When a group of nine friends from the Ural Polytechnical Institute in the former Soviet Union decided to go hiking and skiing in the nearby Ural Mountains in early February of 1959, it seemed like a routine trip that many had done before. They would hike into the mountains and camp on the east shoulder of Kholat Syakhl, which translates into English as “Dead Mountain.” The students happily left for their trip. But something absolutely strange, frightening, and unexplainable happened during February 1 and 2.
Whatever it was, it left all nine of the students dead!
The seven young men and two young women were led by Igor Dyatlov, who organized the expedition in Yekaterinburg, a sleepy college town in the middle of Siberia. Dyatlov made sure to select individuals with winter hiking and skiing experience, and the group left the comfort of their dormitories on January 25. A male member turned back two days later due to illness. The remaining nine members then trekked into the Urals, never to be seen alive again.
When Dyatlov didn’t check in with some friends on February 12, friends and family of the hikers put pressure on the government to send out search teams. The rugged terrain and weather hampered rescue operations, which commenced a week later. By February 26, the remains of the hikers’ camp were located.
The discovery was as baffling as it was shocking.
The tent was found torn and abandoned on the side of the mountain. Further examination revealed that the tent had been cut open from the inside, and the hikers had apparently left most of their clothes in the tent. Dyatlov and four of his comrades were found nearly naked about sixteen hundred feet from the tent. It appeared that they had attempted to start a fire, while others may have tried walking back to the tent.
Months passed before the bodies of the final four hikers were discovered.
It was initially thought that the hikers died of hypothermia. Even experienced hikers can fall victim to this condition. When hypothermia hits it can make a person do strange things, such as taking off one’s clothes. But a closer examination of the bodies revealed that hypothermia didn’t claim the lives of all the hikers.
When the remaining four bodies were discovered after the spring thaw, the case took a creepy turn.
Three of the bodies showed signs of severe trauma to the head and body, which was ruled the cause of death. What could have done this?
Since 1959 was the Cold War era, the Soviet government quickly put a lock on the story by closing access to the area and by controlling all press releases. The government also came up with a credible explanation to dispel any conspiracy theories.
The earliest and most commonly held theory for the tragedy was that the hikers were the victim of an avalanche. This would explain some of the injuries three of the hikers suffered and could also possibly account for the tent’s destruction. But there are holes in theory. The footprints leading away from tent showed a normal gait, not a group running frantically to escape an avalanche. Furthermore, avalanches are not common in that part of the Urals; Dyatlov and fellow hiker Semyon Zolotaryov were highly experienced and would not have camped in an avalanche-prone area.
Another logical theory that has been bandied about to explain the tragedy at the Dyatlov Pass was that the hikers encountered a “Katabatic wind.” A Katabatic wind is a wind that blows down the face of a mountain. Those who believe this theory think that such a wind blew down the face of the Dead Mountain, covering the unsuspecting men and women in a snowy grave.
After these scientific theories, we start getting into the realm of the conspiratorial and paranormal.
Another group of hikers reported seeing strange-looking orange orbs in the skies about thirty miles from the Dead Mountain. The Soviet government initially censored those reports. But after the USSR collapsed in 1991, those reports were made public, leading many to think that the tragedy on the Dead Mountain may have been a Soviet military exercise gone wrong.
Others think it was a fatal alien encounter that was later covered up by the Soviet government.
Perhaps the strangest of all the theories, and the one I like best, is that the hikers were the victim of a vicious yeti/Abominable Snowman. But although there have been supposed sightings of Yeti creatures in the area of the Dyatlov Pass, and the local Mansi people have numerous folk legends about its existence, no footprints of any creature were found near the dead hikers.
So, it appears that the yeti has once again been unfairly charged with a crime!
It looks as though the mystery of the Dyatlov Pass will continue for the foreseeable future.