No matter your age, backpacking the Sierra can be a life changing experience. The Trans-Sierra Xtreme (TSX) Challenge is an annual series of guided 75 mile backpacking treks across Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. The inspirational journey traverses some of the most remote, least-traveled regions of the Sierra before culminating with an ascent on Mt. Whitney (elevation 14,505 feet), the highest point in the lower 48 states. This week-long hike is open to fit and motivated individuals of all ages and experience levels. You’ll cover 75 miles in one week, with over 20,000 feet in cumulative elevation gain and 18,000 feet in cumulative elevation loss. You won’t find it spelled out in any guide book or map.
- Guided 8 night, 75 mile trans-Sierra hike to Mt. Whitney
- Transportation from Bay Area, L.A. and Fresno to our trailhead
- Return transportation
- Personalized pack check prior to departure
- All meals and snacks in the back-country
- Group gear and equipment
- Backpack, sleeping bag, sleeping pad if needed
- Post-hike closing meal and opportunity to shower
What’s not included
- Meals in the front-country, including while in transit
- Personal items
How it works
A $450 deposit per person is required with balance due 60 days prior to the event. Starting in 2018, travel in the area around Mount Whitney for commercial groups is highly restricted through a quota reservation system, administered by Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. Sign up before January 31st to ensure your reservation is secure! We expect limited quota availability for participants who register on or after February 1st. Please contact us for custom dates or corporate/group pricing. Maximum group size of 15, including two guides.
Morning departure, pack-check, overnight at trailhead
We’ll convene at 10AM on the day of departure at designated meeting points in the Bay Area, Southern California and Central California, and begin our journey to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks (about a 5 hour drive from the Bay Area and Southern California, 2 hours from Fresno). Our goal is to make it to the trailhead just before dusk where we will do a final pack-check, get to know our team, and talk safety.
Day 1 – Horse Corral to Sugarloaf (moderate)
Trail: Begins at 7,800′, climbs to 9,300′ then descends to stream crossings and camp
After breaking camp at the trailhead, our trail begins near Big Meadow at 7,800′ and heads uphill to around 9,300′, then down to camp at 7,200′ near Sugarloaf. While the grade is moderate, expect this day to be among the toughest.
Day 2 – Sugarloaf to Big Wet Meadow (moderate)
Trail: Multiple stream crossings, trail climbs back to 8,500’
Today the trail undulates upward, with multiple crossings of prestine high sierra creeks, and one Roaring River, as we climb to near 8,500′ for our camp below granite cliffs and spires. At camp #2 we almost always have curious deer wander through. Keep your ears open for the occasional bear. Grrrrr…
Day 3 – Big Wet Meadow to Colby Lake (intense uphill)
Trail: Stiff climb to high-Sierra lake at 10,600’, get to camp just after lunch, rest
A stiff climb will bring us to one of the prettiest campsites in the Sierra, Colby Lake at 10,600′. A mid-afternoon swim, the chance to catch fresh trout, and the most amazing display of stars anywhere makes this camp special.
Day 4 – Colby Lake to Junction Meadow (intense up and downhill)
Trail: Climb to pass at 12,000’, then long intense downhill to 8,000’, most difficult day
An early start and 1,400′ ascent will get us to Colby Pass where we can view the Kern Canyon and the Mt. Whitney group. A long and sometimes steep descent will get us to the Kern River for a crossing just before camp. This is the most challenging, and most breathtaking day.
Day 5 – Junction Meadow to Crabtree (moderate uphill)
Trail: Gradual climb to intersection with storied John Muir Trail and over 10,000′
A long, gradual climb on very good trail will get us to the John Muir Trail followed by undulating trail to camp near Crabtree Meadows at 10,800′. Our goal is to camp at the postcard-perfect campsite with an awesome view of the west side of Mt. Whitney.
Day 6 – Crabtree to Mt. Whitney and back (intense up and downhill)
Trail: Long day hike to summit and back with roughly 4000′ of elevation gain, and loss
Our early, before sun-up start will get us to the top of Mt. Whitney at 14,507 feet by lunch (weather permitting). The adrenaline will be flowing as we move past Guitar Lake, up the switchbacks, and parallel the Hitchcock peaks. After signing the book and taking pictures (you can also call home from the top) we’ll hike back to camp for dinner.
Day 7 – Crabtree to High Desert Camp (moderate to moderate-intense)
Trail: Morning climb to near 11,000′, mid-afternoon descent, and then climb back to 11,000′
We will leave our base camp and start our final segment to cars and civilization. We will hike a moderate trail for about 9 miles to our remote camp on the high desert above Rock Creek.
Day 8 – High Desert Camp to Horseshoe Meadows (moderate)
Trail: Relatively flat, then 500′ climb, before dropping to trail exit
An early start will get us to Chicken Spring Lake before lunch. We will cross over Cottonwood Pass and then descend the eastside of the Sierra. After a cool drink and dinner we’ll load the vehicles and head back to the Bay Area, and home to brag. Family and friends are welcome to meet us on the backside of the Sierra as we exit the trail near Lone Pine.
Departure and pickup locations: On the day of your departure, TSX will coordinate transportation from the Bay Area, Central California, and Southern California designated pickup locations.
- Bay Area: REI Concord, Concord, CA – 10:00am*
- Central California: Clovis Cole Best Western, Clovis, CA – 2:00pm*
- Southern California: REI Northridge, Northridge CA – 10:00am*
*Exact time and regional pick-up locations will be confirmed on a trek by trek basis. Please arrive at least 15 minutes prior to your confirmed pick up time. We suggest you coordinate with family, friends or taxi for the drop off, since we can’t guarantee the safety of your vehicle if left in the parking lot for the week.
