Terror in the Snow: The Unsolved Mystery of the Dyatlov Pass Incident

Written By Wise Healthy n Wealthy

In 1959, nine students set out on a hike through the Russian mountains. They would never reach their destination.

But this wasn’t your average hiking accident. The circumstances surrounding their deaths are so mysterious and horrifying that people are still debating the true cause over sixty years later.

Read on as we unveil one of the 20th century’s most fascinating and gruesome mysteries.

Background: a Simple Hiking Trip

Four of the Dyatlov group (Dubinina, Krivonishchenko, Thibeaux-Brignolle and Slobodin) pose for a photo. Image Credit: DYATLOVPASS.COM.

It was early 1959 in Soviet Russia. Winter had set in deeply in Western Siberia. Igor Dyatlov, a student at the Ural Polytechnic Institute, arranged an expedition to cross the Northern Ural Mountains.

Now, he had planned a tough hike, but nothing to raise any eyebrows: Each of the ten members of the party was an experienced Grade II hiker, and the local sporting committee approved the route.

The group of ten set out from Vizhai – the northernmost inhabited settlement before the mountains – on January 25th, and the trek began on the 27th. A day later, one of the hikers, Yuri Yudin, turned back and headed home.

He was suffering with a bad back and knee pain. This decision saved his life.

Everything ran smoothly for a few days. The party made good progress and reached the foot of the mountains. On January 31st, they made camp in a small wood. The following day, they set out to traverse the pass through the mountains.

It appears they got lost and instead ended up heading west. Perhaps a snowstorm was to blame, and they had no visibility? We will never know for sure. They set up their tent towards the top of Kholat Syakhl, a peak whose name roughly translates as “Dead Mountain”.

Final photo of the group alive, taken the night before the incident as they set up their tent in a storm. Image Credit: DYATLOVPASS.COM.

The Search and the Discovery

Dyatlov had told his sports club to expect a telegram around February 12th. When nobody had heard a thing by the 20th, the army and police force mounted a search and rescue operation. On February 26th, Mikhail Shavarin was the first to find the tent.

He described what he saw:

“The tent was half torn down and covered with snow. It was empty, and all the group’s belongings and shoes had been left behind.”

It appeared that the nine hikers had desperately ripped their way out of the tent and ran out into the snow. The rescuers tracked nine sets of footprints down the mountain to a nearby wood.

Fair warning: This is where things get gory. Proceed with caution if you’re squeamish.

Like Something from a Horror Movie

The first thing discovered was the remains of a small fire. Nearby were two bodies, both shoeless and wearing only underwear.

One of the bodies had burns and a piece of flesh in his mouth that he’d bitten off his own hand. Rescuers found the corpses of three of the other hikers a short way away, positioned as if they’d died trying to return to the tent.

Authorities didn’t find the remaining bodies for another two months. They were discovered under thirteen feet of snow in a ravine, nearly a hundred meters further into the forest. Oddly, they were found wearing clothing from the other corpses.

The first five discovered bodies appeared to have died from hypothermia, but these four: One had a skull fracture so severe that bits of bone were found in the brain, two had crushed chests and missing eyes, and one was missing a tongue.

The reports were as baffling as they were gruesome. What could have caused the hikers to die in this manner?

Rescuers find the tent. Image Credit: AnonymousUnknown author / Soviet investigators, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Dyatlov Pass (Conspiracy) Theories

Remember that this all took place at the height of the Soviet Union. The official story was simply that the hikers died of a “compelling natural force”.

No one dared to challenge this ruling, lest they wound up in a Siberian Gulag. But the details of the horrific scene soon leaked, and theories abounded.

There was radiation present on the hikers’ clothing. The deceased had open coffin funerals, and their skin was impossibly tan, almost the color of bricks. At the time of the incident, lots of animals and birds were found dead in the area.

The authorities banned hunting in the locality for four years and forbade locals from using water from wells with no explanation. Were these poor hikers the victims of some secret Soviet weapons test? Had they stumbled upon something nefarious and been eliminated?

The students’ families believed so. Dyatlov’s sister, Tatyana, said, “The families were told, ‘You will never know the truth, so stop asking questions.’ So what could we do? Don’t forget, in those days, if they told you to shut up, you would be silent.”

There was even more weirdness. Lev Ivanov, the lead prosecutor, was initially very keen to crack the case. Then, all of a sudden, he lost interest and closed it.

His superiors allegedly pressured him to drop it entirely. Remember, at the time, disobeying an order like that would have landed him in prison. He only spoke out about the investigation in 1990, when the USSR was falling.

He admitted that he’d been amazed by the autopsy results and had been especially interested in several reports he’d received about “balls of fire” in the sky around the time of the tragedy.

Picture taken on February 1st of the group on their way to Kholat Syakhl. Image Credit: DYATLOVPASS.COM.

What Actually Happened?

In total, around seventy-five different theories have been put forward. These include everything from poisonous rocket fuel to alien abduction or the Russian Yeti.

In 2019, the Russian government attempted to put the rumors to bed once and for all, announcing that their researched and accepted explanation was that the hikers had experienced a small avalanche.

This explained the cutting of the tent and abandoning their clothes as they left in a hurry out of fear of another snowfall.

They could have then dug a den for shelter, which then collapsed, explaining the brutal crush injuries. Then, animals could have eaten the missing eyes and tongue. With such a convoluted official explanation, it’s no surprise people suspect foul play to this very day.




This post first appeared on Travel and Intrigue.

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