By JESS BIDGOOD
Storm clouds gathering at dusk in the White Mountain National Forest outside of Fabyan, New Hampshire. (Tristan Spinski for The New York Times)
BENTON, New Hampshire — The hiker trudged up a logging road and into a valley, a route that seemed unremarkable. There were no sweeping views of the mountains. Yet he stopped suddenly, jubilant, after about 6.5 kilometers of walking. He had found what he was searching for: quiet.
“Let’s see,” said the hiker, Dennis Follensbee, “how we experience three minutes of silence.”
In these loud times — with political foes yelling on television, trucks rumbling through streets, and smartphones chirping — who doesn’t want a little peace and quiet? But some wilderness lovers have taken their aversion a step further, traveling to some of America’s most remote areas in a quest for utter silence.
Armed with Google Maps, bushwhacking tools and 16 years of experience hiking in the area, Mr. Follensbee, a programmer from Lebanon, New Hampshire, is on an exhaustive search for the noiseless hollows and dells of New Hampshire’s White Mountains.
“I know there must be places I can go to have peace,” said Mr. Follensbee, 39, who has mapped 23 so far, though he has shared the exact locations sparingly. (If quiet places are widely known, he reasons, “they cease to be quiet.”)
Connoisseurs of quiet say it is increasingly difficult, even in the wilderness, to escape the sounds of vehicles, industries, voices. A study published last year in the academic journal Science found that noise pollution was doubling sound levels in much of the conserved land in the United States.
Noise that humans create can be annoying but also dangerous to animals who rely on hearing to seek their prey and avoid predators. “We’re really starting to understand the consequences of noise and the importance of natural sound,” said Rachel Buxton, a biologist at Colorado State University.
In Washington State, Gordon Hempton, an acoustic ecologist, has made it a mission to preserve what he calls “one square inch” of quiet in Olympic National Park. He and others have raised concerns about noise from loud Navy jets, but says he believes that Olympic National Park is one of only about 12 places in the continental United States where a person could listen for 15 minutes and hear no man-made sound.
“We need to defend quiet places that remain as well as clean up places that should be quiet,” Mr. Hempton said.
At Muir Woods National Monument in California, officials have taken steps to lessen noise, like posting signs urging people to keep their voices soft. For years, conservationists seeking to minimize noise from visitors and helicopter flights at the Grand Canyon have met opposition from businesses and Indian tribes that depend on tourism and recreation. And people whose passions make noise — like motorcyclists — say they, too, have the right to enjoy the wilderness.
“The sound, it’s thrilling when you’re a motorcycle rider,” said Peter Spinney, 75, a New Jersey resident who rode through the White Mountains in August. “That’s part of the attraction.”
Mr. Follensbee visited one of his spots the other day and pulled out his phone to record sounds. For three minutes, a soft hum of insects, a rustle of leaves, the calls of birds was all there was. Then came the whine of a vehicle, its motor growing louder as it neared.
“It is a little disappointing,” Mr. Follensbee said. “We’re so far out.”