Paddling Magazine’s Digital Content and Social Media Manager, Alex Traynor, set out with tripping partner Noah Booth to complete Algonquin Park’s Meanest Link trip in a mere 10 days. The duo runs a platform known as Northern Scavenger where they share their backcountry camping experiences via video.

The Meanest Link route was created in memory of Bill Swift Sr., one of the founders of Algonquin Outfitters, and connects the four Algonquin Outfitters locations through a very specific set of rivers and lakes.

The Meanest Link consists of 424 kilometers and over 100 portages including an additional 65 kilometers of up-river travel on the Big East River. Not only do they hold the second-fastest time to complete the Meanest Link, they also managed to film the entire route making an entertaining documentary of their trip.

Since Alex conveniently works in the Rapid Media office, and it was the editor who suggested this route to him in the first place, it was pretty easy to force him and Noah to answer a few questions.

Meanest Link in Algonquin Park
Northern Scavenger tackles the Meanest Link in Algonquin Park | Photo: Noah Booth

Why Did You Decide To Do This Trip?

Noah: Each year we look to do a trip that challenges us in a new way. When we first considered the Meanest Link first, my initial reaction was “that’s impossible”, but once the idea was seeded, we both became more curious in our ability to complete such an iconic route in an unprecedented amount of time. This curiosity quickly grew to the idea of how we can use this as a means to create adventure in other people’s lives. This is when we first thought to use this trip as a fundraising opportunity for Project Canoe.

What Were Your Biggest Challenges On The Trip?

Noah: We have a tendency to get lost in the moment and forget to eat and drink. On a trip like this, we couldn’t afford to become dehydrated or malnourished because that’s when bad decisions are made and people make silly mistakes. 

Alex: For me it was just the sheer distance we had to cover with the high number of portages on a daily basis. Previously I would have said that a 30km day with 10 portages was a big day. Now we were hitting almost 60km a day with up to 23 portages.

Did You Ever Think You Weren’t Going To Finish?

Noah: I knew the only way we weren’t going to finish is if one of us got hurt. The thought of one of us twisting an ankle or falling bad on a portage was always on the back of my mind. 

 Alex: Travelling up the Big East river at the beginning of this trip was really slow going. We were concerned that we were behind schedule but we were ready to pull some late nights paddling and portaging into the dark in order to make up the distance we needed to.

Did You Have Any Low Points On The Trip?

Noah: The couple hours of paddling down Dickson Lake on route to the infamous Dickson-Bonfield portage. We had already done 20 portages and 44 kms. The last thing I wanted to do was take on the largest portage in Algonquin (5.5 km) at the end of a very long day. It was difficult to mentally prepare for that one. 

Alex: When we got lost in the alders on the Nipissing River. It was such a claustrophobic feeling not being able to tell where we were on the river. We were soaking wet from travelling through all the thick wet bush on the river, the temperature was dropping, daylight disappearing, and we had no idea where we were going to camp.

What Was The Biggest Cause For Celebration?

Both: When we rounded the final corner of the Big East River and saw the first yellow portage sign going into Algonquin Park. We knew the portages were just starting, but we were so relieved to be done with wading against the strong current of the Big East and the unmarked bushwacking portages.

Would You Do This Trip Again?

Both: We live in “Canoe Country”; there are just too many routes to explore to do the same trip twice. As far as challenging trips go, who know where our curiosity will take us next.

One Recommendation For Other Paddlers Looking To Tackle The Meanest Link?

Noah: Have a good sense of humour. If you can’t laugh at the amount of distance and portages you have to do, you’re in for trouble.

Alex: Don’t do this trip in 10 days. While we definitely enjoyed pushing our bodies to the limits, if you have the luxury of more time available you might as well take as long as possible to enjoy this route.

Algonquin Park’s Meanest Link Part 1: The Big East

Starting at Algonquin Outfitters – Oxtongue Lake, Alex and Noah spent the first 2.5 days outside of the park which included a quick stop in Huntsville, as well as a 66 km “paddle” up the Big East River. The Big East River is a large variable in the route and has proved to be a critical factor in determining if the pair would be able to finish the link on schedule. Attempting this section in the driest time of the year was also a concern. Would there be enough water?

The Route: Oxtongue Lake, Oxtongue River, Lake of Bays, South Portage Road, Peninsula Lake, Fairy Lake, Muskoka River, Hunter’s Bay, Lake Vernon, Big East River Delta, Big East River, McCraney Creek.

Algonquin Park’s Meanest Link Part 2: Walking The West

Alex and Noah made it to portage country, and Algonquin’s Western boundary is no exception. The first day in the park included 23 portages in 42 C weather followed by a meander down the “lost” river. A river so thick in alders, you get lost.

The Route: McCraney Lake, Little McCraney Lake, Rain Lake, Casey Lake, Daisy Lake, Ralph Bice Lake, David Lake, Mubwayaka Lake, Pugawagun Lake, Pezheki Lake, Iago Lake, Papukiwis Lake, Manu Lake, Shawshaw Lake, Tim Lake, Chibiabos Lake, Indian Pipe Lake, West Koko Pond, Big Bob Lake, Nipissing River.

Algonquin Park’s Meanest Link Part 3: Northern Gems

Alex and Noah enjoy the hospitality of Algonquin Outfitters – Brent store, the most northern section of the route. From here they head into the heart of Algonquin and visit some of the park’s most renowned lakes which includes a stop at the Mean Dude’s favourite campsite for a couple tasty beverages.

The Route: Cedar Lake, Petawawa River, Radiant Lake, Petawawa River, Francis Lake, Crow River, Lake Lavieille, Hardy Bay, Dickson Lake.

Algonquin Park’s Meanest Link Part 4: Southern Stretch

In the final days, Alex and Noah dig deep to complete the link. Along the way they paddle some of Algonquin’s most accessed lakes, visit Camp Pathfinder and wind through the Oxtongue Provincial Park.

The Route: Bonfield Lake, Wright Lake, Opeongo Lake, Sproule Lake, Sunday Lake, Little Rock Lake, Kearney Lake, Whitefish Lake, Pog Lake, Lake of Two Rivers, Madawaska River, Cache Lake, Tanamakoon Lake, Little Madawaska River, Source Lake, Ouse Lake, Smoke Lake, Tea Lake, Oxtongue River, Ragged Falls, Oxtongue Lake.

Learn more about Northern Scavenger.


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