The Trans-Sierra Xtreme (TSX) Challenge, Grand Canyon Challenge, and Hell For Sure Challenge are a series of inspirational guided backpacking treks across Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, and John Muir Wilderness. They may be among the most challenging and rewarding experiences you ever encounter. You’ll traverse awe-inspiring terrain, completely unplugged, with a small group and incredibly experienced guides. While the treks can be intense, no prior backpacking experience is required and all ages are welcome. Just bring your mental toughness, positive attitude and be ready for the challenge of a lifetime.
It started with a simple bond between teacher and student.
In 1994 Chris Casado and Mike Murphy embarked on their first trans-Sierra trek together. Chris was a 14 year old kid, and Mike was a 5th grade teacher in Clovis, CA. Every year since 1983 Mike had been leading small groups, ages 11 to 70-plus years, on week-long treks across some of the most remote, least traveled regions of the Sierra to Mt. Whitney (14,505 feet).
The summer treks were positively impacting just about everyone they touched.
Chris was no exception. For him, the inspirational trek fueled a love of the Sierra, instilled self-confidence, and sparked a friendship that would span decades. Mike kept teaching, and Chris grew up. But through the years the two talked about how great it would be if they could open up this unique experience to touch more people.
In 2010 they made it a reality, and the Trans-Sierra Xtreme (TSX) Challenge was born.
In 2014, Chris and Andy Wagemaker, a close college friend and Flagstaff local, happened upon one of the most challenging and rewarding Grand Canyon backpacking routes. The three night loop was off the beaten path, rugged, and completely awe inspiring. The two agreed that it had to be shared and simplified as a TSX experience, and their friendship of nearly 20 years sparked the creation of the Grand Canyon Challenge.
In 2017 a third experience, the Hell For Sure Challenge, was created to introduce the growing TSX family to some of the most difficult to access, and thrilling to reach regions of the Sierra between Yosemite and Kings Canyon National Parks. Based out of Shaver Lake, and with miles of uncharted off trail peak-bagging, its an experience the TSX team created out of love for the region and the quest for true adventure.
“Deliver a once-in-a-lifetime experience where participants return to work, school or home recharged with inspiration to ‘hike on’ throughout life.”
“Create an experience where individuals with limited or no backpacking skills can safely and confidently venture into the rugged beauty and tranquility of our nation’s backcountry.”
Meet the Founders
My first trek to Mt. Whitney more than 20 years ago was my first ever over night backpacking experience, and it was completely unforgettable. When you’re a kid and hike a week across the Sierra and summit Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states, you realize that you can accomplish anything you put your mind to.
As an adult, backing the Sierra and Grand Canyon is equally rewarding – its a week of life completely unplugged, experiencing incredible scenery, while offering a valued opportunity to recharge and reset life’s priorities. After getting turned on to the Sierra as a kid, I did the John Muir Trail with Mike a few years later before heading off to Notre Dame for undegrad, and then UC San Diego for grad school. I’ve worked as a finance professional and entrepreneur in the Bay Area where I live with my growing family in Orinda, CA, and Shaver Lake, CA, as time allows.
I first began guiding the trans-sierra trail as a professional guide for the City of Visalia, CA recreation department in 1983. This trail has become a part of me. I’ve led at least one group of 10-15 individuals across this same trans-sierra trail each year since 1983. I keep going back because this trail keeps giving back. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing the face of students and adults alike who complete this trek and realize they can accomplish anything they put their mind to.
I’m also a Sierra Club National Outings Leader. I’ve led backpacking trips for the Sierra Club almost every year since 1991. In 2002, I participated in “American Frontiers: A Public Lands Journey,” a two-month trek co-sponsored by the National Geographic Society. I’m a geography nut at heart, and served on the California Geographical Society Board of Directors from 1995 to 2009.
Oh, yeah, I’ve completed the John Muir Trail five times… eh, almost five – a helicopter pulled me out from Crabtree on my last run – that was a first! I proposed to my wife on top of Whitney at the end of the second JMT trip (she said yes!). I’ve stood on Whitney 44 times and counting, and have logged over 4,000 miles of backpacking experience. When not in the back country, I’m a resident of Clovis, California, and a full-time 5th grade teacher at Gettysburg Elementary.
Andy “Wags” Wagemaker
After spending my time outdoors on the lakes of Minnesota as a child, and a few memorable years with Chris in South Bend, I moved west to Arizona and discovered the world of backpacking and mountain biking. After many adventures around Arizona, I jumped at an opportunity to explore the Grand Canyon below the rim with new friends. Since my first foray into the Grand Canyon backcountry years ago, the Canyon keeps calling me back. The thrill is incredibly addicting. Eventually, I pulled Chris into the canyon and shortly thereafter the Grand Canyon Challenge was born.
It works two ways. Chris pulled me into the Sierra and I will never forget my firs Trans-Sierra trek. The true inspiration wasn’t in the scenery, or the accomplishment. It was the spirit of the team who as a group, overcame incredible obstacles that week.
I’m a hockey fan, a finance professional and live with my family based in Flagstaff, Arizona.