Nine seasoned hikers die inexplicable deaths
One January 25, 1959, nine hikers from the Soviet Union’s Ural Polytechnic Institute set off from the city of Sverdlovsk (1,200 miles east of Moscow) on a three-week cross-country skiing expedition to the nearby Otorten Mountain range. Led by enthusiastic 23-year-old Igor Dyatlov, the group boarded a train in Ivdel (in the northern province of Sverdlovsk Oblast) and headed for the northern Urals. The team would never make it to their destination, nor ever be seen alive again.
Their enigmatic deaths prompted an investigation which revealed many mysterious and still-unexplained anomalies. Some were found wearing only underwear, some with only one shoe or one sock, and some wearing the tattered remains of other party members’ clothing. Despite no evidence of a struggle, some had crushed skulls, broken bones, massive internal injuries, and missing eyes and tongues. All we know for certain is that their last moments on earth were filled with hopeless terror.
The challenging Dyatlov expedition
The goal of the Dyatlov expedition was to reach Ortorten, a mountain about 10 miles north of where their bodies were found. The route was ranked a “Category III”, the most difficult, but all members of the expedition party were seasoned mountaineers – one ski instructor, three engineers, and seven environmental students. Ten people originally set off for the mountain but one, Yuri Yudin, was forced to go back because of knee and joint pain that made him unable to continue to hike. Yudin returned to the closest outpost (the settlement of Vizhai) while the nine remaining expeditionary members continued their fateful journey to the nearby Ortorten mountain range.
The Dyatlov group begins their trek
The group arrived by train at Ivdel, a town at the center of the northern province of Sverdlovsk Oblast in the early morning hours of January 25, 1959. Their plan was carefully documented.
- Day 1-2 Sverdlovsk – Polunochnoe (by train)
- Day 3 Polunochnoe – Vizhay – District 41 (by truck) (Jan 26)
- Day 4-5 Vizhay – 2nd Northern along Lozva river (ski) (Jan 27)
- Day 6 Leave 2nd Northern up Lozva river. First night in tent. (Jan 28)
- Day 7-8 Auspiya river, follow Mansi ski trail (Jan 29, 30)
- Day 9 – Pass by the upper Lozva river (Jan 31)
- Day 10 Ascent to Otorten (Feb 1)
- Day 11 Mt. Ororten – upper Auspiya
- Day 12 Pass to the upper Unya river
- Day 13 To upper Vishera river
- Day 14 To upper Niols river
- Day 15 Ascent to Oyko-Chakur
- Day 16 – Along North Toshemka to the hut
- Day 17 Along North Toshemka
- Day 18 Vishay
- Day 19 Vizyha – Polunochnoe (by truck)
- Day 20-21 Pulunochnoe – Sverdlovsk (by train)
January 26, 1959 – The Dyatlov group hitches a ride to District 41
On January 26, Dyatlov party members sent their last messages to their relatives and friends. Dyatlov wrote to Pervouralsk, Slobodin to Sverdlovsk, and Kolmogorova to the village of Cheremkhovo. It was going to be the trip of a lifetime. The group diary described their last night in “civilization”.
We slept in so-called hotel. Two people per bed. Everyone sleeps well despite the fact we did not completely close the small window and the room got a bit cold. The outside temperature is -17 C. When they handed us the lukewarm tea, Gosya (Igor) Dyatlov said with a smirk: “If the tea is cold, then go drink it outside, it will be hot.” Original thought. We negotiated to go to Settlement 41 by truck.Dyaltov group diary
After lunch, at 1:30 pm, the Dyatlov group hitched a ride on a decrepit logging truck to the District 41 settlement (aka 41st District or 41st Settlement), a logging community. They spent the night in a District 41 dormitory where they met an outgoing logger named “The Beard”. Everyone was in good spirits. One diary entry described the hospitality the found at District 41.
