Technology doesn't have to be something that divides us from nature. It can be a tool through which we can explore the natural world...

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Walls of Stone - Ötzi and Me: Mountain Travelers

copyright unknown
In 1991 one of the most fascinating archeological discoveries of our time was made in the Ötztal  Alps on the border of Austria and Italy. The frozen, mummified body of a man had washed out of a glacier high in the mountains. It was discovered by hikers, recovered and investigated by scientists and determined to be over 5000 years old! I followed the investigations through the excellent PBS television program NOVA. If you haven't seen these episodes, I can't recommend them highly enough. It is a fascinating story.

I couldn't help remembering  Ötzi as I make preparations for my traverse of our Rocky Mountains this summer. We often think of stone or bronze age people as "primitive", but he was kitted out with all the latest gear of his time. Of all the things we have learned about this mountain man, this is the most interesting revelation as far as I am concerned. Though I am hoping not to be found frozen in ice 5000 years hence, I begin to see how similar we really are...

Traveling the mountains might have been more of a necessity to him, but it probably was his passion too. He was well equipped to roam the high mountains, just as I will need to be. The "Iceman" was obviously a man of means and his equipment was top-of-the-line for its day.

By Bullenwächter (Own work) [GFDL (
 or CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
His copper axe is a prime example of surprisingly advanced technology. If you excuse the pun it would have been "cutting edge" in its day and very useful. I'm not an expert, but I believe its discovery has changed many archeologist's ideas of  what technology was available in Europe at the time. I will not be taking an axe. There are lightweight ones available that would be suitable for backpacking, but (unlike Ötzi) I live in a time where people need to be concerned about our environmental footprint. We will not be making fires because they will not be necessary. We are taking efficient light-weight stoves for cooking.He carried a knife in a sheath that is very much like the hunting knives we use today. Ours are usually made with a stainless steel blade, where his was made of flint. I was considering taking a hunting knife, but instead I have opted for the more practical Swiss-Army style.
His backpack was made of hazel-wood, larch and goat skin and looks like it would have been quite useful. My super-lightweight Osprey Exos 58 is made mostly of rip-stop nylon and aluminum. It's strength and function is due mostly to how it has been engineered. It is the lightest backpack of its size that I could find.
His clothing was very advanced and functional for its day - made skillfully out of woven grasses and leather. Pants had not yet been invented. I will have pants! Most of my clothing will be made of water resistant and waterproofed lightweight polymers. He wore a hat made of brown bear fur (an animal that has been extinct in Europe for four thousand years). I am planning on taking a ball cap and a broad-brimmed hat to keep the sun off my head. His shoes were made of leather. My Keens contain some leather with various plastic materials.
Ötzi was probably armed. A quiver containing a dozen arrows was found near his body. I do have a modern compound bow, but I will not be taking it. I will however be armed with pepper spray, as a last resort in the case of bear attack. I hope it will never come to that!
He also had a birch bark container that some say was used to carry glowing embers for fire making. I will be carrying such modern high tech items as matches and a few "Bick Click" lighters - items that we take for granted, but I'm sure they would seriously impress the Iceman.

I dream of meeting Ötzi on the mountain-top of my imagination. We stop to chat and have a bite to eat. We compare our various gear and share some of our experiences, then we part ways. I descend my beloved Canadian Rocky Mountains and he wanders across his high Alps and into the mists of time. Our lives are separated by the rise and fall of many empires, yet we share a past-time that remains virtually untouched by the march of time. We are backpackers - mountain travelers, timeless and unchanged.


  1. Nice way to describe your gear by making a comparison. Now there were a few steps during the years before we got to the stuff we use today.

  2. I wonder what he would have thought of our beloved Rockies.