Day Four: Upper Twin Falls to Algonquin Outfitters. Distance Travelled: 22.2km (1.92km of Portages, 20.28km of Canoeing).
Much like the previous day, our final day dawned gray and overcast. There was a little fog that drifted away in the morning, but it wasn’t from sunshine. The day stayed cloudy and threatened to rain more and more with each stroke of the paddles.
I let everyone sleep in until five-thirty and then roused them. We packed up and were out on the river two hours later. Despite sleeping on the hard ground for the past three days, my aches had subsided to a dull throb and, despite my back screaming at me through every portage, it was not even singing that morning; good deal.
Our first order of business was to finish the portage we’d started the night before. It was less than two-hundred meters down to the river, and it went smoothly. We took off on a long straight-away and made it to our third last portage of the trip; it was a scant eighty-five meters that we breezed through. That done, we were free to enjoy all that the river had to offer again, as if we hadn’t gotten a thorough enough ass-kicking the day before. While the other portions of all the other rivers had twisted and turned, none of them compared to the final leg of the Oxtongue. It resembled the early squiggles I’d made on my first etch-a-sketch. With low water and a mountain of flies buzzing around us, we pushed on. On this stretch, there was only one place we had to consult the map and watch out for. There was a fork in the river that was easy to miss. If we took the Northern route, we’d end up canoeing another couple kilometers to Ermine lake. Thankfully, we were well aware and took the Southern fork.
Eventually, we wound our way down to our second last, and my absolute favourite, portage. It was just shy of a kilometer that climbed and descended for fifty meters multiple times. While the constant change of elevation was exhausting, I barely noticed. It was the greenery surrounding me that held my attention. There were makeshift stairs etched out of stone covered in a lush, green moss. The trees, as thick around as a grizzly bear, were covered in the same moss; it was like I’d stepped through time and was traipsing around some ancient gaelic fae realm. Everything was lush as the river pounded down the rapids to my left. Eventually, I came to the end and was more than happy to expend some extra energy going back to the beginning and grabbing the second canoe for a final walk through this dream-like forest. This second time, I noticed a few campsites, one of which had a fire-pit that resembled the bedrock of a chimney. Everything was covered in a vibrant green that hurt the eyes if you looked at it too long.
Eventually, this forgotten era was done, and we made our way down toward the Ragged falls and the final portage of our journey. Slated at an easy half-kilometer, this portage was anything but. We were now out of the park and canoeing on crown land. Because of this, our final two portages were poorly marked as far as distance and difficulty were concerned. Paddling around a bend in the river, we heard the falls before we saw them. There was a sign emblazoned with red lines and lettering that let us know it was serious business. We disembarked and began our hike.
The map we were using was over two years old, and I blame this for the discrepancy from what our final portage actually was. To our right, encompassing the river, was a chain-link fence that warned of exceedingly terrible conditions: Keep Out! Looking beyond the fence, I could see remnants of an old trail that wound around the river. Times change though, and the area around the falls had been converted into a park. Because of this, there was not a single straightforward trail to follow, but multiple. They spider-webbed off at one point. We dropped our gear and began scouting around. It wouldn’t have been so bad if we’d been walking on level ground, but the park was built on a massive hill that plummeted down all around us. We spent almost an hour tracing trails, backtracking, finding the parking lot and many other areas, before finding a place that we could launch off to finish our trek. The final bit of our “trail” was an assortment of ankle-breaking rocks that we had to hop along to make it down to the inch-thick sand dune that allowed for a quick and torrential launch off. It was tough, and I don’t think the three of us have ever sweated more in our lives, but we made it with the humid heat hammering down on us.
We rejoiced, took a smash of whiskey from our flasks and let the current float us a little further down the river before picking up our paddles again.
We were on to the home stretch.
The tension within ourselves was palpable as we came to the final channel that would open onto the Oxtongue lake, which led to the Outfitters and our salvation. Of course, it was then that it started to rain. Not much at first, but by the time we hit the beginnings of the lake, I was worried about having to bail out my canoe. I shouldn’t have been that worried, however. The channel became a lake and we kept to the right, sticking as close to shore as possible. Around a bend, and we saw the overpass. Underneath and beyond was the Outfitters. Our spirits and energy peaked and we commenced a mad dash toward the only place that would have us in our state.
We paddled in together, both canoes abreast. This was the type of adventure that you sweat and bleed and finish together. We’d done it. We reached land and gave out a thunderous cry in the pouring rain. We dragged our canoes onto shore, tipped them over, and wandered up to the Outfitters in our disheveled states.
We met the manager and one-half of the brain trust of the link, Gordon Baker. He took our picture for their wall of fame (if you complete even just one portion of the link, you get your name etched on a board along with the date and time it took to complete), and spoke to us at length about all sorts of tales regaled to him about the link. He was a kind hearted, massively bearded man that had helped us out in planning and knew everything about the link that there was to know. It was a pleasure to meet the man and be the first ones to accomplish a link of The Link that season. It gave us a certain sense of pride.
All told, it took us thirty-nine hours to travel eighty-seven kilometers. We came in and out with all our gear, garbage from food included, and left with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. For anyone who wishes to brave the vast wildness that Canadian parks have to offer, look no further than The Meanest Link. It may chew you up and spit you out, but it’s a beautiful experience you’ll be glad to undertake, if only for the history attached to the most beautiful, and meanest, link that Canada has to offer.