Vihren, the highest peak in the Pirin mountains at 2914 m, felt like just too much of a good thing for our second day, with temperatures in the high 20s, so we opted instead for a walk from the top of the cable car from Bansko itself.
Vihren from the Bansko cable car
Plan A involved a chair lift from here to near the top of Todorka, then a walk back down, but this chair lift turned out just to run during the ski season. Plan B was a walk from the cable car to Vihren mountain hut and back, which had the advantage of a first stretch to Banderitsa Chalet in relative shade. Most of the understory plants here had finished flowering sadly – helleborines, spurges and wild strawberries. In the more open ground beside the road and path above Banderitsa, much more diversity was evident.
Left to right: Black horehound, Ballota nigra; Flax, Linum perenne; Milkwort, Polygala comosa
We saw plenty of plants such as Hieracium lanatum and various mulleins, with densely-hairy leaves, to help them conserve water and deflect some of the excessive sunlight they face at this altitude.
Others, like the Pinguicula (Butterwort) we found in damper areas, are more concerned with protecting themselves against cold when the mountains are snow-covered. They do this by producing a hibernaculum – the roots die back and a tight, winter-resting bud of scale-like leaves remains dormant until spring.
The views of Vihren from the mountain hut and the freshly-squeezed orange juice made the uphill slog well worth it but we were glad to have decided against the mountain itself – a very early start from the hut would be needed to climb the further 950 m to the top before the worst of the heat.
Vihren (2914 m) from Vihren hut
Ironically, we saw the most plant diversity of the day in the meadow just above the cable car back to Bansko – plenty of legumes indicate a relatively nitrogen-poor soil (see From Malta to Bowburn).
Top: Medicago sp. (left) and Astragalus sp. (right); Middle: Spiny rest-harrow, Ononis spinosa (left) and Small sainfoin, Onybrychis arenaria (right); Bottom: White melilot, Melilotus alba
More time plant hunting here would have been very appealing were it not for the muzak blasting from speakers around Bansko Ski Centre. A clear effort is being made to sell the area as a summer resort with giant water slides and trampolines clustered around the cable car terminus but I’d need ear plugs to work there. The Cross gentian I spotted before we hurried onto the cable car back to Bansko seemed appropriately named!