A backward glance to 2014 and my time in the Oetztal region of the Austrian Tirol.
Predominantly based in Obergurgl, I also journeyed to Soelden, Vent, Umhausen, and Oetz. Despite the at times indifferent weather but perpetually spectacular landscape and man’s attempt to tame it for his own ends, this is an area of the high Tirol which still offers a unique snapshot of simpler times, from the realisation that man bestrode its jagged peaks over 5,000 years ago to the comparatively recent (re)discovery of the region by Swiss adventurer Auguste Piccard in 1931.
Much of course has changed in the Oetztal since “Otzi” met his end, his body entombed in ice until being found quite by chance, and only because of a meteorological quirk, in 1991. Indeed, the tourism potential of the Alps as a whole has itself been realized to arguably beyond saturation point in the last 28 years, let alone since Piccard inadvertently put the Oetztal on the map by crash landing on one of the multitude of glaciers situated above Obergurgl, a settlement otherwise unremarkable aside from its solitude set amid towering peaks and untouched seas of ice.
I have seen it argued that without Piccard’s unscheduled visit that the winter sports scene in Obergurgl and Hochgurgl, its purpose-built cousin, would not exist today in its current, sophisticated form or even at all. Whilst I not only find this hypothetical it is also unrealistic to suggest that the leviathan ski industry would have completely bypassed the area; it is however feasible to theorize that it could be a less developed, comparative backwater similar to neighbouring Pitztal, itself now jostling to change the face of its own glacial landscape with new lifts, pistes, and even the partial removal of a ridge to facilitate a controversial stratagem.
It is though indisputable that Piccard kick-started the vast interest in the Oetztal that one sees today from many sections of society. Would Otzi, also known as the Similaun Man named after the adjacent glacier to his fundstelle, have been found close to the Italian border by passing hikers had Piccard’s descent onto the Gurgler Ferner(glacier) occurred elsewhere? It is impossible to say. For decades the Alps have been exhaustively and forensically mapped, giving hikers ample opportunity to test themselves against increasingly challenging terrain. It is though only the advent of sophisticated cableways that have levelled the playing field for walkers of all abilities to reach altitudes previously scaled only after arduous multi-days walks not without attendant risk. It is therefore my opinion that without Piccard Obergurgl might have lain undetected by the outside world for longer than it actually was, but in the end would have caught up with the likes of the Paznaun and Stubai valleys. Had the Pitztal received its own pioneering explorer, and sand blown in there from the Sahara to assist with the unearthing of a mummified iceman instead of where Otzi was discovered, perhaps it wouldn’t be the last in the queue to fully develop its precipitous but ecologically fragile landscape.
I hope you enjoy my personal selection of photographs of the Oetztal, taken in July 2014:
High above Soelden:
Hiking options above Soelden:
Hohe Mut restaurant, above Obergurgl:
A bovine friend:
Above Vent, en route to the Martin Busch hut:
The Martin Busch hut, a fantastic starting point from where to visit Otzi’s fundstelle:
Signpost prohibiting the use of two of the area’s highest routes:
The Schoenweisshutte situated above Obergurgl, accessible to hikers of all abilities:
Top station of the Gaislachkogl cableway, above Soelden:
Gaislachkogl top station ice Q restaurant as featured in SPECTRE, the James Bond film:
By winter the Gaisberg ski run into Obergurgl; in summer a service track and path back to the village after a long day of walking. Hochgurgl can clearly be seen in the background:
All photographs are the copyright© of C. Bowman