A Travellerspoint blog

the 'Skeena' train trip

spectacular introduction into VIA Rail travel - Jasper, Prince George to Prince Rupert

semi-overcast 18 °C
View Canadian Odyssey 2008 on tessab's travel map.

One of the guys on the Moose 'Athabasca' trip was looking to do a similar route to me (Jasper to Vancouver Island, basically) so he decided to join me on the train to Prince Rupert, followed by the Inside Passage ferry to Vancouver Island. It was good to have company on the train ride, I especially enjoyed having someone to share my enthusiasm at the beauty of it all with!

Day one was amazing. We were 'warned' by the chatty train / ticket guy in Jasper that the route from Jasper to Prince George was amazing, but that Prince George to Prince Rupert was "spectacular"! This was entirely true, although Andrew and I had a hard time believing it on the first day, as the backdrop of snow-capped Rockies (especially Mount Robson - the highest peak in the Rockies) against the cascading tree-covered mountainsides and sweeping rivers (the Fraser) was quite tremendous.

We spent the overnight stop in Prince George at a fabulous little B'nB just outside the town. There is no 'budget' accommodation in Prince George, apart from the ever present motels that don't actually offer anything of value for a solo independent traveler. I had booked in to the bed and breakfast (Arbor B 'n B), prepared to pay the extra for a room to myself, shuttle to and from the station, breakfast and a generally nice environment. It worked out really well that I could share the cost with Andrew, and it was possibly the best night of sleep I've had since I arrived in Canada! I really enjoy hostel travel, but having some personal space does make a great difference.

The second half of the last leg of the trip did live up to the train station guys warning, and more... The Skeena Valley runs east to west towards the Pacific Ocean, with the highway and train-line hanging on to the edge of the near-vertical mountain side.

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The back and front sides of the Skeena Train. Highly reccommend! Fantastic way to travel.

BC (and Canada at large) was conquered by the railway...

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Glaciers and paper mills... Two complete extremes. I think that Tolkien (or the set designer for Lord of the Rings, at least, got some inspiration for the orcs and Saruman from Canadian paper mills)

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And then another extreme - the spectacular scenery of the Skeena Valley.

Posted by tessab 17:29 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Icefield Parkway 3/3

Medicine and Maligne Lakes, Maligne Canyon

overcast 14 °C
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I began my third and final (for this leg, at least) day on the Icefields Parkway at the Athabasca Falls HI Hostel, fairly early and in the overcast drizzle. We paid a visit to a viewpoint overlooking Jasper Townsite (a diversion while our driver went into town to make emergency phonecalls about the bus failing to start in the cold morning) which was actually quite a good way to start the day. A short hike up a mountain yielded great panoramic views of the valley in which Jasper sits, as well as the snaking bright blue Athanaska River.

Sadly, it was overcast so we couldn't see the mountains that (apparently) tower over Japser. I do intend to make a return trip in October, so hopefully I'll get the chance to see it on a less cloudy day! The views were great though, and we did spot a number of elk browsing in the forests lining the road.

A short drive through dense forest (keeping an eye out for beers, elk and moose all the while, of course!) later, we came upon fantastic panorama of Medicine Lake. The lake was apparently named 'Bad Medicine' by the original First Nation tribe as it has no visible surface in- or outlet and fills and drains via a series of underground limestone caves (some of which flow into Maligne Canyon, which I mention later) and they thought that spirits were responsible for the Lake mysteriously filling and draining.

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Next stop was Maligne Lake - the largest lake in the Rockies and definitely on the packaged bus tour itinerary... I went for a nice long stroll around part of the lake, just enjoying the quiet and scenery. It seemed like a really nice place to go kayaking, but it was quite chilly (getting soft!) and I'd rather have rented a faster canoe (my dad's influence!), which came at an additional cost, of course.

Interestingly, Maligne Lake is derived from the French word for 'wicked' - named by a Jesuit missionary who had great trouble crossing the Maligne river further downstream. On the day I was there the lake seemed anything but wicked. I can only imagine what the original European explorers experience when they came across it though. The mountain vistas were, as they are everywhere in this area, picture-perfect.


Maligne Lake drains into Maligne Canyon - a really spectacular gorge that is 50m deep, but in some parts seems narrow enough to jump across. Apparently most that have tried, have died in the attempt. During winter there are guided walks (crawls) through the canyon along the frozen river... that would be cool.

It is amazing to see how the water has carved away at the limestone, the sinuous canyon walls are simply stunning. Equally amazing is how packaged such a raw geological force can become! I'm probably being really cynical, but I could have spent a lifetime wondering over the gorge, while many of the other people along the route just put their heads down and missioned over the boardwalks, bridges and canyon vistas. Each to their own, I suppose. Looking back at a lot of my comments, it seems that I am very cynical about tourism in general! The route has been very well thought out (with bridges, timber boardwalks and railings) to allow maximum 'enjoyment'. It does somewhat dampen the raw natural phenomenon though.

