The Meanest Link Canoe Route
Easily the most unusual canoe route in Algonquin Park and possibly the most challenging.
What is the Meanest Link?
The Meanest Link is a canoe route created to honour the memory of Bill Swift Sr., one of the founders of Algonquin Outfitters. Swifty, as he was most often called, had other nicknames, such as Mean Dude or Meanest, which were a tribute to his gruff exterior persona. How he got those names is another story.
“The Link” was dreamed up by Alex Hurley and Gordon Baker in the summer of 2004. The trip consists of five challenging canoe routes connecting the four Algonquin Outfitters stores serving Algonquin Park: Oxtongue Lake, Brent, Opeongo and Huntsville. Meanest’s love of canoe tripping and numerous feats of endurance on the trail were legendary, so Gord and Alex felt that a canoe route linking Algonquin Park and Algonquin Outfitters would be an appropriate way to honour him. Paddlers must follow a prescribed route between each location and adhere to a few traditions along the way. Each section of the trip must be done as a single canoe trip, with the exception of the Huntsville/Brent leg which, due to the difficulty and time required, may be split into two sections. Ambitious paddlers with time on their hands can attempt to complete the full five-part link during one canoe trip, totalling approximately 420 km or 261 miles .
While the Link is not intended to be a speed trial, several amazing feats of marathon paddling have been recorded. Chris Bosworth and Rob Finkbeiner, for example, left the Brent Store at 4 am (in fog and darkness) and landed at our Opeongo store 17 hours later. The average canoe tripper would probably take at least four days to do the route down the Petawawa River, up the Crow River to Lake Lavielle and over the famous Dickson-Bonfield portage to Lake Opeongo. Jon Wilke and Brad Coultes paddled from Opeongo, through Oxtongue Lake to Huntsville in just under 30 hours. These two sections contain many portages and route-finding challenges, not to mention the mandatory stops at Camp Pathfinder and Oxtongue Lake. On the other side of the coin, several parties have had misadventures along the way, frequently due to underestimating the challenges of the route. These paddlers shall remain nameless. Anyone who attempts the route should be celebrated for trying and, if necessary, having the good sense to call it quits.
In the fall of 2004, the first attempt to do the route as a single continuous loop trip was accomplished. Up until then, no one had attempted the Huntsville/Brent leg, let alone the entire route. The Huntsville/Brent section goes up the Big East River to Algonquin Park’s western boundary, up the edge via McCraney, Rain, Ralph Bice and Big Bob lakes to the Nipissing River, then down “the Nip” to Cedar Lake and the Brent Store. This is a TOUGH section. Except as a spring whitewater run, the Big East is rarely travelled upstream of the Williamsport Road bridge. Will Lougheed and Randy Pielsticker tried to complete the whole loop in early November 2004 but had to cut their trip short due to bad weather, low water and the fact that they were running out of food. Given the marginal weather, short days, unknown terrain on the Big East River and challenging conditions in general, their accomplishment is significant.
In June of 2005, four determined young women quietly booked time off work, planned, packed and started paddling from Oxtongue Lake. Fifteen days later, Janet Thomas, Jaime Capell, Sarah Strickland and Leah Sanders became the first party to complete “the Full Link” as a continuous canoe trip. Their timing was chosen to give them ideal water levels, at the cost of travelling in peak black-fly season. For the full story of the Meanest Link and a detailed account of their trip, as written by Huntsville writer Don McCormick, please start at “Meanest Link, part one” on our blog and go from there. Since then, many staff members have done sections of the Meanest Link, more Full Links have been completed and, best of all, participation in the Meanest Link has extended beyond Algonquin Outfitters staff to include customers, friends and Full Link groups from Camp Pathfinder.
In June of 2008, Will Lougheed and Chris Bosworth set out to become the second group to complete the full link. Leaving in early June, Will and Chris gave themselves 14 days and two food drops to complete the trip. Their dear friend Clarke Wallace passed away the day before the trip, so the carbon/Kevlar Mattawa canoe (made by Swift) the duo used was named C.W. 1 in his memory and the trip was dedicated to him.
With Clarke looking on from above, the waters stayed calm, the weather clear and the trip was very positive overall. Will and Chris travelled an average of 14 hours a day under gruelling conditions, experiencing sunstroke and a bit of footrot. However, their determination overcame all adversity and they completed the Link in just nine days. The time they set is a record that proved hard to beat! Chris and Will have vowed that, should their record ever be beaten, they would do the trip again but, this time, do it in old-school tripping fashion with cedar-canvas canoes, canvas packs and only gear that was used the year the company was founded, 1961.
