The Dyatlov Pass incident is one of the most horrifying and perplexing mysteries in recent history.
In 1959, a group of nine Soviet hikers set out on what they expected to be a challenging but successful expedition. They were all students of the Ural Polytechnical Institute. Each were skillful Grade II hikers and experienced with ski tours. This trek would elevate them to Grade III status, which would be certified upon their return. Grade III certification was the highest degree at the time, and had rigorous requirements to achieve.
Their route was meticulously pre-planned and approved by the Sverdlovsk City Route Commission. They intended to reach the northern regions of Sverdlovsk Oblast and the upper streams of the Lozva river, all the way to Otorten mountain. Ultimately, the incident occurred 10 kilometers or 6.2 miles away from their destination.
Originally, the group had ten members. Led by Igor Dyatlov, they had to travel by train to their expedition’s start point. On January 25, they arrived in Sverdlovsk Oblast and took a truck to Vizhai, the last inhabited settlement that far north. They ate bread to build up their energy, and the next day they hiked toward Gora Otorten. On the way there, Yuri Yudin began experiencing significant knee and joint pain. He decided to turn back, and the nine others continued on.
The students wrote in diaries and documented their hike with cameras which were later found by searchers. They cached supplies like food and equipment in a valley they’d be passing through on their way back. As they worked their way through the mountain pass concerning weather conditions began to kick up. The group tried to get over the pass before the weather hit, but ended up getting caught in the storm. Visibility drastically decreased and they got lost, heading west of where they were meant to be. When the hikers realized they were off of their route, they decided to stop and make camp.
Dyatlov was supposed to send a telegram to their sports club once the group made it to Vizhai on their way back. This was schedule for February 12, but Dyatlov told Yudin when he left that the telegram may be a few days late. That’s why when no telegram came on the 12th, no one raised the alarm. When there had still been no messages by February 20, the hikers’ families began to call for action to be taken.
Search and rescue groups began to look for Dyatlov’s group, sending out teams of volunteers and then later the army and police.
On February 26, they found the group’s campsite on a slope near the top of Kholat Syakhl. It was abandoned, and the tent was totally destroyed and covered in snow. Dyatlov’s group wasn’t there, but all of their things had been left behind. Even their shoes. Investigators determined that the tent had been cut open from the inside. Nine sets of footprints led away from the camp and down into some woods nearby. The hikers had apparently been barefoot, or had only socks on. One was wearing a single shoe.
Following the footprints, searchers came upon what was left of a fire and two of the hikers’ bodies. They were Krivonischenko and Doroshenko, and they were naked except for their underwear. Searchers found the bodies of Dyatlov, Kolmogorova, and Slobodin not too far from the first two. They had died apparently trying to head back to their campsite on the slope. It wasn’t until two months later that they found the other four hikers. They were found in a ravine under 13 feet of snow deeper in the woods.
Soviet authorities ruled that six of the hikers passed from hypothermia, while the others died from physical injuries. One hiker had major skull damage, and another suffered a small crack in the skull. Two had severe chest trauma. Of the bodies that had been found in the ravine, three had soft tissue damage to the head and face. Two of them were missing eyes, one was missing a tongue, and another was missing its eyebrows.
The official report stated that a ‘compelling natural force’ had caused the deaths. Although just exactly what happened to the Dyatlov group is still hotly debated. Many have put forth their own theories as to what natural phenomena could have killed nine highly skilled and experienced hikers.
In 2019 a group of Swedish and Russian researchers proposed katabatic winds as the culprit, citing a case where katabatic winds killed seven hikers and seriously injured another in 1978. Katabatic winds could have destroyed the Dyatlov campsite and driven them to take shelter in the woods. Another hypothesis proposed that a Kármán vortex street could have been formed by winds whipping around Kholat Syakal. These winds generate infrasound which interferes with human physiology, causing physical discomfort and mental distress. This could have led the hikers to panic and make mistakes, leading to their deaths.
Several people have come forward with theories of a more sinister nature.
It was thought that perhaps the indigenous people of the region, the Mansi, attacked and killed the hikers for trespassing on their lands. An investigation was launched but it determined that there were no signs of anyone but the hikers in the area. Additionally, there were no signs of human-against-human or even human-against-animal struggle. The Mansi people had nothing to do with it.
Some speculated that the hikers had the misfortune of selecting a campsite within the path of a Soviet parachute mine exercise. The explosions could have woken the hikers and driven them into the woods in a panic, where they would ultimately struggle and die in their confusion or die as a result of the concussive blasts.
The parachute mine theory correlates with eyewitness accounts of glowing orbs falling from the sky in the region during the time that the hikers would have been there. Accounts of these orbs come from several people, including another group of hikers, police officials, and individuals within the meteorological service. There are records of parachute mines being tested in the area, but no direct evidence of their involvement in the Dyatlov case. Although, this theory does explain the government’s suspicious, almost eager movements to dismiss the incident and quiet discussion of it. A lack of clear evidence could be the result of a cover up. However, many have pointed out that it was standard practice at the time in the USSR to suppress and contain information, and that eventually all information on the Dyatlov Pass incident was released and made public.
It has been suggested that something a bit more paranormal could have had a hand in the Dyatlov group’s demise. The lights in the sky could have been evidence of UFOs, and the nine hikers victims of strange experimentation by aliens. Many paranormal enthusiasts even suggest that perhaps the group was being stalked by a yeti, and died as a result of trying to flee the monster.
In 2019, Russia readdressed the case. The investigation concluded that an avalanche caused the Dyatlov tragedy. According to them, a unique phenomenon known as a slab avalanche suddenly forced the group from their camp while the stormed raged around them. This is particularly compelling, because it provides an excellent justification for the apparently strange decisions made by the members of the group. It is likely they would have woken to the loud cracks and groans as the snow shelf began to shift, and reacted in perfect accordance with proper avalanche protocol. Unfortunately, a slab avalanche behaves differently than the avalanche the Dyatlov group was prepared for, ultimately making their flight into the woods completely pointless.
Ironically, it is the hikers’ skill and the adept way they responded to the threat of an avalanche that killed them in the end. If they had reacted to the threat less professionally and stayed near their tent, they would have survived.
There are those who take issue with the avalanche theory, pointing to the fact that while it does explain many things, it blatantly disregards several aspects of the reports surrounding the mystery such as the lights in the sky. Unfortunately, it’s simply not likely that there will ever be a unanimous consensus on just what happened to the Dyatlov party.