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Want quiet? Then zip lips

On many remote trails, the most persistent noise pollution is the sound of hikers' own voices.

November 15, 2005|Veronique de Turenne | Special to The Times

HIKING in quiet isn't hard. Just head out to the desert with a couple of quarts of water -- no cellphone, PDA, MP3 player or other electronic umbilical cord -- and there you are. Splendid isolation.

But if it's quiet you crave on a wilderness jaunt, then things get a little challenging. Whether it's social pressure or just human nature, two or more people on a trail tend to chat. A lot.

"When I'm hiking with a group I always notice that we are, by far, the loudest things out there," says Asha Bankowski, a naturalist at the Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve, formerly Ahmanson Ranch. "It's a shame because a lot gets covered up with the sound of your own voice."

The staff at Franklin Canyon Park in Beverly Hills -- a 605-acre swath considered the geographic center of Los Angeles -- have a solution: silent night hikes. Starting at dusk on the first Saturday of every month, hikers eager to experience the sounds of silence gather at the park.

"It's a great way to relax in the safety and camaraderie of a group and yet have a solitary experience," says Michelle McAfee, one of the naturalists who lead the silent hikes.

The quiet hikes at Franklin Canyon begin with some communal deep breathing ("I tell them to breathe in the twilight and exhale the day," McAfee says) to help unify the group. Then, with daylight fading, hikers set out along a flat and wooded fire road.

At first it's awkward. People feel vulnerable and self-conscious. But soon, as the rumble of the city fades and sight gives way to sound, the natural world reveals itself.

"The layers of sound become clear," McAfee says. "Little sounds, like a raccoon moving or a possum calling, become very loud. You hear the leaves and the wind and different crickets and the different speeds at which they make their songs."

The two-hour hike flies by. When the group reassembles, even though they haven't uttered more than a few words, they seem united by the experience.

"To be a part of the night and a part of nature, as opposed to just walking through it, for some people is deeply moving," McAfee says.

All you need for a quiet hike is a friend or two and a pact: No talking. Plan your route ahead of time. For safety, agree not to move out of each other's visual range. If you want to catch your companion's attention, you can clap your hands. Want to share the amazing thing you just saw? Point.

Hiking in quiet reveals a lot about even the noisiest outdoor spaces. But for a good head start, experienced hikers recommend Point Mugu State Park, Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve, Solstice Canyon in Malibu and the Arroyo Seco in the San Gabriel Mountains.

For more information, call Point Mugu State Park at (805) 488-1827 or Angeles National Forest at (626) 574-5200. For silent hikes in Franklin Canyon, call (310) 858-7272, Ext. 131, to reserve a spot.

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