You can even join the Meanest Link community on Facebook!
Northern Scavengers 2018 Meanest Link
On Aug. 3, 2018, Alex and Noah attempted to complete Algonquin Park’s Meanest Link in nine days. The trip was in support of Project Canoe where the pair hoped to raise $2,500 to help create opportunities for adventure in underprivileged youths’ lives. They actually finished the Full Link in just 8.5 days!
Once Around Algonquin Park – Kevin Callan
Renowned paddler and author Kevin Callan, better known as “The Happy Camper,” took on the Meanest Link in June of 2013 with his good friend Andy Baxter, but this duo tackled it in their own unique way.
Read more on Kevin’s Blog at Explore Magazine.
The route of the Meanest Link
The route outlined below are written for the paddler going in a clockwise direction. In our opinion, going clockwise takes the best advantage of elevation gains and losses. However, there’s no reason why you can’t go the other way, particularly on a single-section trip. Please note that some lake names have been abbreviated to save space. Thanks to Camp Pathfinder for compiling this detailed trip outline!
Oxtongue Lake to Huntsville route (60.4 km / 37.5 miles)
Oxtongue Lake, Oxtongue River, Lake of Bays, South Portage Road, Peninsula Lake, Fairy Lake, Muskoka River
Huntsville to Brent route (129.4 km / 80.4 miles)
Muskoka River, Hunter’s Bay, Lake Vernon, Big East River delta, Big East River, McCraney Creek, McCraney, Little McCraney, Rain, Casey, Daisy, Ralph Bice, David, Mubwayaka, Pugawagun, Pezheki, Iago, Papukiwis, Manu, Shawshaw, Tim, Chibiabos, Indian Pipe, West Koko Pond, Big Bob, Nipissing River, Cedar
Brent to Opeongo route (128 km / 79.6 miles)
Cedar, Petawawa River, Radiant, Petawawa R., Francis, Crow River, Lavieille, Hardy Bay, Dickson, Bonfield, Wright, Opeongo
Opeongo to Oxtongue Lake route (102.2 km / 63.5 miles)
Opeongo, Sproule, Sunday, Little Rock, Kearney, Whitefish, Pog, Lake of Two Rivers, Madawaska, Cache, Tanamakoon, Little Madawaska River, Source, Ouse, Smoke, Tea, Oxtongue River, Oxtongue Lake
Explore the full link
The Rules of the Link
There are not many rules but they are important to the spirit of the trip:
- “Linkers” must follow the official route for each section and complete the section in a single trip. The only exception is the Huntsville to Brent leg, which could be done in two parts: Huntsville – Rain Lake, then Rain L. – Brent. (See the complete route outline above.)
- You can go in either direction.
- You can do a single section at a time, two or three sections at once or attempt the whole loop. If you attempt the Full Link but do not complete it, your completed section(s) will be recorded on the Meanest Link Wall of Fame.
- Solo trips are discouraged for safety reasons; electronic emergency-locator devices are recommended.
- Take pictures of the portage signs (at the very least) to prove you did it.
- You must use the same self-propelled watercraft for the whole section or Full Link, if you’re doing the continuous loop. Paddlers using anything but a canoe will be scoffed at.
- You can travel as fast or as slowly as you like. It is not a race.
- Safety is of paramount importance. Travel carefully!
- When paddling the Brent to Opeongo leg, the party must stop at (preferably camp at) Meanest’s favourite site on Lake Lavieille.
- Each trip member has to drink a particular refreshing beverage on that particular site. For more information on rules 9 and 10, please contact the Meanest Link Advisory Board at Oxtongue Lake.
- When paddling the Opeongo to Oxtongue Lake section, you must go up the Little Madawaska to Source Lake and stop at Camp Pathfinder, in order to pay your respects to the place where it all began for Meanest in Algonquin Park.
Meanest Link Accomplishments
Those who complete the Meanest Link are recorded in the list below, note we do not record how many hours it took to complete because it is not a race, it’s all about the journey and the experience. Anyone participating in the Meanest Link are required to follow all of the Algonquin Park rules including booking permits for campsites along the route.
