A Horrific Account of the Unsolved Grisly Deaths of 9 Hikers in 1959

A Horrific Account of the Unsolved Grisly Deaths of 9 Hikers in 1959

Alexa - January 12, 2018

People all over the world enjoy various forms of outdoor activities, and hiking is certainly the most popular and accessible. Millions of people enjoy leisurely strolls along nature parks, while some opt for more rigorous paths up mountains and through extreme terrain. It pays to be knowledgeable about your surroundings, have training in first aid, and have certain skills that would benefit yourself and any companions that have been brought along. Generally, the worst and most common accidents to befall hikers are scrapes and sprains. However, hikers every year face deadly situations that prevent them from their return home.

Exposure to the elements, deadly falls, and animal encounters are typically the ways in which most hikers will meet their untimely deaths. Yet, there are some mishaps that are rather unexplained. One such case of unexplained hiker death is that of Dyatlov Pass. This mystery has left researchers, detectives, and the public utterly puzzled for the last five decades. Nine experienced hikers went on a treacherous trek in the Ural Mountains in Russia between February 1st and February 2nd, 1959; none of the nine returned, but rather, were found dead in various and unexplained ways.

A Horrific Account of the Unsolved Grisly Deaths of 9 Hikers in 1959
The tomb belonging to the nine experienced hikers who passed away in the Ural Mountains, Mikhajlov Cemetery in Yekaterinburg, Russia. Wikipedia.

The Dyatlov Pass incident has inspired a slew of documentaries and books, both fact and fiction, over the years. Both professional and self proclaimed detectives have made attempts to produce logical explanations for these young hikers’ deaths, but in the end, are left unsatisfied. There are a multitude of theories regarding the incident, ranging from practical to outlandish. Aliens, secret government conspiracies, scorned lovers, and panic induced hysteria have all been circulating theories.

The group originally consisted of ten Ural Polytechnical Institute students: Yuri Doroshenko, Lyudmila Dubinina, Yuri (Georgiy) Krivonischenko, Alexander Kolevatov, Zinaida Kolmogorova, Rustem Slobodin, Nicolai Thibeaux-Brignolles, Yuri Yudin, and 38 year old Semyon (Alexander) Zolotaryov and their leader from whom the incident was named after, Igor Dyatlov. Yuri Yudin suffered from many health problems, including a heart defect and rheumatism. He did not follow through with the planned trek and turned back due to joint pain. It was this joint pain that surely saved Yudin. He was the only member of the group to survive.

The group had planned a grand skiing trip. All eight men and two women were Grade II hikers. Along with their obvious hiking experience, they also had ski tour experience. They were all to receive a Grade III rating upon their return, which at the time, was the highest level one could earn in Soviet Russia. Their goal was to reach Otorten, an intimidating mountain 6.2 miles north of where all the bodies were eventually found. The route the hikers had mapped out in February was considered a Category III, the most difficult. Due to both the experience needed, the expected danger, and the publicity of the incident, this region was closed to all hikers for three years after the remains of the hikers were found.

A Horrific Account of the Unsolved Grisly Deaths of 9 Hikers in 1959
Map showing the location of bodies found during the search and rescue missions. Cryptid Antiquarian.

A Horrific Account of the Unsolved Grisly Deaths of 9 Hikers in 1959
Igor Dyatlov’s tent, torn from the inside out and buried in snow, discovered by Mikhail Sharavin February 26, 1959. Wikimedia Commons.

On January 27th, 1959, the trekkers began their journey toward Otorten from Vizhai, a village that is the last inhabited settlement to the north. The hikers established a camp on the slopes of Kholat Syakhl, which was later renamed Dyatlov Pass in honor of the group’s leader, Igor Dyatlov. When investigators found the group’s campsite, they were able to retrieve diaries and cameras, allowing them to retrace the nine’s footsteps. Upon reading the diaries, investigators discovered the group had planned to make a camp on the opposite side of the pass, but due to worsening weather conditions, they lost their direction and headed westward towards the top of Kholat Syakhl.

Once they had realized their mistake, the group abruptly stopped and set up a camp on the slope. Had they moved downward 0.93 miles, they could have sheltered in a forested area, protecting them from the treacherous snowstorm causing them to lose all direction. However, the sole surviving trekker who left the group prior to the February deaths, Yudin, speculated that Dyatlov was responsible for the decision, stating: “Dyatlov probably did not want to lose the altitude they had gained, or he decided to practice camping on the mountain slope.”

A Horrific Account of the Unsolved Grisly Deaths of 9 Hikers in 1959
Photograph of the nine hikers and skiers who mysteriously died at Dyatlov Pass. Russian National Archives.

