From the Rila mountains we headed just a little further south to the Pirin National Park, basing ourselves in the atmospheric Dedo Pene Inn in the winter ski resort of Bansko.
Sunrise from the roof of the Dedo Pene Inn, Bansko
Three nights here gave us time for two proper day walks amongst the highest mountains in Bulgaria, using cables and chair lifts to help us gain some initial height. The Pirin mountains are less jagged than those around Rila – a giant, uplifted block of granite and metamorphic rocks, capped with marble, which means they look white, even in summer.
Where there are mountains there are lakes and, where there are lakes, there are diatoms so Lake Popovo, the largest glacial lake in the Pirin mountains, seemed a good goal for our first day’s walk. A short drive up through the little village of Dobrinitshe took us to the bottom of the Gotse Delchev chair lift which carried us up to Bezbog chalet and lake, around 2200 m above sea level. The coniferous forest which clads the lower slopes of the mountains has been largely replaced by scrubby dwarf pine, Pinus mugo, and juniper at this altitude.
As Bezbog is at roughly the same altitude as lake Popovo, and our 1:50 000 map showed the path contouring round the hillside, we made the mistake of thinking we were in for a fairly gentle couple of hours walk to the lake.
Looking back at Bezbog chalet and lake
We were soon disabused of this notion – a series of spurs and corries meant gaining and losing several hundred meters of height as we walked. The glacial scenery is spectacular, though, and there were plenty of plants to see; carpets of white Gentianella bulgarica, plenty of Mullein and Moss campion and other tiny treats rewarding more careful observation.
Top: Mullein, Moss campion (Silene acaulis).
Bottom: Yellow eyebright, Starry saxifrage (Saxifraga stellaris)
Lake Popovo itself fills another corrie, surrounded by rugged peaks.
We snacked by the lake before walking back (not really ‘down’) to Bezbog for lunch. We had to rely on scrumped blueberries for afters, today, in the absence of apricots. I’m told that the abundant fish fry in the lake shallows don’t mean it is full of nutrients – I guess the diatom samples will tell.
Amongst the decidedly alpine flora were some much more familiar plants – Mouse-ear-hawkweed and Grass of Parnassus in the third, very different location I’ve been lucky enough to see it this summer. It’s a little closer to the Parnassus of its name this time – on a clear day we might have seen as far as Greece from these mountains.
Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia palustris) left and Mouse-ear-hawkweed (Pilosella officinalis) right