There are some real-life mysteries that seem like they could have been ripped from the pages of a thriller novel. The gruesome tale of the Dyatlov Pass is one of those stories, and it has prevailed throughout the years as being one of the most baffling and bizarre mysteries of the modern era. Now, Russia has vowed to reopen one of the most bewildering cases in its modern history, and might be very close to cracking the mystery.
Just A Regular Hike
It would become one of the most baffling mysteries of the modern era — yet it all began as just a regular excursion for a handful of college students. Igor Dyatlov, a 23-year-old radio engineering student at Ural Polytechnic Institute, was an avid hiker and skier. He was hoping to get some friends together to hike the Ural Mountains, part of the Soviet Union at the time.
The mountain range was known to be a challenging hike, and he knew that he could not complete such the risky trip alone. But soon enough, what promised to be a stirring shared adventure would end up with someone — or something — taking the lives of nine people.
Dyatlov was not a rookie hiker, and he knew how to prepare for even the most challenging treks. Together, he was able to convince Yuri Doroshenko (aged 21), Lyudmila Dubinina (20), Yuri Krivonischenko (23), Alexander Kolevatov (24), Zinaida Kolmogorova (22), Rustem Slobodin (23), Nikolai Thibeaux-Brignolles (23), Yuri Yudin (21), and Alexander Kholotaryov (38), all to join him on the 190-mile journey.
All of the young hikers that Dyatlov had invited were extremely talented and practiced hikers. Every one of the students on the trip were certified Grade II hikers, and by the end of the trek they would have hiked enough miles to qualify for Grade III, the highest ranking at the time. To say the group would come prepared was an understatement. But somehow, none of that would be able to save them from a gruesome fate.
The Big Trek Begins
On January 25, 1959, Dyatlov and his team began their hike, with no idea that soon they would be part of one of the most disturbing civilian events in modern Russian history. First, the team arrived by train to Ivdel’, a town in a northern province near their hiking trail.
From there, they boarded a truck to Vizhai, a small village that was just at the base of their planned route. They spent the following day gathering the last of their supplies and resting before the two-week long trip ahead. Some of the students brought cameras and diaries to document their trip, which were later found by investigators. The eerie photos showed that carefree day in Vizhai through the eyes of ten excited hikers.
The Group Loses Its First Member
The very next day, January 27th, the ten hikers enthusiastically began their trek, leaving Vizhai behind and heading towards a mountain called Gora Otorten. But even as they headed up the mountain, things quickly went downhill. Already on the second full day of hiking, the group lost its first member.
By January 28th, Yuri Yudin noticed that he had not been feeling well. He had been suffering for years from chronic joint pain, and his knees and joints were feeling the weight of the hike after a short time. Yudin decided that it would be best for him to turn back. At the time, Yudin was upset that he wouldn’t be able to continue with his friends. Soon enough, he would realize his decision likely saved his life.
The group of hikers were prepared for everything, so while losing Yudin was a disappointment, they were all ready to continue on their trip without any delays. Little is known about what exactly took place over the next few days, but bits and pieces of the trip were put together using the cameras and diaries that were left behind by the group of hikers.
The conditions on the trail were bitterly cold, but that was something they had prepared for, and together the team pushed through the elements. Investigators have determined that the group had made it to the next leg of their trip by January 31. They also know that this would spell the beginning of the end for the group.
Battling The Elements
For the initial days of their trek, the group of college students were navigating fairly even terrain as they made their way through the woods towards the base of the mountain range. But that changed once they arrived at the edge of what was known to be the Highland Area.
From this point on, the journey was expected to become even more difficult as they began their ascent. Their plan was to move through a pass on the trail, over a mountaintop, and over to an area on the other side that would be a safe place to set up camp. But that route did not go as planned.
Knocked Off Of Their Route
As the group of hikers were making their way across the pass, something terrible had happened. The conditions on the trail were getting worse, most likely due to snowstorms and steadily decreasing visibility. In a diary entry found at the campsite later, one of the hikers wrote that they were “forced to find new methods of clearing the path” for hikers and their skis.
At 10 AM, the group left their camp and continued on their path. But hours into their trip, they realized that they had made a dangerous error. Instead of heading north, the group had accidentally traveled west. The mistake would end up being a deadly one.
Setting Up Their Final Campsite
When the hikers finally realized that they were heading in the wrong direction, it was too late to retrace their steps. They knew that they would not make it to their planned campsite before the sun went down, and this forced them to quickly rethink their plans.
They could potentially set up camp in a forested area down the mountainside for protection against the elements. However, that would mean having to retrace their steps about a mile backwards and starting that leg of the hike over yet again by morning. Instead, they decided to set up camp at the slope of the mountainside to save themselves time. Of everything that happened over those fateful January days, this is the last event anyone can be certain of.
