Centenary ice: Europe’s tiny southernmost glaciers are in Bulgaria

The Banski Suhodol Glacieret under Koncheto

The Banski Suhodol Glacieret under Koncheto

Did you have any idea you can see Europe’s most southern glacial formations in the alpine environment of Bulgaria’s Pirin Mountains?

True, they may pale in comparison to mighty ice bodies like the Aletsch Glacier in the Swiss Alps or the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentine Patagonia, but they’re still the southernmost glacial masses you can find in Europe, at the latitude of Rome, Corsica and Barcelona!

Lying at altitudes above 2,600 and 2,400 metres respectively, the two small glaciers (scientifically called glacierets) are the Banski Suhodol Glacier and the Snezhnika Glacier. They’re located in Pirin’s highest reaches, in the Big Cauldron (Големия казан, Golemia kazan) cirque under the mountain’s tallest peak Vihren and at the foot of the breath-taking vertical Koncheto ridge.

The Snezhnika Glacieret and its surroundings are a favoured habitat for mountain goats

The Snezhnika Glacieret and its surroundings are a favoured habitat of mountain goats

Now, these two Bulgarian glaciers are not some random patches of snow that have happened to stay intact over a summer or two. Fed by avalanche snow, indications are that they’ve been in existence ever since the Little Ice Age! This means that they’re 500 years old, at least. And the hundred-year firn ice of Snezhnika has been measured to be at least 11 metres thick!

While access to the larger Banski Suhodol Glacieret may be quite hard, with its position under the inaccessible marble slopes of Koncheto, the Snezhnika ice formation can easily be visited via the main hiking trail from Banderitsa Hut up towards Vihren Peak (at 2914 metres). And you can very often see mountain goats scaling the centenary ice of Snezhnika and the nearby rocks, making for an unforgettable sight of Bulgaria’s mountain fauna!