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That night was spent at the very crowded (think 30 people in one dorm room) and overpriced Jasper HI hostel. I wouldn't recommend, but there are no other choices in Jasper unless you have your own transport. Jasper is a really nice place though, a lot quieter and less 'packaged' than Banff.

Posted by tessab 19:10 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Icefield Parkway 2/3

more glaciers, waterfalls and canyons - ain't geology grand!

overcast 10 °C

Athabasca Galcier and the Columbia Icefield

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Tangle Falls

Horseshoe Lake
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[as always, I'm grabbling a couple of minutes in between moving about and will actually *write* something once I get back from my next stop (the north pacific cannery - www.cannery.ca)]

Posted by tessab 19:06 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

the Promenade of Glaciers - day 1/3

aka Icefields Parkway - Banff to Rampart Creek via Lake Louise

semi-overcast 12 °C
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I do prefer the French name for the Icefield Parkway - Promenade des Glaciers - there are 8 glaciers along the route; it is truly a promenade! For this section of my journey I joined a 'Moose' tour, basically 9 people in a van with a cool Canadian guiding the way... It is a hop-off / hop-on bus system that stops at the 'sights' along the route, a benefit not realised when travelling on the Greyhound bus - the only other option available to a solo independent traveller.
Check out this link to the Icefields Parkway site if you're interested : http://www.icefieldsparkway.ca/

I got picked up early in the morning (following a pancake (flapjack [SA] / drop-scone [UK] breakfast in the hostel - obligatory Canadian breakfast!) by the van, and we spent the first few hours driving through the fog, searching the trees alongside the roads for signs of elk, moose or caribou. Not to mention the possibility of spotting a bear!

First stop was Lake Louise - a spectacular, picture-perfect glacier lake overlooked by the Banff Springs sister hotel - the Chateau Lake Louise. To quote the Rough Guide; a "monstrosity that would not get planning now". A great pity in such a spectacular location, but the location does overshadow the ugliness.


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All the photos I took of this lake look photoshopped - it is simply too perfect to be true. But, it is! The lake is glacier fed (by the spectacular Victoria glacier at the other end of the Lake) and as such is bright turquoise blue because of suspended rock particles in the water (called 'rock flour') that only reflect certain wavelengths. We went on a walk around the lake, and I spent most of the time exclaiming at the beauty of it all! The sun was shining intermittently, glinting off the water and snow capped mountains, so I was slowly coming to realise that I was actually in Canada!

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Bow Lake and glacier


Crow Foot Glacier

Mistaya Canyon

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We spent that night at a great wilderness hostel along the Icefield Parkway called Rampart Creek. Roasted marshmallows and watching the starry, starry sky were the order of the night! Along with freezing in the sub-zero temperatures and conversations about leaving trails of toothpaste to attract bears, until after dark and when everyone was in bed, at least. Then the 200m walk to the long-drop in the pitch darkness didn't seem quite so appealing!!


Posted by tessab 21:51 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Canada, baby!

snow and High Tea in the Rockies

semi-overcast 14 °C
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So, 3.5 hours after sitting on the runway at London Heathrow, my flight left for Calgary! A pretty uneventful flight later, I landed on Canadian soil. I was amazed by the cross-section (or lack thereof) of passengers on the flight. It seems that most retired couples head to Calgary to take the same Rocky Mountaineer train ride to Vancouver, followed by a cruise up the Inside Passage to Anchorage! I was the sole representative of my mid-twenties age group. Quite a strange thought on a Boeing 747.

The Rockies are spectacular, it even snowed today! The mountains around the town are spectacular; they frame the main streets beautifully, and look amazing with their cake-decoration snow frosting. I took a ride on the gondola up Sulphur Rock Mountain where I spent a couple of hours soaking up the spectacular views and watching the snow and sunshine wash over the surrounding mountainsides.

Banff is a really touristy, but 'sweet' little town, buzzing with organised tours and backpackers. There are definitely two distinct types of travellers in this part of Canada: the older, organised tour participant, and the younger backpacker. This is epitomised by a conversation I overheard on top of Sulphur Mountain - two couples who had met a couple of weeks earlier bumped into each other on top of the mountain and spent 20 minutes complaining about the size of their rooms in various hotels along their routes. I was thinking about my squeaky bed in a 6-person hostel dorm, and not feeling envious in the slightest!
This is the spectacular view of Banff from the top of Sulphur Mountain.

After summiting the mountain (albeit the lazy-mans way), I celebrated my arrival with "Victorian Tea and Scones" at the Banff Springs Hotel - a bit lush, but I felt I deserved it ;) The hotel itself is somewhat of a Canadian landmark, the quote being 'if you can't ship out the scenery, ship in the tourists'. Banff was built by the railways for tourists, and is the site of Canada's first national park. It serves well as a launch pad for adventures along the Icefields Parkway (my intended route) or into the backcountry proper. Expensive and busy!

Posted by tessab 18:01 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

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