Bukhansan templeWith the winter weather firmly on the out, the Korea Mountain Preservation League started activities again – principally meeting up every month to collect litter left by thoughtless hikers in Korea’s national parks. I went along last Sunday to get a feeling for what the group was like, and also to help fight the litter problem in Bukhansan (북한산) – the most intensely visited (i.e. visitors by park area) national park in the world.

Things started off innocuously enough, with a few finds of old bottles and plastic wrappers. Going was slow due to the constant scanning of verges, and there was plenty of time to enjoy the trail and absorb the praise (and occasional applause) of passing hikers. After a short while, I spotted what looked like a plastic wrapper sticking out of the ground and attempted to free it, only to find that it would not move an inch and was clearly anchored underground somehow. As the course leader got the video camera out to record this flagrant disregard for the countryside code, I started to scrape away at the surrounding soil with a stick.

Bukhansan litter cacheAfter a few minutes of digging and moving rocks, I heaved out an ancient plastic bag full of the remains of someone’s dinner (unusual, seeing as we were less than an hour up the trail) – mostly ramyeon (instant noodles) wrappers and soju (Korean rice vodka) bottles, but also a few rusty cans. Further probing resulted in the discovery of several more bags buried underneath the first, and for the next twenty minutes we hauled out the non-degradable containers of what would have been a large buffet. We dated the cache to around 1986 from the manufacturing date on a Coca-Cola bottle, and did our best to repair the large hole in the footpath.

A little farther on, we came across another group member who’d gone on ahead while we were dealing with the exposed cache. To everyone’s horror, he’d unearthed the exact same thing – a huge burial site of rubbish from around 1986, this time sited just off the path and right in front of a spring. We began to sort and bag it all, and noticed as we were doing so several other probable cache sites nearby. By this time, we were reaching our carrying capacity and so flagged the area for proper excavation (most likely involving carrying replacement soil up) another time. We carted down around 85 litres of rubbish, of which around 25 was recyclable, leaving the park a more pleasant area for animals and other hikers.