Sunday, May 6, 2012

Day 15: The Pacific Crest Trail Academy

People frequently ask how Sierra is continuing with her schoolwork, so while we are taking a "zero" or rest day, I thought I would take a few minutes to explain.

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is both rewarding and educational. It is also an all-consuming task. Most other hikers think it is cruel and unusual punishment for any hiker, especially Sierra (who with her shorter legs must work harder than the rest of us), to be expected to do anything other than just hike and learn from the beauty that surrounds us.

But as much as we are learning on the trail, it cannot replace the reading, writing, and arithmetic Sierra would be studying if she were enrolled in a more traditional school. So we developed a plan for Sierra to continue to study and to learn on the trail. We call it the Pacific Crest Trail Academy.

Reading: Sierra is a voracious reader, and loves to talk about the books that she reads. Fortunately, her grandparents gave her a Kindle for Christmas, so she can carry a whole library in her pack for less weight than a single paperback.

Writing: Sierra is keeping a journal, so she is getting practice with writing and spelling each day. We also talk about writing and related topics sometimes while we hike.

Math: Sierra has a math journal, and I write out problems for her. Occasionally they are trail related, but most often they are not. Sierra also has all her math practice book pages on her Kindle, so we can copy problems from there in addition to the ones I create. We also practice multiplication and division facts on the trail.

Science and Social Studies: We are learning a lot about the plants, animals, and history of the places we pass through. We also are learning about the moon and the constellations, which we can see clearly at night.

Physical Education and Health: Sierra hikes between 10 (our shortest day) and 24 (our longest so far) miles every day. We are also learning the importance of nutrition and proper hydration on the trail.

So, how does all this fit into a day on the trail? Sierra usually reads in the morning, at lunch, and in camp in the evening. While we are hiking we are getting physical education, learning about plants, animals, and history, discussing books, and, for a few minutes each day, practicing multiplication and division facts. On rest breaks, at lunch, and/or in camp, Sierra writes in her journal and practices her math. And at night we like to look at the stars.

There you have it: a day at the Pacific Crest Trail Academy.


  1. And she is learning to love and respect our natural world as well.

  2. Hi Heather & Sierra! Our family is following your journey with great interest. Congratulations on all the work you've done to get on the trail. We heard about Sierra when we were hiking a 60-mile loop in Yosemite last year. Our girls are now 8 and 11. I'd hoped we'd do the JMT (no plans for the PCT yet) this year, but we chose other summer plans - so I'm living vicariously through your postings! Keep posting! I wish we were close enough to work some trail magic for you!!

  3. Heather and Sierra, we had a brief encounter late one afternoon in the Lagunas. We were headed south and you north. I edited the Pacific Crest Trailside Reader books and would love to have you send me a photo or two and perhaps a brief story from the first two weeks of your journey . . . I would love to post it on I am so impressed with how far you have already made it!

    You can e-mail photos/text at or

    Rees Hughes

  4. Sounds like the best education a kid could possibly get. What an amazing thing you are both doing!

  5. What an awesome educational opportunity. Learning to socialize with people of all ages as well as how to work hard to attain a goal while respecting nature and ourselves. Too bad that all the school kids cannot learn these valuable lessons.