In Settlement 41 we were greeted warmly, they gave us a separate room in the hostel. We talked a lot with the local workers. I remembered particularly the red- bearded man. The Beard, that’s what his friends call him.Dyatlov group diary
However, the group was already falling behind.
In general, we had to go to 2nd North, but it was getting dark, and we decided to stop at the 41st. The men we met very hospitable. They stayed in the barracks where the guys live. In general, here are all civilians, there are no women at all, except two. The guys are all young, as Igor noticed, they are even cute and interesting. Especially memorable among all is Ognev with a red beard and the nickname of his “Beard”.Luydmila Dubinina diary
January 27 – the ride to Vishay
On January 27, they began their trek toward Gora Otorten, a mountain in the northern part of the Soviet Sverdlovsk Oblast (a federal subject of Russia located in the Ural Federal District). They took a truck to Vishay, a village that is the last inhabited settlement to the north.
Today is the first day of our journey. The backpack is not much but somewhat heavy. Yes, Yura Yudin is leaving us today. His sciatic nerves inflamed again, and he is leaving. Such a pity. We distributed his load in our backpacks. It turns out that on the last day we see some kind of civilization, stove, people, etc. Today we arranged our backpacks to go on horseback and we are waiting for them to be ready, and we will go skiing.Zina Kolmogorova diary
January 28 – to the abandoned 2nd Northern settlement. “It’s only -8c outside”
On January 28, 1959, Dyatlov group sets off from 2nd Northern settlement on the last leg of their journey. The group diary notes the good humor amongst the group members.
By this time, Yura Yudin was forced to turn back due to an injury/illness. As the geologist of the group, he gathers a few minerals for his university, then returns to camp. By a stroke of fate, he will be the only original member to survive the trek.
“The weather so far is smiling at us. It’s only -8C outside.
After breakfast, some of the guys lead by Yuri Yudin, our well- known geologist, went to look for local minerals. They didn’t find anything except pyrite and quartz veins in the rock. It took them a long time to wax their skis and adjust the mounting. Yuri Yudin goes back home today. It is a pity, of course, that he leaves us. Especially for me and Zina, but nothing can be done about it.
Started at 11.45. We go up the river Lozva. We take turns to head the group for about 10 minutes. Snow cover is significantly less than last year. We have to stop and scrape the wet, melting snow from the bottom of the skis. Yurka Kri is behind and makes sketches of the route. The bank of the river near Second North (especially the right bank) are limestone cliffs that rise high at places. Overall, the terrain becomes flatter, entirely covered by forest.
We stopped to rest at 5:30 pm on the river Lozva. Today we spent our first night in the tent. The guys are busy with the stove, sewing curtains out of sheets. With some things completed and others not, we sit at dinner.
After dinner we sit for a long time around the campfire and sing heartfelt songs. Zina even tries to learn to play mandolin under guidance of our musician Rustik (Rustem Slobodin). Then we resumed our discussions, mostly about love. Someone comes up with an idea that we need a special notebook for ideas that we might come up with. Conspiring, we started going into the tent two people at a time.
The suspended stove radiates heat and divides the tent in two sections. The further section is occupied by me and Zina. Nobody wants to sleep by the stove. We agree that Yurka Kri (Krivonischenko) will sleep there. On the other side sleeps the person on duty (Sasha Kolevatov). Yurka couldn’t stand the heat and after laying down for 1-2 min, he got up and moved to the second section cursing and accusing us of treason. After that they still argued about something for a long time, but at the end all was quiet.”Dyatlov group diary
January 29 – The Dyatlov group enters Mansi territory
On January 29, the group reaches the Auspiya river. They cross the river into Mansi territory (an indigenous tribe that lived in the area) and follow Mansi trails. The group diary entry is concise.
“Second day of our hike. We made our way from the Lozva river to the Auspiya river. We walked along a Mansi trail. The weather is –13C. The wind is weak. We often find ice on the Lozva river. That’s all.”Dyatlov group diary
January 30 – using Mansi trails for guidance
On January 30, the Dyatlov group continues along the Auspiya river using Mansi trails for guidance. The group diary indicates they are preoccupied with thoughts of the Mansi tribe.