Wisely, Dyatlov had declared he would send a telegram to the school’s sports club when he and the group returned to the village of Vizhai. The telegram was expected by February 12th, but before Yudin departed from his hiking group, Dyatlov told him he expected it to be a little longer. February 12th passed, as did more days of no news from Dyatlov’s group. Because of worsening weather conditions and the nature of such arduous hikes, fellow students and friends were not overly concerned that they had not heard from the group.

It was not until relatives of the nine hikers demanded a search party be sent out on February 20th that any attempt to find the men and women occurred. Volunteers from the institute, friends, family, and rescue crews were the initial parties involved. Several days passed, and no signs of the seasoned hikers could be found. Helicopters, planes, and the military were utilized as last efforts in hopes they would find the missing nine.

On February 26th, fourteen days after Dyatlov had planned to contact others assuring their safety, a rescue group found the shredded remains of the group’s tent. A student from Ural Polytechnical institute, Mikhail Sharavin, found the tent, stating “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.” This single discovery was the beginning of a baffling mystery: what happened to these young men and women?

A Horrific Account of the Unsolved Grisly Deaths of 9 Hikers in 1959
Portraits of the ten college students who went hiking in the Ural Mountains of Russia. Steemit.

Investigators found nine sets of footprints exiting the camp, all footprints appearing to be from people only wearing socks, only one shoe, or entirely barefoot. Tracking the footprints, crews followed the path to the edge of nearby woods, nearly a mile northeast and opposite the side of the pass. Strangely, after 500 feet, the hiker’s tracks were covered with snow.

The investigators entered the woods and found a cedar nearby; underneath the cedar, signs of a small fire were visible and adjacent to the extinguished fire were the bodies of those of Krivonischenko and Doroshenko, both without shoes and naked except for underwear. The cedar tree itself had odd clues to the group’s reasoning for being at this location. Sixteen feet above were broken branches. Investigators speculated one of the skiers must have climbed up in an attempt to find something. Between the cedar and the campsite lie three more dead bodies belonging to Dyatlov, Kolmogorova, and Slobodin. All three were posed in ways that suggested to investigators that they were headed back towards the camp and tent. Ultimately, only five bodies were recovered on that February trip. It took over two months for the remaining four to be recovered.

A Horrific Account of the Unsolved Grisly Deaths of 9 Hikers in 1959
Rescue crews on February 26th, 1959 recovering the hikers’ bodies and various evidence. Bizarrepedia.

On May 4th, 1959, the remaining four hikers were recovered under thirteen feet of thawing snow in a ravine over 200 feet from the cedar tree Krivonischenko’s and Doroshenko’s bodies were found. All four were at least better dressed than the five previously found in February, but it appeared they were not wearing their own clothes. Each hiker was wearing pieces of clothing that belonged to their fellow hikers, rather than there own gear.

The deaths of the first five were quickly proposed. Hypothermia was the official cause of death. Slobodin had a small injury on his skull, but coroners felt certain the injury was of no significance. Initially, the diagnosis of hypothermia was not shocking, but when the remaining four bodies were found, the narrative of exactly what happened February 1st and 2nd changed from unfortunate to ominous. Three of the hikers had fatal injuries. Thibeaux-Brignolles’s skull was thoroughly damaged and both Dubinina and Zolotaryov had fractured chests. It was said that the force required to sustain such significant injuries was analogous to a car crash. Dubinina was also found without a tongue, her eyes, and parts of her lips missing. All nine bodies were also reported to have strange amounts of radiation readings on both their bodies and any clothes they were wearing.

Initial speculation from the investigators and the public was that a local tribe, the indigenous Mansi, were responsible for the attack. This theory was proven wrong on three fronts. Firstly, the Mansi people are known as peaceful people who are not prone to violence. Secondly, the force required in several of the member’s injuries would not be humanly possible. Thirdly, there were only enough footprints to account for all the missing hiker.

Other strange reports around the time of the February disappearance of the nine hikers add extra mystery to the incident. Another group of hikers who were camping approximately 31 miles south of the Dyatlov incident reported seeing strange orange glowing spheres to the north of their camp. These spheres were not just observable to this set of hikers, as people from the nearby town of Ivdel and other adjacent communities also reported seeing odd spherical lights in the sky. Other sources, such as meteorological services and the military, confirmed these reports.

No truly satisfactory answer has ever been given for the untimely and strange deaths of these extraordinarily knowledgeable hikers. Decades have passed and thanks to many dedicated sleuths, the Dyatlov Pass has remained a fascinating puzzle begging to be solved. Perhaps one day, definitive answers will lay this mystery to rest.