Friday, September 14, 2007

Quesnel to Jasper by train

The food, my god, the food. 

For the second day's breakfast on the Rocky Mountaineer from Quesnel to Jasper, I am forced to choose between a brie-and-asparagus omelette or a perfect eggs Benedict with chipolte-tinged hollandaise sauce. "Lunch" is seared venison with maple brulee, garnished with gooseberries. B.C. wines accompany.

Michelle and I gingerly step up the spiral staircase from the dining room to the dome viewing deck, sit for a few minutes, then go back down to step onto the fresh-air deck. We joke about needing an exercise car with stationary bikes, just so we can work off this gorgeous, guilty food.

Outside, our Fraser Discovery train pulls us through long, rolling valleys with rounded hills but no mountains. East of Prince George, the route begins its southwestern crossing of the Rocky Mountain trench ~ a 1,350 kilometre-long valley that is so wide and so long, it can be seen from space. The train reaches up into the upper reaches of the Fraser River where the Rocky Mountain range rises to the north and the Cariboo range faces it from the south.

Regularly spaced railway communities with names like "Penny," "Loos" and "Eddy" sit next to the track, remnants of old family-run lumber mills. At Tete Jaune Cache, we seem to leave the main track to head due east. Mount Robson ~ a craggy, striated triangle of mountain ~ looms above us at 3,953 metres. It's the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, a staff tells us, and we are lucky to actually see its peak on this blue-sky day as it is usually cloaked by a mantle of cloud.

To celebrate, Sabrina, Jocelyn and Katya serve us warm appetizers and cold white wine. The train slows to a near standstill at Mount Robson's base and Michelle and I make a toast to a peak so massive that it creates its own weather. The train is quiet except for the sound of digital camera clicks and a muffled exchange of photo tips.

We're in Jasper National park and traversing the Rockies via the Yellowhead Pass. The pass was a natural choice for First Nations peoples, fur traders and railroad engineers. Now it allows a couple of city cyclists on an eight-car passenger train to merely sit and watch the approach of Pyramid Mountain, Mount Tekarra, the Whistlers and the mighty Athabasca River.

The town site of Jasper awaits us, and it just so happens that we're about to stumble into an epic party.