Cederberg Cleanup – Litter in Pristine Places

The English language have developed a vocabulary that assigns identity to the perpetrator if hideousness of the act or crime is sufficient, for instance if you commit “murder” you will henceforth be known as a “murderer”.  For misdemeanours of a more benign nature we generally concede that the individual may not deserve a specific tag for the misstep, and hence those who vote for Trump, play techno music full blast, or jump queues will just be referred to as “assholes” or some other colloquial expression.

I see the need to add to the English language some word that can do justice to the act of littering.  We should however consider degrees of littering – without trying to justify any of it – but in the squalor of a squatter camp, or central Jozi where rubbish-bins overflow, one has some understanding of the act.  It however takes a special kind of callousness to venture into nature and drop your rubbish in a pristine environment, and for now I consider the guilty (albeit a bit juvenile in the word formation), as “litter-shits”, and those who drop cigarette buds get the special designation of “ash-holes”.

The most recent crime scene I visited was Boulder Camp, right next to Crystal Pools in the Cederberg.  It takes a full day to hike there and the trail takes you through some of the most stunning terrain the Cederberg has to offer.  The site is nestled between two rocky outcrops on a level grassy patch, sprinkled with some large, shapely boulders and flanked by a bubbling stream with clear pools.  Truly a bit of paradise.
What made the discovery annoying was the knowledge that the culprits were all on an overnight hike – surely they should know better?

Rocklands cleanup

We were a group of 6 friends doing a 5-day hike and this was our first overnight site, which was also the most remote of all the spots we stayed at.  It was quite shocking to discover the amount of littering – there were numerous places where toilet paper and turds were on camping spots, probably the result of carelessness or the inconvenience of rain.  At a particular spot a large amount of rubbish (plastic, packaging etc.) was dumped and we also found some random items like an old pair of undies.

Rocklands cleanup

Rocklands cleanup

We could not in good conscience leave the place the way we found it, and proceeded to clean-up the morning of our departure.  Seeing that we had 4-days of hiking ahead of us, and that there was nowhere close by to dispose of the rubbish, we decided to burn it.

I have to note here that burning certainly is “plan B“, only to be executed when:

1. Circumstances are favourable (no / little wind)
2. An appropriate spot is available (in this instance a large sandy patch)
3. Due care is taken (3 of us were on standby with water bottles should a cinder escape and the ashes were drenched after the fire burned out)
4. Heavy plastics, like water bottles, and other materials that do not burn to ash are rather carried out (which we did).
We used some dry sticks to build a fire since rubbish rarely burn to ash by itself. We guarded the fire carefully and buried the drenched ash.

Mission accomplished and it felt good!  To be honest, I did not think much of what we did – to me it seemed obvious that one cannot leave the mess.  The only stretch was to collect other people’s loo paper, but some sharp sticks eased the gross-factor.

burning rubbish in Cederberg

Some pointers on littering, paper and plastic

In a group lead by example: make it part of the trail-briefing to give instructions on how to deal with rubbish, and pick up any litter found in nature.  Do not be scared to confront people who litter; do it courteously and try to win their cooperation instead of just having an argument.  If they don’t comply; clean up after them, it is the right thing to do!
Litter is like graffiti: one piece is often the cause of proliferation. Cleaning up may keep others from dropping their rubbish at the same spot.

Toilet paper is by far the biggest culprit and is often found in completely inappropriate places: right next to crags, trails, water sources and campsites.  The rule is to do your business at least 30m from any of the aforementioned and add 20m if it’s a #2, then bury or burn the toilet paper (keep in mind the rules for burning – its better to carry out if possible).

Plastics, tins & other packaging should be carried out; to be burned only when there is not really another option.  Plastic “spring water” bottles is the biggest plastic pollutant in the world and the industry should not be supported.  Buy stainless steel water bottles – they’re classy, indestructible and your water taste better.  It is naturally BPA-free (and free of whatever other chemical nasty the BPA has been replaced with).