On the night of January 31st, the hikers set up camp on the side of Kholat Syakhl Mountain, known by the local indigenous Mansi people by the ominous name, “Dead Mountain.” That is when the diary entries from the group abruptly ended. The last entry was Dyatlov’s, where he discussed the warmth he felt sitting around a fire the team had built.
“It’s warm,” the diary entry said. “It is hard to imagine such a comfort somewhere on the ridge, with a piercing wind, hundreds of kilometers away from human settlements.” But it would be even harder to imagine the horrors that took place shortly after he closed up his diary for the very last time.
The First Signs That Something Was Wrong
The group of experienced hikers had planned for everything, and that included a plan on how to keep their families up to date with their trip. Dyatlov and his fellow hikers had told their loved ones that they would be sending a telegram to the school’s sports club as soon as they returned to town after the hike.
The students prepared their families to expect a telegram to arrive around February 12, if not just a day or two afterwards, depending on conditions. As the families awaited an update, the February 12 deadline came and went without any word from the group. Days passed, and then a full week. It was now abundantly clear that something was terribly wrong.
A Search Begins
After eight days of anticipation, on February 20th, 1959, the families of the hikers still had not heard anything from their children, and they were rightfully worried about what had happened in the mountains. It was as if the entire group had just disappeared. Together, the families demanded a rescue operation head to the Ural Mountains.
First, the university sent a group of volunteer students and teachers to search. With no luck, the Soviet armed forces stepped in. For five days, the all-hands-on-deck search and rescue mission efforts were fruitless, and searchers were coming up empty handed. But on the sixth day, more frightening questions would arise — after a grisly discovery.
Discovering The Tent
While searching the mountainside, a student named Mikhail Sharavin came across what seemed to be a camping site, but it was in no condition to to host any hikers. “The tent was half torn down and covered with snow,” Sharavin said in an interview at the time.
“It was empty and all the group’s belongings and shoes had been left behind,” he said. Investigators rushed to the scene and found that the tent had been cut open. What’s more, they determined the slash in the fabric had been created by someone inside of the tent, not someone trying to break in. Skis stood upright in the snow and surrounded the campsite. And then they found a startling clue.
Following the Chilling Clues
Investigators noticed tracks surrounding the tent, but the discovery only brought forth even more questions. Eight or nine sets of footprints all seemed to be leading away from the tent, and every print showed that the people who left them had either been in socks, wearing only one shoe, or were completely barefoot, despite temperatures dropping at night to about -13 degrees Fahrenheit.
What was even more chilling about the discovery was the state of the footprints. All of the prints clearly showed that whoever made them had not been running in a a panic away from the tent. Bizarrely, they had been walking calmly. The detectives began to follow the prints.
Following In The Hikers’ Footsteps
The trail of footsteps suddenly ended just after about 500 meters, but the seemed to lead towards a forest of pine trees. There at the forest’s edge, under a tall pine tree, investigators found their most disturbing discovery yet. Under the pine tree, investigators found evidence of a small fire. Beside it lay the dead bodies of two of the hikers, Krivonischenko and Doroshenko.
Both of the bodies were without shoes, dressed in nothing but their undergarments. In the tree above the bodies, tree branches had been snapped in a way that suggested someone had climbed up the tree. But if investigators thought this discovery was disturbing, they hadn’t seen anything yet.
Three More Bodies
From this point, the detective teams were closing in on a bounded search area, hoping to find more of the hikers. Soon enough, they did. At separate points between the tree and the campsite, the bodies of Dyatlov, Kolmogorova, and Slobodin were discovered. Each body lay between 1,000 and 2,000 feet away from the pine tree.
Although all three of the hikers had been found in different places, investigators reported that their bodies had been left in poses that suggested they were each trying to make it back to the campsite. Just like the others, none of the hikers were wearing shoes when they had died. The entire scene defied all logic. Why had all of these experienced hikers left their tent and ventured into the snow without their shoes on?
Initial Causes Of Death
Somehow, after police had found the bodies of five hikers, the case suddenly stalled. No one could find the remains of the final four hikers. In the meantime, coroners concluded that the five discovered hikers had died of hypothermia at some point between February 1st and 2nd. But then, after three months, the case became twisted so far that even the coroner’s straightforward report could not explain it.
On May 4th, buried under 4 meters of snow, searchers found the remains of the last four missing hikers. Some of the bodies were found completely without clothes. Others appeared to have tried to wrap themselves in the clothes of their peers. But it was the injuries these bodies bore that would lead to one of the strangest mysteries of all time.
