There are “summer camps” – and then there is camping in the summer, while backpacking across some of the most remote, least traveled regions of our nation’s back country. Making that journey as a high school student can be a life-changing experience.
Motivated students age 13-17 are invited to join us this summer on a 6-day outdoor leadership program through remote sections of John Muir Wilderness, or join an extended 9-day environmental education course that includes a summit of Mt. Whitney (14,505′). TSX founders Chris Casado and Mike Murphy have been leading student trips across the Sierra for over 25 years. With the support of our academic director, Andy Giordano, in 2022 TSX became the only organization with an educational program approved by the National Park Service that takes students to Mt. Whitney. Read our story, learn about our NextGen Education approach, or view past team pictures and get to know TSX. Then sign up and join us for an experience that can inspire for a lifetime.
- Guided multi-night educational trek
- Personalized pack-check prior to departure
- All meals and snacks while in the back-country
- Accommodations for vegetarian diets
- Group gear and equipment
- Backpack, tent, sleeping bag and pad if needed
- Optional post-hike shower
- Wilderness First Responder and Safe Sport certified instructors
- Dedicated academic instructor
- Flexible cancellation policy
What’s not included
- Meals in the front-country, including while in Shaver Lake, CA
- Personal items
How it works
Please download and review our 2023 Course Information Packet PDF in detail before applying! A 50% deposit per person is required with balance due 60 days prior to the event. Typical group size of 15, including two guides. An additional 5% charge will be applied when your reservation is made to offset new fees mandated by the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service. Cancel up until the day of the trip without the risk of lost money; see our amended COVID-19 cancellation policy for details.
Student Trek Overviews
July 8 – 16, July 17 – 25, July 29 – Aug 6
This wilderness educational trip traverses Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park along our established Trans-Sierra route, which we have been operating on commercially since 2011, and includes a summit of Mt. Whitney (14,505’). Our curriculum is anchored in environmental science protocols and concepts, leveraging the intrinsic benefits of the wild (beauty, joy, peace, challenge) in order build an understanding of how ecosystem services lead to extrinsic value (timber, mineral resources, soil health, clean air, water, biodiversity, etc.), and how we sustain and protect this balance. Group size will be up to 12 participants with 2 to 3 guide instructors.
General lab investigations
Lab investigations are activities where the bulk of learning occurs as a function of student investigation in a hands-on fashion. Our labs will start with observations, leading to hypothesis testing as students build comfort with what they find. A detailed list of our lab investigations is included on the following pages.
Who this is for
We have designed this to be an intense, best-in-class wilderness educational experience. This trip is ideal for students with strong academic underpinnings, high personal character, and a demonstrated interest in environmental sciences or stewardship. In addition, students should be prepared to contribute and work together in a collaborative, team environment.
- Meetup Location: REI Dublin, CA or Clovis, CA
- Start Time: 10am, REI Dublin or 1pm, Clovis
- Trailhead: Sugarloaf
- Highest Camp Elevation: 10,600’
- Elevation Range: 7,000’-14,505’
- End Time: 6-9pm
- Total Distance: 75 miles
- Miles/Day: 6 to 15 miles
LAB INVESTIGATION #1
Walking transect: The goal of our walking transect is to immerse students in the plant communities of the region as they walk through them, and to draw attention to the reasons why community assemblages shift as a result of abiotic conditions.
This lab takes place across the entire trip. At regular intervals during our trek, students will record a waypoint, including altitude, and do a quick survey of tree species present. By the end of the journey, they will have a data table that records the biodiversity across the length of the trek.
They will represent this data with a chart showing distance, altitude, and tree species. This is a 5 ft long chart, with species represented by color. Points of interest will be noted along the route, and the shifting assemblages become easy to talk about as a function of altitude, slope, aspect, etc. Students become familiar with abundance, distribution, and local naturalism.
LAB INVESTIGATION #2
Soil science: The goal of the soil science lab is for students to understand limiting factors in the environment, and to introduce ideas supporting soil retention (negative feedback) and understanding how runaway erosion can occur because of deforestation (positive feedback).
We will take soil chemistry indices, including nitrate and phosphate tests, as well as do a soil composition analysis. These analyses will take place in forests of different types along the trek, allowing students to create and test hypotheses relating to communities, succession, competition, and soil quality.
LAB INVESTIGATION #3
Water quality indices: Water quality indices are a hallmark of secondary science and outdoor education programs. Collecting water chemistry and temperature data, and surveying marcoinverterbrates is a great, low tech and fun way to engage student groups with science.
We will be using these indices as a baseline for student question asking, hypothesis testing and comparative analysis. Along with soil chemistry data, water chemistry data will be retained to establish a longitudinal data set from our programs moving forward.
LAB INVESTIGATION #4
Microcrustaceans, UV and glacial history: This activity is an extension of our water quality studies, to include lakes. Students will collect all standard water quality indices at the lakes along our trek. By design we will be steering them towards indices that respond to human pressure as we approach the second half of our trek (nitrates, phosphates, BOD).
Lakes also offer us an interesting opportunity to study different fauna, such as the microcrustaceans that typically populate still water. Studying these organisms with field microscopes gives us a launching point to discuss glacial history in the region. These organisms are easy to collect, and allow us to discuss glacial expansion and retraction, refugia and post glacial dispersal.