Meals are not provided when in transit, however, we will stop for food and to refuel before reaching the trailhead. Our goal is to make it to the trailhead just before dusk. A light snack will be provided that evening at the trailhead.
Pre and post-trip accommodations: For guest traveling in from out of state, we suggest flying into Fresno, CA the evening before departure and staying at the Best Western Clovis Cole, in historic downtown Clovis. Its about a 10 minute cab/Uber ride from the airport. We can pick you up at the hotel on the day of departure. If you plan on staying somewhere else, please let us know where you end up, and we’ll do our best to accommodate.
At the trailhead: Bring your personal items and gear, and a positive attitude! All group gear and food will be provided on the trail. Any major personal gear you’ve indicated you’d like us to provide (sleeping bag, tents etc.) will be waiting for you at the trailhead.
Please also bring a small bag with a clean set of clothes. Before we leave, we’ll give that bag to our return transportation so we will have something clean to change into after exiting the trail.
Returning home: It’s difficult to predict exactly when your group will exit the trail near Lone Pine, Ca. Our itinerary has some buffer built in to account for unknowns such as group speed, trail conditions, weather etc.
We will generally have a good sense of timing by the time we reach the summit of Mt. Whitney (day 6 or 7). One of your guides will check-in with return transportation from the summit. If you’d like to have friends or family meet you as you exit the trail, let us know and we can pass on the ETA and directions.
Our return transportation will meet us as we exit the trail on the eastern side of the Sierra. We will descend to Lone Pine to shower and share our last group meal. Finally, we’ll head back to your pickup location. This is a five-hour+ car ride. Bring some pocket money for meals on the drive back.
WHAT YOU’LL NEEED
Joining a TSX experience is easy. Don’t own a backpack or tent? Not a problem. We provide backpacks, tents and sleeping pads for those who need them, at no additional charge. We also take care of all group items like pots, stoves, food, food storage, water filters, first aid and more. Your guides will do the cooking and dishes. Just show up with your boots and personal items, ready to hike!
We started TSX in late 2010. Unlike other backpacking outfitters that do multiple routes, and types of trips, TSX started by providing only one experience, and doing it extremely well. Each summer we take motivated individuals from age 11 to 70 years plus, band them together as a team, and trek over 75 miles across the Sierra to the summit of Mt. Whitney (14,505 feet). We call this the Trans-Sierra Xtreme (TSX) Challenge.
The route we take is a “non-traditional” route. We start out of Sugarloaf, hike through Big Wet Meadow, over Colby Pass, and into the Kern-Kaweah River drainage, before climbing again towards the Whitney group. It’s a little known route I first discovered when I was 14. I was introduced to this trail through a 5th grade teacher, Mike Murphy of Clovis, CA, who has been leading kids and community members across this exact same route to Mt. Whitney every year since 1983 – that’s 30+ years and counting. The experience has been a source of inspiration for me and many others in my family and community. While physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging, the trail experience positively impacts just about everyone it touches. It changes lives. Mike and I started TSX to open this unique experience up to touch more people.
Our program is unique based on how we operate, how we’ve grown, and who we serve. We are a local, independent organization, not affiliated with national brands, national clubs, or outfitting organizations. Since our modest inaugural treks with the public in 2011, we’ve grown organically, leading roughly five trans-Sierra treks annually. Our tight, singular focus, and passion for this route, enables us to offer experiences at a price points that are significantly lower than comparable backpacking treks.
Our goal is to help people of all ages, shapes, backgrounds and sizes, reach goals they might never have dreamed possible, like trekking across the Sierra to the highest point in the contiguous U.S., Mt. Whitney. In 2015 more than 25% of participants were ages 12-33, and 50% of participants were under 45 years of age. For roughly half of our 2015 participants, this was their first-ever overnight backpacking experience.
When I first hiked this route with Mike in 1994, it too, was my first ever overnight backpacking experience. We climbed Colby Pass in snow (similar to 2017, pictured) and slept on Mt. Whitney’s summit.
Read the reviews, or the trek name, and you will quickly come note that this is an intense experience. That's how we like it. At our core we are educators who lead by example in our appreciation of these outdoors, and through lessons only this incredible journey across the Sierra can inspire in each of us.
The first four to five days of this trail will traverse some of the most remote, least traveled regions of the Sierra. Once we connect with the John Muir Trail on day five, the excitement builds in our approach to Mt. Whitney. Mt. Whitney is a popular destination, and we take a number of planned steps to minimize our impact. First, all of our commercial groups exit via trail to Rock Creek/Horseshoe Meadows This ensures we close the trip experience in the incredible wilderness of the high Sierra desert, avoiding the Mt. Whitney day hiking crowds. Second, our teams typically base camp at Crabtree the day we summit Mt. Whitney, making full use of the pit-toilet located on site (the only one on the trail!). Third, we pack-out any human waste generated between Crabtree and Mt. Whitney’s summit using WAG bags, and dispose of it after exiting the trail via Cottonwood pass. Last, we are 100% backpacking oriented and never use stock support for gear or re-supply, resulting in minimal trail impact compared to stock supported groups.
This an experience that will stick with you for life. So grab your kid, grab your parent, grab your best friend for life, and join us in the Sierra to create memories that will last a lifetime.
— Chris Casado, Co-Founder