The scene of the mysterious event.

The mystery of Dyatlov Pass has remained unsolved for over fifty years. Many theories have been suggested to explain the strange circumstances surrounding the deaths of nine hikers in 1959, but to this day, the truth behind the incident remains unknown.

The bizarre tale begins with ten hikers: Zinaida Kolmogorova, Lyudmila Dubinina, Alexander Koletov, Rustem Slobodin, Yuri Krivonischenko, Yuri Doroshenko, Nicolai Thibeaux-Brignolles, Semyon Zolotariov, Yuri Yudin and the groups's leader, Igor Dyatlov. The group of ten all had experience in mountain expeditions and had decided to embark on a route towards the Otorten mountain, a route classified as category III—the most difficult.

The expedition began from Vizhai on January 27th. The next day, Yuri Yudin returned due to illness while the remaining nine hikers continued. Upon reaching the pass—now named for the leader of this late group of hikers—they made a wrong turn due to bad weather and began moving up a mountain known as Kholat Syakhl—“Dead Mountain.” Upon realising their mistake, the group decided to make camp on Kholat Syakhl.

The hikers were expected to return on February 12th. Initially, no action was taken when they failed to return, as delays were common, but on February 20th, relatives demanded action and the first rescue group was dispatched.

On February 26th, the group's tent was discovered. It was partially destroyed—covered in snow and, oddly, cut open from the inside. Footprints—of people wearing only socks—led to the nearby woods where the remains of a fire were found, along with two bodies—Those of Doroshenko and Krivonischenko, both lying by a cedar tree, shoeless and dressed only in their underwear.

Next, at three various spots between the burned out fire and the destroyed tent, the rescue team discovered three more bodies -- those of Dyatlov, Kolmogorova and Slobodin. It would be more than two months before the final bodies were discovered, lying in a ravine seventy-five metres away and buried under four metres of snow.

Post-mortem examinations took place after the first five bodies were found, but no fatal wounds were present. Slobodin was found to have a small fracture in his skull, but this was deemed non-fatal and hypothermia was concluded to be the cause of death for the five hikers.

Of the final four bodies to be found, three of them were found to have sustained fatal injuries. Thibeaux-Brignolles had sustained major skull damage, while Dubinina and Zolotarev were reported to have sustained major chest trauma. According to Dr. Boris Vozrozhdenny, the force required to cause such damage would be comparable to a car crash, yet none of the bodies showed any signs of external injury.

The body of Dubinina was also found to be missing its tongue, lips and some facial tissue, which raised further questions about what may have happened to the hikers.

The bodies of Dubinina, Zolotarev, Thibeaux-Brignolles and Kolevatov were all clothed and had additional pieces of clothing wrapped around themselves in a futile attempt to keep warm, suggesting that the previous victims may have died first, relinquishing their clothes to the survivors.

The official ruling following the investigation was that the deaths were caused by an unknown compelling natural force, and it wasn’t long before several controversial claims arose.

Lyudmila Dubinina, Yuri Krivonischenko, Nikolay Thibeaux-Briggnolles and Rustem Slobodin.

Claims were made that some of the hiker's clothing was found to be radioactive, while 12-year-old Yuri Kuntsevich, who attended the funeral of several of the hikers, claimed that their skin had an orange tan.

Another group of hikers near the same mountain that night had also reported witnessing a collection of strange glowing orange spheres floating in the sky, which sparked theories about what they could be and whether they were involved in the deaths of the nine hikers.

One reportedly popular theory of the time suggests that the hikers were attacked by Mansi natives, with the first five dying of hypothermia before the final four were injured and left for dead. Unfortunately, this theory doesn't explain the lack of footprints suggesting that no one but the hikers were present in the area that night, nor does it explain why the tent was cut open from the inside.

Other theories focus on the core mystery—why nine experienced hikers would flee their tent into dangerous weather conditions. What could have driven them to such irresponsible and dangerous actions? Theories range from the strange but possible—that the hikers were overcome with an unexplained terror due to the presence of infrasonic noises—to the downright bizarre—that the group was subject to an extraterrestrial visit and were left injured by their alien captives.

