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“Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road, time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go.”

Fabien, the train’s service manager, sings the Green Day classic in his French-Canadian accent, bald head bent over an acoustic guitar, eyes focusing steadily on the strings. He sits at a table by his walkie-talkie in the pale interior of the activity car. Responsible for the safety and wellbeing of the passengers while on board, he likes to sit and play his guitar in the moments the passengers don’t need him.

Along with a group of 12 travellers from all over the world, I’ve just boarded a train at Vancouver that will be stopping off at Jasper, a small Rocky Mountains town, and big city Winnipeg, on the way to Toronto.

The train is due to arrive in Jasper at 4pm the next day and by the middle of the 18-hour journey to Jasper I’ve already paced the entire length of it – this is how I found Fabien at the back. He tells me people in economy class have the most fun, which is a bonus, since that’s where I am. 

We sit and drink in the bar cars at night, watching the city lights go past until everything disappears into darkness as the train heads into the Rocky Mountains. By day, we gaze out of the windows on the look out for the black bears and grizzly bears that often wander along beside the tracks. You might even see bald eagles, their white heads poking out from the nests at the top of the impossibly tall trees that are so numerous in this part of the world.

Snow-covered peaks rise up to greet us as we arrive in Jasper in the late afternoon. Jasper calls itself a ‘little town in a big park’ (that’d be Jasper National Park, the largest in the Canadian Rockies) and reminds me of Bariloche in Argentina. The two ski villages have that same small town feel, with low-rise cabin-style buildings and trinket-selling shops, set in the midst of grand surroundings (Bariloche sits in the foothills of the Andes in Nahuel Huapi National Park). But where Bariloche has lakes, Jasper has all those lovely, tall Canadian pines.

After a good night’s sleep, we get up to go white water rafting with Maligne Rafting Adventures, about an hour outside of Jasper. 

“OK everyone,” says our Kiwi guide, Jesse. “So, there are three different categories of rafting on three different rivers here: class 2 on the Athabasca River, class 3 on the Sunwapta or Fraser rivers, and finally the Kakwa River, which is class 4. Today we’re on the Fraser River.”

Seeing as I haven’t been rafting in years, going easy on the Fraser River is a wise choice. The area is so beautiful that for me it’s enough just to be here without proving my (non-existent) rafting prowess on the scarier class 4 rapids. 

Splashing out: tackle the white water around Jasper

We get changed into our wetsuits amid a flurry of mega mozzies, before joining Jesse for a demonstration of how to rescue each other from the water. Once in our rafts, the river carries us past towering evergreens and great cliffs. “Paddle forward!” Jesse shouts over the noise of the water. “Now backward!”

“Watch out!” she yells, every time we’re about to get hit in the face with water, much of which I take the brunt of, gaining a particularly wet crotch. Super. The next day we embark on a tour of the Columbia Icefield. This incredible expanse of otherworldly white feeds eight major glaciers and some of the highest mountains in the Canadian Rockies teeter at its edges.

As our coach ascends the steep mountain road to take us to the field, the tall green trees become increasingly dusted with snow, until it feels like we’re in a winter wonderland. When we arrive, I buy a red hat with a maple leaf on it from the gift shop (natch) and we board a Brewster Ice Explorer. It’s essentially a coach with thick, tractor-like tyres. 


Canada by rail: River rapids, bear sightings and freezing ice fields - it's an adventure-packed train journey
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