“Today is the third cold night on the bank of Auspiya river. We are getting used to it. The stove does an excellent job. Some of us (Thibeaux and Krivonischenko) think we need to build steam heat in the tent. The curtains in the tent are quite justified. We get up at 8:30am. After breakfast we walked along the Auspiya river, but the ice again didn’t allow us to move forward. We went on the bank on a sledge-deer trail. In the middle of the road, they saw a Mansi shed. Yes, Mansi, Mansi, Mansi. This word comes up more and more often in our conversations. Mansi are people of the North. Small Khanti-Mansi nation located in Salehard with 8 thousand population. Very interesting and unique people that inhabit the Northern Polar Ural, close to the Tyumen region. They have a written language and leave characteristic signs on forest trees.”Dyatlov group diary
One diary entry notes the weather is turning worse and the Mansi trail they used for guidance has ended. It also notes Yuri Krivonischenko burned his coat on the stove.
Mansi trail ended. Pine forest. There was sun in the morning, but now it is cold (ayserm). All day long we walked along Auspiya. Will spend the night on a Mansi trail. Kolya didn’t get to be a watchman so me and Rustik will stay on duty today. Burned mittens 2 and Yurkin’s quilted jacket. He cursed a lot. Today, probably, we will build a storage cache (to stow supplies for the return trip home).Zinaida Kolmogorova diary
January 31 – The Dyatlov group travels along the Auspiya
We know from diaries and found camera footage that on January 31, 1959, the group travelled along the river Auspiya. Arriving at the edge of a highland area, they cached food and equipment that would be used for the trip back and began to prepare for climbing. Nearing the end of their travel, it seems the group has grown tired and possibly lost their enthusiasm. No other diary entries exist other than the group diary. The following was the last entry in their group diary.
“Weather today is a bit worse – wind (west), snowing (probably from the pines), since the sky is perfectly clear.
Started relatively early (around 10 am). Got back on the Mansi trail. (Up to now we are following a Mansi trail on which not so long passed a hunter with deer.)
Yesterday it seems we stumbled upon his resting stop. Deer didn’t go any further. The hunter took the beaten trail by himself, we are following in his steps.
We had a surprisingly good overnight, the air was warm and dry, though it was -18C to -24C. Walking is especially hard today. We can’t see the trail, must grope our way through at times. Can’t do more than 1.52 km (1 mile) per hour.
Trying out new ways to clear the path. The first in line drops his backpack, skis forward for five minutes, comes back for a 10–15-minute break, then catches up with the group. That’s one way to keep laying ski tracks non-stop. Hard on the second hiker though, who must follow the new trail with full gear on his back. We gradually leave the Auspiya valley, it’s upwards all the way but goes rather smoothly. Thin birch grove replaces firs. The end of forest is getting closer. The wind is western, warm, piercing, with speed like the draft from airplanes at takeoff. Firn, open spaces. I can’t even think of setting up storage here. It’s nearly 4. Have to start looking for a place to pitch the tent. We go south in the Auspiya valley. Seems this place has the deepest snow. The wind is not strong, snow is 1.22 m deep. We’re exhausted but we’re starting to set up for the night. Firewood is scarce, mostly damp firs. We built the campfire on the logs, too tired to dig a fire pit. Dinner’s in the tent. Nice and warm. Can’t imagine such comfort on the ridge, with howling wind outside, hundreds of kilometers away from human settlements.”Dyatlov group diary
February 1 – The Dyatlov group beings their hike through the pass
The following day, the hikers began their move through the pass (which would later come be known as the Dyatlov Pass) planning to get over the pass and make camp for the night on the other side. However, worsening weather conditions caused the party to accidentally veer off course travelling slightly west of their intended route. When they recognized their mistake, the group decided to stop and set up camp on the side of the mountain at about 3,600 feet.