One theory that has remained popular over the years suggests that Kholat Syakhl was a site used by the government for weapons testing purposes. The hikers, upon hearing the boom of a weapon detonating, fled the tent in fear, coming to a rest by the cedar tree. After realizing that there was no immediate threat, Dyatlov, Kolmogorova and Slobodin attempt to return to the camp, but succumb to hypothermia on their way there. Krivonischenko and Doroshenko also fall victim to hypothermia underneath the cedar tree, leaving only four survivors.

A second weapon is detonated, seriously injuring three of them. Slowly, as the cold and their injuries take hold, the four remaining hikers perish.

This theory is often backed up by the fact that the authorities left the Dyatlov Pass case classified for thirty years and that they were notoriously evasive about what happened that night. However, the case was never classified and the suggestion that it was is nothing more than exaggeration born of repeated retellings, while the authorities were evasive and vague for no reason other than that they didn’t have any answers—they, like the rest of us, have remained in the dark about what happened that night.

Igor Dyatlov, leader of the group who lost their lives on February 2nd, 1959.

Another theory takes a much more skeptical view and seems to explain events reasonably well. This theory suggests that the group was aware that they were setting up a camp in a less than ideal location and that they were very aware of the danger of avalanches that night. Hearing the rumble of an aircraft and mistaking it for an avalanche, the hikers cut open the tent and fled as quickly as they could, leaving most of their supplies and clothes behind.

At the cedar tree, the hikers stop and consider their situation. Slobodin attempts to climb the tree in order to take a better look around their surroundings. On his way back down, he slips, fracturing his skull. With little other options, the hikers start a fire in an attempt to keep warm. They know that this is futile, however, and Dyatlov, Kolmogorova and Slobodin volunteer to return to their camp in search of supplies.

The three of them never make it, collapsing one by one of hypothermia on their way. Back at the cedar tree, Krivonischenko and Doroshenko also succumb to hypothermia, and the remaining four hikers remove their friends' clothes in a desperate attempt to preserve their own heat.

Out of options, they begin moving towards the forest in the hope of finding better shelter, but the ground soon gives way and they take a steep fall into the ravine, seriously injuring Dubinina, Dolotarev and Thibeaux-Brignolles. The four survivors soon lost their lives to the injuries, their exhaustion, and to the cold, remaining buried in the ravine for months.

This theory seems to explain the events of that night in believable and plausible terms. But there are many questions surrounding the Dyatlov Pass incident; can they be answered so easily?

Dubinina’s missing tongue is unlikely to be the result of a vicious attack, and is almost certainly a result of natural decay sped up by the bacteria residing in the stream of the ravine, in which Dubinina was found lying face down. Her injuries, along with those of Dolotarev and Thibeaux-Brignolles, are likely explained by their fall into the ravine.

While some of the bodies were found to have an orange tan to their skin, this was exclusive to the final four bodies found and is not an uncommon occurrence in bodies left in such conditions. The radiation discovered on their clothing, meanwhile, is an exaggeration of the reality of the case—trace amounts of radiation were discovered exclusively on Dubinina’s coat, and it was likely already present at the beginning of the expedition.

Although this theory adequately fills in the details of the mystery, it may not accurately explain the main question that has remained unanswered for more than half a century—what could cause nine experienced hikers to abandon the safety of their tent in favor of the harsh cold night, when such actions were sure to guarantee their deaths?

Unfortunately, that is a question to which we will probably never know the answer.


References & Further Reading

Dyatlov Pass Incident Theories. Aquiziam.
Return to Dead Mountain. Zasky, Jason; Failure Magazine. February 1st, 2014.
Dyatlov Pass Incident: what slaughtered nine hikers on Siberia’s Death Mountain in 1959? Rennell, Tony; Mail Online. August 23rd, 2013.
Dyatlov Pass Incident Theories. Aquiziam.

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