Students will also use a Secchi Disk to measure turbidity and allow us to discuss UV penetration into high altitude lakes. We will also be doing comparative analyses on pH of streams, lakes, and snow to discuss acid deposition, and the connectedness of global systems (atmosphere, water).
LAB INVESTIGATION #5
Snow science: While we hope to encounter snow on Colby Pass, this may not be the case every year. However, when conditions permit, we will perform various analyses on the snow.
Students will focus on density, dissolved solids, and we will use surface temperatures of variably reflective surfaces to discuss albedo and negative feedback.
DISCUSSION AND DIRECT TEACH
Discussions and direct teach: The glue that holds all these activities together is discussions and direct teaching. Each lab connects to a crucial function of the ecosystem. We zoom out and fill in the blank spaces in student understanding by communicating these connections and reflecting upon our learning. We will cover discussion topics throughout our trek, at points of interest, and in daily briefs and debriefs. Topics we will cover are built into the detailed learning plan.
ROUTE AND LOGISTICS
About our route: The 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. 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. No matter your age, completing this journey will be a life-changing experience. Excellent physical conditioning is a prerequisite to join this experience.
Meeting point: We will meet at a designated location in Clovis, California on the day of arrival and immediately transport to our trailhead in Kings Canyon National Park for a pack-check, orientation and safety talk. Our first night will be camping at the trailhead.
Transportation: Transportation is provided between the meetup point and our trailhead. If traveling by air, fly into Fresno (FAT). Contact us if additional arrangements are needed. 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 our meetup location in Clovis. This is a five-hour+ car ride. We anticipate returning to Clovis between 6-8pm.
Day 1 – Transport to trailhead
Day 2 – Horse Corral to Ferguson Creek | +/- 11 miles
Day 3 – Sugarloaf to Big Wet Meadow | +/- 10 miles
Day 4 – Big Wet Meadow to Colby Lake | +/- 5 miles
Day 5 – Colby Lake to Junction Meadow | +/- 11 miles
Day 6 – Junction Meadow to Crabtree | +/- 9 miles
Day 7 – Crabtree to Mt. Whitney and back | +/- 15 miles
Day 8 – Crabtree to High Desert Camp | +/- 9 miles
Day 9 – High Desert Camp to Horseshoe Meadows | +/- 9 miles
*75 miles total according to Tom Harris Maps, actual milage may vary
Primary resources including the 1920 Sierra Club report of “Colby Pass and the Black Kaweah,” annual ranger reports, and historical accounts of Shorty Lovelace will be incorporated throughout the journey.
June 9 – 14, June 17 – 22
There is no better setting than the lake-studded high basins of John Muir Wilderness for a week of hands-on experiential learning focused on leadership and environment, leave no trace, and life skills. On this experience we have a golden opportunity to connect with ourselves, our team of up to 10 participants and 2 instructors, and two gems of the High Sierra: Red Mountain Basin and Bench Valley. Our John Muir Wilderness experience is centered around leadership development and environmental education that includes:
- Self exploration including purpose building, group dynamics and mindful leadership training.
- Instilling confidence for future safe and self-reliant experiences in the outdoors along with best practices to minimize wilderness degradation, including Leave No Trace.
- Appreciation of Sierra diversity, including ecology, geology, and flora over elevations traversed.
- Stimulate critical thought on environmental, water and land management challenges facing the Sierra.
- Exploring off-trail travel of 6-8 miles to remote destinations in Red Mountain Basin and Bench Valley.
- Our itinerary provides ample opportunity for students to explore their passions as they relate to wilderness.
- Meetup Location: REI Dublin, CA or Shaver Lake, CA
- Start Time: 9am, REI Dublin, 12pm, Shaver Lake
- Trailhead: Maxon / Courtright
- Highest Camp Elevation: 11,000’
- Elevation Range: 8,000’-12,000’
- End Time: 3pm, Shaver Lake, 6pm, REI Dublin
- Total Distance: 40 miles
- Miles/Day: 4 to 12 miles
We will meet at a designated location in Shaver Lake, California or at REI Dublin in the Bay Area on the day of arrival for a pack-check, orientation and safety talk, before we depart to spend the first night on the trail. Shaver Lake, CA is a 3-4 hour drive from the Bay Area, 4-5 hour drive from Southern California, or 1 hour drive from the Fresno/Clovis area.
We help facilitate transportation arrangements if need from the San Francisco Bay Area and the Fresno/Clovis area (additional charge of $149 round trip). Transportation is provided between the meetup point and our trailhead near Courtright Reservoir. If traveling by air, fly into Fresno (FAT). Contact us if additional arrangements are needed.
Day 1 – Afternoon arrival, pack-check, overnight on trail | +/- 6 miles
Day 2 – Post-Corral Creek to Disappointment Lake | +/- 7 miles
Day 3 – Disappointment Lake to LeConte Divide | +/- 5 miles
Day 4 – Off-trail traverse of Mt. Hutton and Bench Valley | +/- 3 miles
Day 5 –Bench Valley to North Fork Kings River | +/- 10 miles
Day 6 – North Fork Kings River to trailhead | +/- 9 miles
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!