Updated on Sept 25th, 2019
|Year||Meanest Link paddlers||Oxtongue / Huntsville||Huntsville / Brent||Brent / Opeongo||Opeongo / Oxtongue|
|2004||Alex Hurley & Jay Rudge||Completed|
|2004||Chris Bosworth & Rob Finkbeiner||Completed|
|2004||Drew Matthews & Kevin Thomas||Completed|
|2004||Jacob Biggar, Jaime Capell, Leah Sanders & Andrew Wood||Completed|
|2004||Leah Sanders & Sarah Strickland||Completed|
|2004||Will Lougheed & Randy Pielsticker (in November!)||Completed||partial|
|2005||Sarah Strickland, Janet Thomas, Jaime Capell & Leah Sanders (first “Full Link”)||Completed||Completed||Completed||Completed|
|2006||Robbie Roberts & Donna Grieves||Completed|
|2007||Camp Pathfinder: Ben Bristow in charge with Finn McCance & Nathan Coon||Completed||Completed||Completed||Completed|
Campers: Etan Bennett, Colin Campbell, John Robert Mackenzie, Peter Mancuso, Ben Vaughan & Evan Woodcock
|2008||Alphonse Pieper, Julia Pieper, Hayley Corsen-Rickert & Veda Gobrecht||Completed||Completed|
|2008||Brad Coultes & Jon Wilke||Completed||Completed|
|2008||Camp Pathfinder: Brian Brunsing & Josh Uline lead it while Caleb Atwood assists||Completed||Completed||Completed||Completed|
|Campers: Billy Frey, Max Goranson, Gavin Morrow, Max Rubenstein, Matt Tarduno & Alex Williams|
|2008||Will Lougheed & Chris Bosworth||Completed||Completed||Completed||Completed|
|2008||Matt “The Worm” Gutpell & Shannon Thompson||Completed||Completed|
|2008||Sophie Lovell & Ian Lovell||Completed|
|2009||Adam Maurer & Carmen Scott||Completed|
|2009||Camp Pathfinder: Cooper Scheuerell, Austin Hopkins, Evan Dent & Evan Woodcock (ML route variation)||partial||Completed||partial|
|Campers: Hunter Bielat, Jaime Humiston, Chris Micallef, Josh Osinski & Jack Vance|
|2009||Jen Clarridge & Cara Schiedel||Completed||Completed|
|2009||Jen Verheye & Andrew Bellini-Ruttledge||Completed|
|2010||Adam Hoff & Rainer Hoff (father/son)||Completed|
|2010||Matt Strickland & Madeleine Woods (record time set)||Completed||Completed||Completed||Completed|
|2011||Jonathan Sidell & Gary Sidell (father/son)||Completed||Completed|
|2011||“Six on Six” Crew – Mark Scarlett, John Scarlett, Mark Rubino, Jeffrey McMurtie, Scott Rogers & Jim Black||Completed||Completed|
|2012||“Six on Six” Crew – Mark Scarlett, John Scarlett, Mark Rubino, Jeffrey McMurtie & Scott Rogers||Completed||Completed|
|2012||Alex Savatti & Aaron Savatti (brothers)||Completed|
|2012||Gary Sidell, Jonathan Sidell & David Sidell (father/sons)||Completed|
|2012||Martin Miller & Corey Brown||Completed||Completed|
|2012||Rich Swift & Jessica Swift (father/daughter)||Completed|
|2013||Jeff Burdzy & Luke vanKoeverden||Completed||Completed||Completed||Completed|
|Above names are online and on the board||Oxtongue / Huntsville||Huntsville / Brent||Brent / Opeongo||Opeongo / Oxtongue|
|2012||Scott Pittman, Gord Gudlauggson, Bill Collison & Jon Williams||Completed|
|2013||Kevin Callan & Andy Baxter||Completed||Completed||Completed||Completed|
|2013||Gary & Jonathan Sidell||part 1 complete|
|2013||Martin Miller & Corey Brown||Completed|
|2013||Camp Pathfinder: Nick Brownrigg in charge, with Riley Hanson & Ian Moeser||Completed||Completed||Completed||Completed|
|Campers: Zak Kaufman, Tiernan Hannes, Jake Ostrowski, Mackenzie Bass, Ian Hanson & Lucas Reeber|
|2014||Dan & Rebecca van Gelder||Completed||Completed||Completed||Completed|
|2014||Gary & Jonathan Sidell||part 2 complete|
|2014||Alphonse & Julia Pieper (father/daughter)||Completed||Completed||Completed|
|2014||Christine & Andy Watters||Completed|
|2014||Martin Miller & Jay Rosenblatt||Completed|
