**Casey Schreiner, a member of #TeamSierra, shares this guest post on hiking in silence.**
People get out into the wilderness for all sorts of reasons. Some go for adventure, others go to challenge themselves, some go to explore and learn, and others go to get away from it all. Often times, we go outside for a few of those reasons, in the same way we layer our clothing ... or sometimes we have a different pair of boots for every type of imaginable trail condition. As the 'known hiker' among my group of city-dwelling friends, I'm often asked all sorts of questions about the sport - and while my advice tends to lean toward "do whatever makes you comfortable / isn't going to spook you away from hiking again later," I always tell people to at least try hiking in silence.
It was only after I moved to a giant, sprawling city that I realized what an incredible pressure release valve hiking could be, but you don't have to live in a big city to feel the pressures of 'everyday life.' Stress comes at us from many different sources, but one of the biggest is also one of the least noticeable - background noise. A 2011 study found the ambient sirens, traffic, neighbor-noise, and machinery we often call noise pollution can have a strong effect on our stress levels, impairing educational development in children and causing higher blood pressure and increased risk of heart attacks in adults. So when someone asks me if I listen to music while I'm on the trail, my answer is always the same: don't we have enough noise in our lives already?
One of my favorite places to hike in Southern California is our deserts - and beyond the quiet and sense of isolation, one of the main reasons I enjoy it so much is because in order to really recognize the beauty of the desert, you have to slow down and pay attention to it with all of your senses. That's when the seemingly flat, lifeless landscape truly comes alive - its arid plains filled with ghost rivers and the remnants of ancient seabeds, its empty horizon filled with hidden animals and fragrant plant life, its silence sometimes deafeningly loud to our civilization-tuned ears.
Even if you're not hiking in a place as quiet as the desert, opening your ears to your surroundings once in a while can greatly increase your appreciation of the trail you're on. If you're on a trail you've done a dozen times before, maybe this is the time you finally notice the trickles of water coming down the cliff walls, or notice the calls of distant coyotes, or follow a side-canyon to a hidden oasis.
Hiking is an amazing enough activity in and of itself. But if you take the time to truly soak in your surroundings and practice a bit of mindfulness the next time you're on the trail, you'll likely find yourself not only noticing things you haven't noticed before, but you'll also come back from the trail feeling mentally refreshed, sharper, and happier ... and all it takes is saving those earbuds for the gym once in a while.
-Casey Schreiner writes Modern Hiker, Los Angeles' oldest and most-read hiking blog. Casey's been encouraging Angelenos to explore the world-class hiking beyond the Walk of Fame since 2005. When not exploring trails, he acts as the Series Producer and Head Writer for pivot's live, late-night show TakePart Live.
Hiking in Silence
By Casey Schreiner
November 01, 2013
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