Lastly, do not wash in water sources that rely on seepage or slow running water.  Rather fill containers and wash well-away from the source; it is not only to keep drinking water pure, but also to protect the sensitive eco-system.  In fast flowing water use only bio-degradable soap, and the minimum amount.

On fire

Wild fires are mostly man-made, and can be devastating in areas with dense vegetation or strong winds.  The numerous burnt-skeletons of the slow-growing endangered Cedar trees is testimony to this scourge in the Cederberg.  As a rule, no fire should be made when there is wind; and any fire should be doused properly.

Cederberg burnt Cedar trees

On a windy day we once happened on a small fire near Wolfberg arch, probably started by a discarded cigarette.  We started putting the fire out by throwing sand on the brushes, but the speed at which the fire spread was frightening.  The root systems of sand-doused tufts of grass caught fire underground, and when the wind blew over the sandy, porous soil you could see the red glow running below the surface as the fire spread underground from one brush to the next!  Luckily due to large boulders and limited vegetation we could contain the fire and let it burn out by itself.

Cederberg burnt trees

Cleaning up is not a chore

There will unfortunately always be those who litter.  It may feel unfair to have to cleanup after them, but consider it as an act of service to nature.  Littering is violence and cleaning up is taking care of the victim – it is something very positive and a privilege!

Cederberg Crystal pools

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10 Responses to Cederberg Cleanup – Litter in Pristine Places

  1. Liz May 18, 2016 at 5:13 pm #

    Well done you guys. It is totally astonishing that some people think it is ok to leave rubbish lying around. Like you say, if they hiked in that far they really should know better. I have also had the displeasure of finding human waste inside Twins Cave in the Drakensberg. Adverse weather can never be the excuse because you can dispose of it when you leave.

  2. Dave May 19, 2016 at 11:14 am #

    Nice 1

  3. Christo May 19, 2016 at 2:11 pm #

    Lekke Willem! Goed geskryf:)

  4. Brenda May 20, 2016 at 12:36 pm #

    There is no excuse for littering, nor for NOT picking up litter when you see it – equally bad!
    You guys did the right thing!
    Thanks for cleaning up!

  5. BAbcoat May 20, 2016 at 4:11 pm #

    Hey guys,

    Big up for cleaning up! Thanks.

    On the side – a word of caution about fires, which (as you note) can spread surprisingly quickly. An acquaintance of mine burned down a few hills on the Swellendam trail after torching his toilet paper. As a general rule I’m an advocate of carrying out anything which won’t decompose within six months.

    • mokganjetsi (Willem B) May 23, 2016 at 10:57 am #

      Yup can’t warn too strongly how careful one has to be with fire! A friend-of-a-friend’s 5-year old started a devastating fire when trying to burn toilet paper unsupervised. I know a another big fire near Ceres that was started by an axe hitting a stone resulting a single spark to fly into some dry grass; add a stiff breeze and the thing was out-of-control in a matter of two seconds.
      In areas where few people venture I’m okay with burying the paper. When I was in Torres del Paine we were advised to burn paper due to the large numbers of people; even though they have had some catastrophic fires the last few years (as far as a know all were started due to different reasons though).
      For day-trippers (Rocklands!) and trails where there are disposing facilities there is no excuse not to carry it out though.

  6. Warren Gans May 23, 2016 at 11:20 am #

    I do think there are some cultural aspects to all of this, that need to be addressed through education.

  7. Oubaas May 23, 2016 at 6:53 pm #

    Please elaborate Warren

    • Warren Gans May 24, 2016 at 8:10 am #

      Firstly I am not condoning littering, but from what I gather some people have this belief that littering creates jobs, and so its a good thing. Clearly this is irrational, especially out in the sticks. I also suspect as a second to the cultural aspect is the logic: ” I don’t need it, therefore I’ll get rid of it now.” This also seems irrational to me: surely you’re going out to enjoy the natural beauty of your surroundings, and therefore wouldn’t want to leave anything behind?! but then, these are probably the same people that graffiti their names on rock and trees, so almost to be expected.

      What I find amazing in any event is these people probably have a team leader, would love to hear their take on it

  8. Herman May 24, 2016 at 9:36 am #

    nice one matey

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