The name couldn’t be more fitting…
It was February 1959.
Nine hikers were found dead along the upper ridges of Siberia’s Kholat Syakhl (Mountain of Death), their frozen bodies preserved in a way that makes the case extremely intriguing for investigators – and anyone with a fantasy about government corruption, yetis or UFOs.
The hikers, all described as fit, intelligent college students experienced in the ways of the wilderness, had told everyone that they were going on a short trip to the Ural mountains, hoping for a little excitement before the start of the next semester. When the students failed to return, authorities assumed that they had simply become lost, and that the majority of them would turn up alive.
They were wrong.
When the investigators finally stumbled upon the ruined remains of the camp, they were shocked by what they found. The damaged tent was tightly sealed, the way it should have been to ward off the biting cold. But there were long gouges along the sides of the canvas, evidently made by a knife from within. All of the students’ gear (warm clothing, shoes, cameras, utensils, etc.) had been abandoned, and the hikers were nowhere to be found.
Investigators found a small trail of human footprints in the snow – barefoot, despite the subzero temperatures.
They followed the trail to the first two bodies, those of Yuri Krivonischenko and Yuri Doroshenk. The men had been found in their underwear and located about a mile from the tent. They lie still beside the remains of a long-dead fire, frostbitten and covered in snow. The tree limbs above their heads had been broken, as though they had been struggling to get off the ground.
The next to be found was the corpse of Igor Dyatlov, the leader of the group and the boy after whom the pass would henceforth be named. Zina Kolomgorova and Rustem Slobodin were discovered shortly thereafter, their bodies approximately 200 yards apart, one behind the other as though they were trying to crawl back towards the tent.
It took two months for the rest of the group to be located. They were under a heap of snow, no doubt a makeshift shelter, also frozen by shearing cold. And though their bodies showed no external signs of struggle (no cuts or bruises associated with self-defense), they suffered a number of violent internal injuries (namely, their chests had collapsed inwards, breaking their ribs and crushing their internal organs, and fractured skulls). Only Lyudmilla Dubinina’s corpse showed any visible signs of damage – she was missing her tongue.
No animal tracks were found near the bodies. There were no signs of avalanches or other natural disasters that should have forced them to leave their tent. Yet a test of the victim’s clothing, little that they were wearing, showed increased levels of radiation that the government conveniently refused to comment on.
There are other explanations, of course. The last shot on one of the hiker’s cameras showed a flash of light, and another group that had been out hiking in the area reported seeing ‘bright orbs’ in the night sky, leading Lev Ivanov, leader of the Soviet investigators, to privately conclude that the deaths were the result of a UFO. Others hypothesize a military accident by the Russian government, an ill-fired missile or sonic waves that drove the hikers crazy. Many of the more superstitious locals fantasize about the “snow monsters” who could have crushed the hiker’s bones, aided by lore that a message had been scrawled on the tree near Yuri Krivonischenko and Yuri Doroshenko reading; “Now we know that snowmen exist”. Others still claim interference by the zolotaya baba, the “golden woman”.
Whatever it was that really caused the hikers’ deaths, it was only ever officially reported as “a compelling, unknown force”.