Oddly, we have no diary entry for the group. Instead, they sat down and wrote a satirical propaganda leaflet. One line of the leaflet reads:
“In recent years there has been a heated debate about the existence of Yeti. According to recent reports, Yeti lives in the Northern Ural, near Mount Otorten.”
February 2, 1959 – A critical mistake forces the Dyatlov group to set up camp on the mountain
A photo from a roll of film found at the camp shows the expedition members setting up camp around 5:00 PM on February 2, 1959. The film and journal entries showed the group was in good spirits, playfully producing their own faux newspaper while they readied for sleep. The next day they planned to continue on to the mountain, six miles to the north.
Nine hikers fail to reach their destination – search and rescue operation begins
The team was scheduled to arrive in Vizhai on February 11, 1959, and their first order of business would have been to send telegrams to their loved ones announcing the success of their mission. By February 12, nobody had heard from the group. It was not unusual for an expedition to be delayed by a few days but by February 20, families recognized that something had gone terribly wrong. At the insistence of family members, the Ural Polytechnic Institute sent the first rescue groups consisting of volunteer students and teachers. A few days later, Russian army and police forces, using planes and helicopters, joined the search efforts.
The Dyatlov campsite and badly damaged tent
On February 25, 1959, a pilot spotted something curious on the ground and the next day, search teams moved to the area where they found an abandoned and badly damaged tent on the eastern slope of Kholat Syakhi, a mountain known to indigenous Mansi tribesmen as the “Mountain of the Dead”.
Oddly, searchers found that the tent had been cut open, from the inside, as if the occupants were frantically trying to escape some sort of horror inside the tent. Fellow Polytechnic student Mikhail Sharavin was among the search and rescue personnel. He described what they found that day:
“We discovered that 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.”
The first two bodies are found – the bodies of Yuri Krivonischenko and Yuri Doroshenko are found under a cedar tree
Footprints, some bare feet and in one case, a single shoe, led searchers down the hill, towards the edge of nearby woods. The footprints ended about 550 yards away from the tent but a continuation along the same line led searchers to the forest edge where, under a large cedar tree, they found the remains of a fire along with the first two bodies, those of Yuri Krivonischenko and Yuri Doroshenko.
Both were barefoot, wearing nothing but underwear. Searchers puzzled why the men, who were well within range of their tent, were naked and shoeless. Their hands were burned and above the bodies, about 15 feet off the ground, the branches of an old pine tree had been snapped off. Forensic tests would later reveal skin embedded within the tree’s bark indicating the two men had frantically attempted to climb the tree. What were the men, who had time to stop and build a fire, so frightened of?
Three more bodies found – Igor Dyatlov, Rustem Slobodin, and Zina Kolmogorova found between tent and forest edge
After the discovery of the first set of bodies, searchers focused their efforts on the area between the tent and forest edge. Soon three more corpses were discovered – the bodies of expedition leader Igor Dyatlov, Rustem Slobodin, and Zina Kolmogorova, each separated by about 200 yards and running along a line that suggested they were attempting to return to the tent.
Dyatlov’s body was found about 900 feet away from the first set of bodies (closer to the tent). His corpse was found lying on its back, one hand clasping the branch of a small birch tree and the other arm, frozen in ice, covering his head and face as if he died protecting himself from some unknown assailant.
Rustem Slobodin’s body was found not far from the tent, lying face down, half buried in snow. Slobodin’s skull bore an inexplicable deep fracture.
Kolmogorova’s corpse was found furthest from the others. There were traces of blood around her body but there was no evidence of a struggle in the area.
