The West Coast Trail is one of the most sublime — and sometimes muddiest — long-distance hikes in North America, a rugged 46-mile trail that stretches along the wild Pacific coast of Vancouver Island.

Once an ancient route of the local First Nations people, in the late 1800s it became a telegraph route, then a lifesaving trail by which rescuers reached shipwrecks on the remote stretch of British Columbia coast.

Today, the West Coast Trail is part of Canada’s Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. It’s such a sought-after trek that backpackers’ access is controlled by a reservation system during the peak summer season to avoid overcrowding.

The trail hugs the roadless coast, winding along bluffs, through thick forest and along beaches. It’s not an easy walk in the park. Hikers clamber up and down ladders on some of the steepest, muddiest sections; teeter along seaweed-covered beach rocks; cross rivers in miniature cable cars; and slog through swamplike conditions since heavy rain can strike any time in the coastal rain forest.

Steve Ringman, a Seattle Times photographer, hiked the West Coast Trail last July with four others from the Seattle area, longtime friends who were linked through their sons’ Sammamish Boy Scout troop.

Veterans of Boy Scout 50-miler backpacking trips, they’ve kept up the tradition with a long-distance hike each summer, even though their sons are in or have finished college.

Ringman, three other dads and one son spent six days on the West Coast Trail, starting from the south end near Port Renfrew and ending tired, muddy, but exhilarated at Pachena Bay near Bamfield, the trail’s north end.

“We loved backpacking with the Scouts. So we never stopped,” said Ringman, of their outdoor “mancations.”

“Now we compare high-tech backpacking toys on the trail, drink mini bottles of booze every night, and have a blast trying to overcome some pretty good challenges — the West Coast Trail being one of them,” said Ringman.

Because of its muddy, very rough conditions, the trail was one of their more challenging hikes, Ringman said. And Parks Canada officials caution that this is not a trail for novice backpackers.

But the rewards along the tough trail are many. Days of wilderness wandering to a soundtrack of tumbling waves. Streams and waterfalls cascading down to the ocean, with seabirds wheeling above and whales spouting offshore. And warming up around beach campfires at night, with friends sharing tales of the day’s hike and of life.

Kristin Jackson: kjackson@seattletimes.com. Steve Ringman: sringman@seattletimes.com