Jasper-Mount Robson: Train trip to Heaven

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Written by jasperjim posted on Monday, May 25th, 2009

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Via Rail's Skeena train travels past Mount Robson and some of the best scenery in Canada.

Via Rail's Skeena train travels past Mount Robson.

JASPER, Alberta – Visitors to the Canadian Rockies often ask about half-day train trips in the area. In fact, you can take that fantasy trip to Mount Robson and beyond on VIA Rail’s Skeena tour train.

The Skeena has some of the best scenery on any railway journey anywhere on the continent. Normally, this involves a two-day journey from Jasper to Prince Rupert, B.C.

But if you arrange a half-day train journey with a local tour company, you can see the other side of the mountain and still get back to Jasper in time for dinner.

Magical History Tour

You board the train at the Jasper Heritage Railway station – a building from the early days of Canadian National Railways.

At the first opportunity, head to the back of the train to sit in the vintage observation car. If you head to the upper level to view the scenery through the domed roof, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of spectacular scenery – snow-white mountain peaks towering thousands of metres over the mighty glacier-fed blue rivers.

There’s always a buzz of excitement running through the car when you spot some wildlife: Rocky Mountain big horn sheep clinging to the cliffs precariously close to the tracks; a mama bear and her two cubs scurrying across a meadow.

Later, you’ll pass a sapphire-blue lake fed by the mighty Fraser River. This marshy, shallow lake is a favourite feeding ground for the largest member of the deer family – and a great place to spot these lumbering giants. That’s why the place is called Moose Lake.

Truly Canadian

The half-day train trip passes through spectacular scenery.

The half-day train trip passes through spectacular scenery.

The dome cars on the Skeena are vintage cars from the Golden Age of rail travel in Canada. These stainless steel beauties, with streamlined design and art deco appointments, are the first-class legacy of The Canadian – the transcontinental passenger service that in its day was regarded as one of the greatest railway experiences in the world.

You’ll get off the train at a railway siding nestled in the Robson Valley between the Cariboo and Rocky Mountain ranges. You’ll have just enough time to take a photograph of the time-travelling train before it disappears into the panoramic scenery.

At the siding, you’ll be met by your guide from the tour company. Veteran guides all have two things in common – an almost encyclopedic knowledge of this region, and a practically missionary zeal and enthusiasm to share with the world the wonders of the Rockies.

Yellow Ribbon of Highway

As you drive back to Jasper on the Yellowhead Highway, following the spectacular Fraser River, you’ll learn about the layers of history that have literally paved the way for your journey.

The mountain pass (Yellowhead Pass) you’re travelling through was named for an Iroquois-Metis trapper who worked for the Hudson Bay Company in the 1820s. Because he had yellow streaks through his mostly dark hair, he earned the nickname Tête Jaune – French for “Yellowhead.”

Nine decades later, when the competing railways were rushing to build their transcontinental tracks to the coast, they came through this pass. And when the Yellowhead Highway was built through here, much of it followed the railway beds no longer used by the railways. Your way has been paved by the fur trade and the railway.

Peak Experience

Mount Robson is the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies - and regarded as the emperor of mountains.

Mount Robson is the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies - and regarded as the emperor of mountains.

After about an hour driving eastward on the highway towards Jasper, you’ll catch your first glimpse of the Great Mountain rising before you.

Mount Robson is so high that weather systems moving eastward from the Pacific Coast have trouble making it over the top. That’s why the mountain is usually veiled in clouds and is fully visible for only about 12 days each year.

But even though Mount Robson (3954 m) is the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies, it is not the tallest mountain in Canada – that honor belongs to Mount Logan (5956 m), in the Yukon. Nor is Robson the highest mountain in the Rockies – that would be Mount McKinley (6187 m), in Alaska.

But with its striking form and a vertical rise of nearly 3,000 m above the valley floor, Mount Robson has to be the most spectacular and the most imposing.

Certainly there are other regal peaks in this Rocky Mountain range. You’ll likely see the jagged spearhead of Mount Fitzwilliam and Mount Terry Fox – named for one of Canada’s great modern heroes.

But in this Valley of the Kings, Robson is an emperor – regarded by artists as the most splendid, most perfect of Canada’s many majestic mountains.

And when you see it, you’ll know why.

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