Backpacking across the Sierra Nevada as a high school freshman changed Chris Casado's life forever.
Now, Casado wants to use that experience to help change the lives of others.
Casado, a 31-year-old Clovis native who lives in Orinda, is co-founder of Trans Sierra Extreme Challenge, which this summer is guiding a series of 75-mile hikes across Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks. The nine-day trek traverses some of the most remote areas of the parks before culminating in an ascent of Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous U.S.
"The trip had a huge impact on me, just as it has for dozens of others," Casado said. "It lets you know you can do anything you set your mind to, including climbing Mount Whitney."
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The TSX Challenge is patterned after similar backpacking trips led by Gettysburg Elementary teacher and professional guide Mike Murphy since 1983. Murphy, who has stood atop Whitney 35 times, is a co-founder of the new commercial venture and will provide logistical support.
Casado has completed the hike five times. He and two other alumni of Murphy's treks will serve as the primary guides.
Four hikes are scheduled for this summer: July 23-31, Aug. 3-11, Aug. 13-21 and Aug. 27-Sept. 4. Each trip costs $1,650 per person and includes transportation to and from the trailhead, food and group equipment. Discounts are available for additional hikers from the same family.
"Even if you send someone to summer camp for a week it costs about $2,000, and you're not going to get anywhere near the experience," Casado said.
Each hike begins at the Horse Corral Meadows and traverses the Sugarloaf Valley before passing through Cloud Canyon on Day 3 and climbing up to Colby Lake. Day 4 involves a 1,400-foot ascent to Colby Pass then drops into the Kern River gorge. The climb of Mount Whitney from a base camp at Crabtree Meadows highlights Day 6 before the group exits the Sierra over Cottonwood Pass.
While they're hiking, participants will also learn about native flora and fauna while also being schooled on "leave no trace" wilderness ethics.
"It's a unique blend of personal responsibility, community and at the same time inspiration," Casado said.
Due to the rugged nature of the hike, participants must be in good shape and should have previous backpacking experience.