Inexplicable And Suspicious Deaths
The bodies of Dubinina, Kholotaryov, Thibeaux-Brignolles, and Kolevatov were found together, having died just days after Kolevatov’s 24th birthday. Unlike their fellow hikers, the circumstances of their deaths were far more murky. Dubinina had been found wearing the burnt and charred clothes of Krivonishenko, who had himself been discovered earlier near the pine tree. Krivonishenko had suffered a severe chest trauma.
Zolotaryov had also suffered a severe chest injury, while Thibeaux-Brignolles’ remains showed signs of a fatal skull injury. Investigators said that the injuries would have been sustained by an impact equivalent to that of a car crash. But the strangest thing was that none of the bodies had any exterior bruising or signs of injury at all. So what had happened?
Was It Murder?
When investigators and local police reported that the first bodies had been discovered and were determined to have died of hypothermia, the case seemed to be closed. Initially, people could easily explain away the story as a tragic tale of hikers succumbing to the elements. But with these new, suspicious injuries, there was no longer a simple explanation.
Why did a group of nine experienced hikers decide to cut open their tent, leave their campsite without wearing shoes or, in some cases, even socks, and head into the cold? Why did they walk away so calmly? And what happened afterwards? The public looked anxiously to the police for answers.
Looking For Explanations
In May of that year, three full months after the hikers had died, the last of their remains were removed from Dead Mountain and taken to the coroner’s office for further inspection. Police gathered all of the evidence from the mountainside, and came up with a conclusion that would nonetheless hardly explain what exactly happened that deadly night.
Officials stated that the hikers who had sustained injuries had “died because of a compelling natural force,” but gave no further explanation. The Soviet-era investigation was then labeled as classified, making it so that no one else could look into the case. But that did not mean that people accepted the investigation’s conclusions.
A few theories began to slowly come forward in the wake of such an unimaginable end to a hiking trip. At the time of the investigations, police followed a lead that speculated that the Mansi people, the indigenous inhabitants of the area, might have had something to do with the deaths, possibly as a spiritual killing.
Police reportedly interviewed the Mansi people and found no evidence that would have led them to believe that they had been involved. There were no signs of a struggle at the scene, and the only footprints at the scenes were those of the hikers. Then, another theory hoped to finally provide an explanation for what happened.
An Avalanche Of Conspiracies
Some people at the time and even today theorize that the deaths had to do with an avalanche in the area. The theory was that the hikers were spooked by the rumble of a possible avalanche and left their campsite for safety. Still, this theory also does not exactly stand up to scrutiny.
If the hikers were scared of an avalanche, why did they walk out of their tents rather than run? And why not bring their shoes? The explanation also does not explain why the skis surrounding the tent were able to stay upright, despite an avalanche, and why no one else hiking in the area reported an avalanche taking place. Other theories were even more unbelievable and sensational.
A Government Cover Up
Those who have been left unconvinced by the avalanche theory have turned to other explanations. In total, about 75 different theories were floated, and none of them seem to fully explain all of the strange details of the unbelievable scene on Dead Mountain.
Most sensational of all, it was reported that some of the bodies had traces of radiation on the few articles of clothing they were wearing at the time. Because of this, some government conspiracy theories have floated the idea that the hikers had witnessed a secret Soviet weapons test, and their deaths were staged as part of a massive government cover-up. Could this explain the mysterious deaths of nine well-trained hikers?
The Answer Is Blowing In The Wind?
In 2013, a book about the incident came to the conclusion that the wind on the mountain the night of the hikers’ deaths had produced what was known as infrasound. This low-frequency sound is said to cause panic attacks, and could have put the hikers in emotional distress.
In 2019, a Swedish-Russian investigation theorized that the weather conditions caused a “katabatic wind,” or an extremely violent gale that would have made it impossible for the group to stay in their tent. In this explanation, sleuths think that the hikers were waiting on winds to die down before heading back to camp. And then, finally there came a huge break in the case — one that meant it could finally be solved.
Reopening The Case
On February 4, 2019, almost exactly 60 years to the day Dyatlov and his fellow hikers died on the trail now known as the “Dyatlov Pass,” the Russian government made a stunning announcement. Prosecutors declared they would finally be launching a new investigation into the mysterious deaths of those nine hikers.
The case, which had been marked as classified since the 1970s, would now perhaps get the detailed explanations that the public had thirsted to learn for more than half a century. But anyone looking for answers might not want to hold their breath that this investigation will finally crack the case.
An Unnatural Disaster
According to prosecutors, the current investigation will only focus on the “most likely” theories, and none of them involve a crime. “Crime is out of the question,” a spokesperson said. “There is not a single proof, even an indirect one, to favor this criminal version.”
Instead, the investigation will focus on “either an avalanche, a snow slab, or a hurricane…all of them are somehow connected with natural phenomena.” So what exactly happened to these nine Russian hikers? The world may never know, but we are all hopefully getting closer to finding out and getting the answers to this unthinkable and indescribably creepy mystery.
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