Youth Backpacking Challenges


Deposit of $450/person
Deposit of $450/person



Our week-long Youth Backpacking Challenges were created for young people who want more than an average summer break. There are “summer camps” – and then there is camping in the summer, while backpacking across remote parts of the Sierra to the tallest mountain in the contiguous U.S. Mt. Whitney (14,505′). Making the journey as a junior high or high school student can be a life-changing experience. Unplug traversing awe-inspiring terrain as a team with your food, shelter and clothing strapped to your back while. Acquire life-skills that can only be discovered when you have to “dig deep” and persevere. This summer accomplishment will stand out on a resume or college application. More importantly, the sense of accomplishment will stay with you for life. This isn’t a wilderness adventure camp… this is TRUE adventure and wilderness that can inspire for a lifetime.

Two Programs, Two Age Brackets, Scholarship Opportunity

Our Mt. Whitney Youth Program is an 8-night, 9-day, 75-mile educational trek across Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks to the summit of Mt. Whitney. Our John Muir Youth Program is a 5-night, 6-day, 40-mile educational trek with off-trail traverses through remote sections of John Muir Wilderness, including hikes to multiple ~12,000′ peaks along the LeConte Divide. Both programs are open to youth ages 11-14 and 15-18 (separate groups), and optionally parent/guardian participants. To help our experiences touch more people, up to ten $500 scholarships are available for students attending Title 1 Schools.

What’s included

  • Guided multi-night trek through Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park to Mt. Whitney (Mt. Whitney Youth Program)
  • Guided multi-night trek through John Muir Wilderness to Le Conte Divide (John Muir Youth Program)
  • Orientation and personalized pack-check prior to departure
  • All meals and snacks while in the back-country and in transit
  • Group gear and equipment
  • Backpack, tent, sleeping bag and pad if needed
  • Inspiration for a lifetime
  • Transportation to and from Bay Area and Fresno Area meetup locations

How it works

A $450 deposit per person is required with balance due 60 days prior to the event. Treks begin departing in late June when spring-like conditions may still persist in the Sierra. Consequently, each itinerary may be modified to account for varied trail conditions and to ensure the safety of your group. In 2019 we will operate one Mt. Whitney and one John Muir Youth Program for each age group. Space is extremely limited. Maximum group size of 13, including two guides.


Mt. Whitney Youth Program Route

All Mt. Whitney youth challenges will traverse a trans-Sierra route across some of the most remote, least traveled regions of the Sierra to the summit of Mt. Whitney. Outings will travel from west to east and include a crossing of the Great Western Divide via Colby Pass (12,000′). Over the course of a we will hike more than 75 miles, with roughly 20,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain, and 18,000 feet of elevation loss.

John Muir Youth Program Route

All John Muir youth challenges will traverse over 40 miles through John Muir Wilderness from a trailhead near Courtright Reservoir (south of Yosemite, north of Kings Canyon) passing more than a dozen pristine High Sierra lakes. The multi-night looped route includes up to three hand-and-foot off trail scrambles to ~12,000’ peaks along the Le Conte Divide (Red Mountain, Hutton’s Knob, and Gunsight Pass) with unrivaled views of the Sierra Crest.

Inspiration and education

Each Youth Challenge will use the remote wilderness of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and John Muir Wilderness as the setting for a week of hands-on experiential learning focused on History and the Environment, Leave No Trace, and Life Skills. Academic goals of the program will be centered around environmental education, and include:

  • History of Sierra exploration and evolution of wilderness stewardship;
  • Implementation of 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;
  • Instill confidence for future safe and self-reliant experiences in the outdoors with life skills including how to safely purify water, start a stove, prepare food, pitch a tent, start a fire and more.

What can you expect? Watch this video to experience the cadence of life on our trail.


History and background

Our Youth Challenges are modeled after similar backpacking treks led by Clovis, CA educator and TSX Challenge co-founder Mike Murphy. Over the last 25 years, Mike has led hundreds of kids across the Sierra to the summit of Mt. Whitney, including over 120 kids exiting the 5th grade. To us, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing the face of young people and old people alike who complete our experiences and realize what they can now accomplish.

(Pictured: Morning on the summit of Mt. Whitney)

Who can participate

Student participants must be between the age of 11 and 18 on August 31, 2019 to be eligible for a Youth Challenge. Adult family members or chaperones are welcome but not required to accompany minors on the experience. We value family and the lasting bonds and memories an experience like this can create. Adults who accompany minors, or group of young friends, will receive a 10% discount. Due to the rugged nature of the hike, all participants must be in excellent physical condition and weigh at least 75lbs. Completion of a medical and experience questionnaire, risk acknowledgement form, and submission of a note of recommendation from a teacher, coach or youth leader highlighting the student’s character, physical fitness and academic commitment will be required for final acceptance.

(Pictured: Crossing the Kern River, Sequoia National Park)

Easy to Join

It is easy for motivated people with limited or no backpacking experience to join a TSX experience. If you don’t own a backpack, tent or sleeping bag, we’ll provide it for you at no additional charge. Our team leaders also take care of all group items like pots, stoves, food, bear canisters, water filters, first aid, etc. All you need to bring is your boots, personal items, positive attitude and sense of adventure. Read our FAQs to learn more about how we roll.

(Pictured: Swimming in Hell For Sure Lake, John Muir Wilderness)

Safe and positive environment

We have a proud history of supporting individuals of all ages and experience levels while ensuring a safe and positive trail environment at all times. Strong trail familiarity and a robust operating framework helps us proactively manage for varying trail conditions and group dynamics. A certified Wilderness First Responder is placed on each outing. We also utilize an In-Reach satellite messaging device to check-in with home each night and post location and status update to Facebook for friends and family to follow.

(Pictured: Hanging at Colby Lake with next day’s route in red, Kings Canyon National Park)


Departure and pickup locations: On the day of your departure, TSX will coordinate transportation from the Bay Area and Central California (Fresno/Clovis area). We will also help facilitate carpool arrangements from the Southern California to Central California on a trek-by-trek basis.

  • Central California pick-up point: REI Fresno, CA – 2:00pm
  • San Francisco pick-up point: REI Dublin, Dublin CA – 10:00am
  • Southern California meet-up location: REI Northridge – 10:00am

Please arrive at least 15 minutes prior to your confirmed pick up time. The Fresno/Clovis area is a 3 hour car drive from the Bay Area, and roughly 4 hours from Southern California. Exact time and regional meet-up locations will be confirmed on a trek-by-trek basis.

At the trailhead: Bring your personal items 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. In addition, please bring a small bag with a clean set of clothes. The clean bag will be waiting for you as you exit the trail.

Returning home: On the day you return, TSX will coordinate transportation to the Bay Area and Central California (Fresno/Clovis area). We will also help facilitate carpool arrangements to Southern California from Central California.

  • Central California return-up point: REI Fresno, CA – 6:00pm
  • San Francisco pick-up point: REI Dublin, Dublin CA – 10:00pm
  • Southern California meet-up location: REI Northridge – 8:00pm


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!

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