. Nearby passengers grinned, all pointing the same direction.
But the conductor needed all five of us to claim a seat before he lost track of us.
“You don’t have to stay there, but you must be identified with one.”
Once we all quit talking long enough to hear and understand that, we stopped entertaining our neighbours. Things were improving quickly and became even better when my brother-in-law discovered empty seats in the dome car with its curved see-through roof.
Familiar sights, with a new perspective, were flashing past as the train rolled through Birch Island and Vavenby. It was harder after that and we were a bit miffed when we found out that the maps marking our route and communities through which we passed were all gone.
Wire Cache Rest Stop, across the North Thompson River, came into view and quickly disappeared.
“Pyramid Creek Waterfall coming up on the right side of the train in five minutes.” (Almost inaudible in the dome car, announcements were louder in our assigned seats where we did not sit.)
Cameras came out and everyone sat poised for action. The train barely slowed, and there they were – multi-channelled, plummeting, sparkling in the sunshine, and almost close enough to spray us – and gone! Few photos would show anything but a blur that day.
Later, my husband John and I were able to pick out Little Hell’s Gate, which the Overlanders had somehow got around in 1862. When visiting this spot by car, four of us had peered cautiously over the edge; then, seeing the rail line above us, wished we could be up there for a better view of the boiling, rushing North Thompson.
Somehow I missed Avola, where, on that earlier outing, big-black-dog Kodi and I were walking beside the tracks when a freight train roared past, unnerving us both. Our first stop, other than in sidings to allow trains to pass each other, was in Valemount.
“Is this the station?” we wondered, as the train slowed beside a patch of long grass. It was, and we were glad those who climbed down were young and fit enough to tug and bounce their luggage over the uneven surface to the edge of the road.
We spent most of our six-and-half hour trip in the dome car, with its extra windows, including glass curving above us, looking every direction. The sun beamed down from unending blue sky with a few frilly clouds floating on high – until we approached Mt. Robson.
John and I had never seen this highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies without clouds. As it was this time!
“We’ll have another chance tomorrow,” we said, hopefully. “We go onto a different track soon after we leave Jasper but we travel back through this same pass.”
Little game had showed itself, but four elk nibbled elegantly on a grassy slope near Moose Lake.
The time passed pleasantly as we moved around, munched, and chatted. A patient, caring couple with an autistic child and a cooler laden with food would be on board until stopovers in Toronto and Montreal, their eventual destination being Halifax and the grandparents.
Our overnight stop was Jasper, before reversing direction on a different Via Rail train, to Prince George and thence to Prince Rupert.