by Gideon Lasco
Now I will take this opportunity to affirm a very fundamental yet frequently violated principle in outdoor ethics: “Let nature’s sounds prevail”. This is a very important part of the Leave No Trace principles, and you can check their website if you don’t believe me. Positively, it affirms the beauty of basking in the cacophony of the birds and the insects; this is nature’s song and it is part of the experience of hiking and going to the outdoors. Negatively, it discourages, and indeed disallows, hikers from being too loud and noisy when going about their hiking. In violating this principle, they are producing ‘noise pollution’, and just like any other form of pollution, it is damaging to the environment, and disrespectful of other hikers and even indigenous peoples.
Among some mountain communities, there is a belief that if hikers are too noisy, clouds will cover the view and it will rain.This belief can be found in Mt. Pulag, Mt. Dulang-Dulang, Mt. Apo, and many other mountains in the Philippines.
Could there be an underlying message in this belief, a reminder to hikers that if they are too noisy, something bad will happen? Filipinos are often non-confrontational and perhaps this is a subtle reminder for hikers to “shut up” while on the trails. Culturally, this can be a reminder too that indigenous peoples are not used to loud noises. They are very sensitive to the voices of the forest, and any disruption, like a loud radio, can affect their sleep and way of life. Surely, as visitors to their domain, we must respect their wishes!
Many hikers, like me, go up the mountains to find peace, tranquility, and enlightenment. One of the reasons I look forward to camping in the woods is that it is very peaceful up there, not like my place in Makati where the constant noises of the metropolis can be heard, even at night. Sadly, if there’s a noisy group in the same campsite, my enjoyment can be diminished. If I confront the group, there is a risk of it being an unpleasant encounter. If I do not confront the group, I will lose my peace of mind, so it’s a no-win situation. This is the reason why I tend to avoid camping in crowded campsites like those of Mt. Batulao and Mt. Maculot on weekends. As author of this website, I also hear a lot of complaints regarding this issue, but since it is website policy to disallow personal attacks, I do not publish these comments. Still, I can empathize with these frustrations, and I am writing this partly in response to their grievances.
I find it even worse that people can even bring speakers that blast loud noises in campsites well into the night. If you cannot last for two days without hearing the voices of your favorite singers, then get some earphones. At the very least, respect the sanctity of the evening rest and allow people to sleep when it’s past dining hours. These people, after all, might need rest for the next day’s hike. (I would suggest 2100H as the lights off/sounds off time, but at any given time of the day, I believe people are entitled to some degree of silence).
Mountain climbing, in many ways, endows us with a lot of freedom when on the trails; indeed the popular textbook even describes mountaineering as the “freedom of the hills”. But with this freedom comes responsibility: The freedom to make noise should not trespass with the freedom of other hikers to have their silence and peace. Indeed, moderating your voices and sounds in the campsites and the trail is a sign of true respect to other hikers.
Finally, studies are now emerging that noise pollution can affect ecosystems. Birds, reptiles, and insects all use sounds to communicate with each other, and the noises in the campsite can affect them in ways that are not yet fully documented by the life sciences. Yet even without hard figures it should be obvious that artificial and foreign noises can disrupt them, and would drive them away from areas near trails and campsites, potentially further reducing their already-dwindling habitat.
Thus, if we respect mountain communities, mountain climbers and mountain ecosystems, we must avoid loud voices and noises. Let us shout, but only in our minds, and never in the mountains, these lines: In the campsites and trail / Let nature’s sounds prevail!