What We Do
We take motivated individuals from age 11 to over 70, band them together, and trek across Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park to Mt. Whitney (14,505′), through the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River, into John Muir Wilderness to Hell For Sure and to pioneering destinations like Mt. Goddard and Tehipite Valley. Each backpacking challenge traverses awe-inspiring terrain, completely unplugged, with a small group and incredibly passionate guides. While our treks can be intense, no prior backpacking experience is required. Just bring your mental toughness, positive attitude, and be ready for an experience that can inspire for a lifetime.
It started with a simple bond between teacher and student.
In 1994, Clovis, CA native Chris Casado and Mike Murphy embarked on their first trans-Sierra trek together. Chris was exiting middle school, and Mike was a 5th grade teacher in Clovis. Every year since 1983 Mike had been leading small community groups on week-long treks across some of the most remote, least traveled regions of the Sierra to Mt. Whitney (14,505′). The summer treks were positively impacting just about everyone they touched.
Chris was no exception. The inspirational trek fueled a love of the Sierra, instilled self-confidence, and sparked a friendship that would span decades. Mike kept teaching. Chris grew up. However, the annual treks continued, inspiring hundreds in their local community. 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, backpacked the Grand Canyon together. Their three night loop was off the beaten path, rugged, and completely awe-inspiring. The two agreed it had to be shared and simplified as a TSX experience. 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 our 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. In 2019 we added a the beast, Mt. Goddard, and 2022, Tehipite, a valley of mythical proportions.
How We’re Different
TSX is unique based on how we operate, how we’ve grown, and who we serve. We are a local and independent organization. Since our modest inaugural treks with the public in 2011, we’ve grown organically. Our tight, singular focus in each region and passion for our routes enables us to offer experiences at a price points that are significantly lower than comparable alternatives.
This helps us better serve people of all ages, backgrounds and experience levels. We pride ourselves on helping people reach goals they might never have dreamed possible, like trekking across the Sierra to the highest point in the contiguous U.S., Mt. Whitney. Or dropping nearly a mile deep to sleep on the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Since 2015 roughly 25% of participants were ages 11-33, and 50% of participants were under 45 years of age. Our oldest participant? Age 75. For roughly one-third of our participants, our challenges are their first-ever overnight backpacking experience.
“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.”
My first trek to Mt. Whitney more than 25 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 (still going in 2021!). 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.
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 48 times and counting. When not in the back country, I’m a resident of Clovis, California, and a newly-retired 5th grade teacher from 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 first 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.