|2014||Camp Pathfinder: headman Russ Hanson; secondmen Timo Krapf & Alex Holmwood||Completed||Completed||Completed||Completed|
|Campers: Charlie Rubin, Ian Zohn, Cameron Sills, Cameron Catal, Eric Smith & Avi Levy.|
|2014||Andrew Kitchen (solo)||Completed||Completed||Completed||Completed|
|2015||Jeff Burdzy, Warren McDermott, Karl Doench & Joey Egan (The Bachelor Party)||Completed||Completed||Completed||Completed|
|2015||Dan Mallory, Paul O’Brecht, Mark Honsberger, & Gary Ataman||Completed|
|2015||Gary, David & Jonathan Sidell||partial complete|
|2015||Ray Szucki, Mark Lockwood, Derek Farrugia & Jesse Maletych (The Algoonies)||Completed|
|2015||Camp Pathfinder: Josh Osinski in charge, Coulter Deacon & Henry Hoffert assisting||Completed||Completed||Completed||Completed|
|Campers: Santi Coco, Gabriel Ireland, Andrew Munford, Pat Nelson, Tom Owen & Lucas Prieto|
|2015||Ryan Dowling, Jevon DeWal, Jon Kenniphaas & Colin Gray||Completed|
|2016||Dan Mallory, Paul O’Brecht, Mark Honsberger & Gary Ataman||Completed||Completed|
|2016||Gary, David & Jonathan Sidell (father/sons)||rest completed|
|2016||Camp Pathfinder: Kathryn McDermott – head, with Alberto Gonzalez and Jake Ostrowski||Completed||Completed||Completed||Completed|
|Campers: Simon Cousineau, Peter Fabens, Bjorn Nordenflycht, Martin Prieto, Max Saperston & Henry Slan|
|2016||Michelle Stott & Scott Fraser (father/daughter)||Completed|
|2017||Dan Mallory, Paul O’Brecht, Mark Honsberger & Gary Ataman||Completed|
|2017||Camil Lapointe & Christine Hickey (did most in July, finished in Aug.)||Completed||Completed (two parts)||Completed||Completed|
|2017||Camp Pathfinder: Rio Moore in charge; Matt Blum & Yak Fishman following behind||Completed||Completed||Completed||Completed|
|Campers: Oliver Allshire, Sebastian Gwitt, Finn Halstead, Wilson Langkamp, Silas Witmore & Sam Zionts|
|2017||Ryan Dowling, Jevon DeWal, Jon Kenniphaas & Colin Gray||Completed|
|2017||Shane Sorrell & Matthew James||Completed||partial|
|2017||Helen McConnell & Mary McConnell (sisters)||Completed|
|2017||Shane Sorrell & Tyler DeLaurier||Completed|
|2017||Ryan Dowling, Jon Kenniphaas, Colin Gray & Dylan Brant||Completed|
|2017||Camp Pathfinder: Jerry “The Patriot” Egan with Gabe Ireland & Ben Kirby||Completed||Completed||Completed||Completed|
|Campers: Max Crocker, Ryan Ensminger, Mac Fabens, Will Fetkenhour, Eli Preston & Sean Woodbury|
|2018||Noah Booth & Alex Traynor (The Northern Scavengers)||Completed||Completed||Completed||Completed|
|2018||Camp Pathfinder: Addison Egan hosts family dinner while Jack Warner & Simon Jeens pull up chairs||Completed||Completed||Completed||Completed|
|Campers: Constantine Moseley, Danny Goetz, Linden Knup, Daniel Hoch, Ben Sabato & Aaron Curtin|
|Special note: Jack Warner is Meanest’s grandson|
|2018||Matt Thompson, James Werb, Alan Mellor & Adrian Cooper||Completed||partial|
|2018||Antoine Genereux, Aaron Deck & Erin Fong||Completed|
|2018||Candice Hurley, Andrea Waugh, Kat Laing & Lauren Somers||Completed|
|2019||“4 over 40” group: Grant Brouwer, Johnny Stinson, Derk Specht & Peter Romain*||Completed||Completed||Completed||Completed|
|* Peter completed Oxt-HV leg but pulled out of HV – Brent section at access point #3 due to injury|
|2019||Ryan Morin & George Quinby (current record time)||Completed||Completed||Completed||Completed|
|2019||Camp Pathfinder: Hap Pierson breaks out the sketchbook while Sam Laemmle & Gabe Myrick strike a pose|
|Campers: Alistair Daniel, Asher Milberg, Conner Luzon-Sax, Ben Tunkey, Eli Levy & Owen Zohn|
|2019||Dustin Van Heck||Completed||Completed||Completed||Completed|
Meanest Link Gallery