Bucegi – Mountains of my Soul

This is the first post from a series that will follow on the same subject – Bucegi Mountains. Everyone who grew up close to the mountains knows that once in a while, you have to listen to their magical call and return to climb and reconnect with them again.

The Bucegi Massif represents the eastern-most range of the South Carpathian Mts. in Romania, with the highest peak – Omu Peak rising at 2514 m. The main ridge of the massif runs south from Omu Peak and gets wider forming the Bucegi Plateau, about 10 km in length and 3 km wide. From the Plateau many spectacular panoramic views open around toward deep glacial valleys, rough ridges, and other mountain ranges. The vegetation is that of typical alpine tundra with low-growing species, among which quite a few of them are endemics. Special types of rocks have been shaped by the wind and snow/water erosion into spectacular landforms, and have received suggestive names such as Babele (Old Women), Omu (The Man), or The Sphinx. On the east side of the massif, on the Caraiman Mt., a 30 m high monument: The Cross, was built in1926 as a remembrance token of the First World War heroes.  At 2291 m altitude it can be easily seen even from the train or car when passing through the small town of Busteni. This is where we set our ‘camp’, being very convenient located for short or long day-hikes. Most hiking trails are clearly marked; at the same time, if you know the mountains, you can secretly enjoy hidden trails and not so well known places.

The geological substrate is composed mainly of crystalline schists with numerous granite intrusions, and in certain points with limestone deposits. These geological features, combined with the geographical position of the Carpathian Mountains at the intersection of different floristic elements, have generated an outstanding diversity and richness of the flora, characterized by a large number of endemic species. I will show here only on a few species growing in and around the Bucegi Plateau, following the trail from Babele to Omu Peak. Some of them can be observed at lower elevations too, but a few are truly alpines that can be found only on the Plateau or on peaks and ridges above 2000 m elevation.

If not in a mood for a steep 4-5 hours hike from Busteni, there is an easy access to the Plateau by cable car to Babele Chalet, from where many trails, including the one to Omu Chalet/Peak, start off. The cable car is old and rusty, and doesn’t run every day, however, entrepreneurial people are now offering four-wheel rides to the Plateau taking a route via Sinaia – another popular tourist town, which is south of Busteni. This gives you more time to botanise around. You can return by cable car or take one of the few routes hiking down – for which one needs very good knees – but worth the effort to witness the floristic changes at different elevations.

At the first sight, the Plateau can look quite desolate but if you go exploring in the areas with alpine turf, many species will start to reveal themselves. First welcoming sight was from the Carpathian endemic Thymus pulcherrimus. Extremely floriferous and fragrant, it is only one among the many other local Thymus species that we used to collect for our winter ‘tea time’. A member from Ericaceae family, Bruckenthalia spiculifolia was in full flower, drawing our attention from the distance. It is a low evergreen shrub 10-15 cm tall, with needle-like leaves and pink (rarely white), bell-shaped flowers; it requires acidic conditions if it is to be cultivated in the garden.The alpine willows are well represented as well. Usually they sprawl over big boulders or on the thin layer of soil available, intermingled with quite a few other alpines. Salix reticulata, called netted willow, is a prostrate shrub that forms tight, dense mats with leathery, reticulate leaves. Like many other willows, it is dioecious and sometimes you get to see the male or the female catkins. Another common alpine willow with smaller, rounded leaves, presented in an image together with Primula minima, is Salix herbaceaGentiana nivalis, the snow gentian, was spotting the alpine turf here and there with its small but intense blue flowers. It is an annual gentian that grows 5-15 cm tall, easy to recognize by the wings on the calyx, and it is characteristic to grazed, rich grasslands.  Close by was growing another Carpathian endemic, a Scabiosa with deep pink flowers: Scabiosa lucida subsp. barbata. Drops of gold from Hieracium alpinum, although scarce were very welcoming along the trail. Another bright yellow flowered species that can be stumbled upon is Helianthemum alpestre.