Two months later, the remaining four bodies are discovered – the bodies of Ludmila Dubinina, Alexander Kolevatov, Nicolai Thibault-Brignol, and Yuri Yudin found in a creek
It took more than two months to find the remaining four bodies. Once the spring thaw set in, on May 4, 1959, the bodies of Ludmila Dubinina, Alexander Kolevatov, Nicolai Thibault-Brignol, and Yuri Yudin were discovered under 12 feet of snow, in a ravine further into the woods. Unlike the others, their bodies were fully clothed – and all appeared to have died from massive internal injuries.
Medical examination reveals inexplicable injuries and highly unusual circumstances
A medical examination of the bodies revealed strange anomalies – many of the bodies bore odd injuries that medical examiners could not explain. Thibault-Brignol had major skull damage and both Dubinina and Zolotarev had major chest injuries – chests crushed inward with enough force to shatter ribs and rupture internal organs. Despite the massive internal injuries, their bodies exhibited no external bruising or lacerations. Dubinina was found with her head tilted backward, mouth wide open as if screaming. Her tongue had been ripped out by the root and her eyes removed from the sockets.
The victims that suffered massive internal injuries were most puzzling to investigators. Doctors estimated the force required to inflict such damage would have been tremendous – comparable to a major car crash – and they could not explain how the victims sustained such major internal injuries with no signs of external wounds. It was if they had been crushed by a high level of pressure or squeezed in the arms of a tremendously powerful entity.
Victims partially dressed
Although the temperature was brutally cold with a winter storm brewing in the area, the dead were only partially dressed. Some of them only wore a single shoe while others had no shoes or wore only socks. Some were found wrapped in snips of ripped clothing that seemed to have been cut and removed from other victims. Dubinina’s foot was swaddled in a tattered piece of Krivonishenko’s wool pants and Zolotaryov was found wearing Dubinina’s faux fur hat and coat. Investigators did not believe “temporary insanity” would have caused them to rip off their clothes in the frigid cold – only a few hours earlier they had been alert enough to prepare and eat their own meals (autopsies showed they had eaten their last meal 6-8 hours before death).
Although initially a local tribe was suspected of the murders, there were no indications that other people had travelled nearby or in the surrounding area. Tracks from the camp showed the expedition members left the camp in an orderly fashion – in various directions away from their tents. Oddly, forensic radiation tests showed high doses of radioactive contamination on the clothes of some of the victims (admittedly, Russian military surplus climbing gear at the time could have already been contaminated when purchased by the expedition team).
At the victims’ funerals, family members noted the bodies bore several odd characteristics. Some noted that the victims’ skin was an odd orangish color. Many noted that the victims’ hair had turned a dull shade of gray.
Yudin, the tenth skier who was forced to turn back and hence, the only survivor from the group, once said:
“If I had a chance to ask God just one question, it would be, ‘What really happened to my friends that night?’”
The investigation concluded with no explainable reason for the hikers’ deaths. The official conclusion – death due to “a compelling unknown force”.
What killed the nine hikers at the Dyatlov Pass?
A quick overview timeline of events
From the discovered journals and rolls of film, and undigested food in the stomachs of the victims, investigators were able to piece together a very accurate timeline of events. They found that around 5:00 PM on February 2, expedition members set up camp on the slope of Kholat-Syakhi to shelter from the inclement weather (no explanation found for why they decided to set up camp on an exposed slope rather that detour ½ mile to a more sheltered forest area).
Around 7:00 PM, the team ate a meal and began to settle down for the night. Photographs show a healthy group of youngsters, jovial even. The temperature was around 5 degrees F. Given the state of undigested food in their stomachs, forensic pathologists estimate that they died about 2-3 hours later, sometime between 9:30 PM and 11:30 PM. At that time, something frightened the team so badly that they burst from their tents, running in all directions.
Some gathered about 900 feet away from the tent and started a fire to keep warm. Possibly they attempted to share clothing in order to keep warm and avoid a likely death from exposure. Regardless, some died from exposure right away. In a second round of terror, something frightened the team members again and they attempted to flee back towards the tent where they suffered massive internal injuries and met an inexplicable end.
Attach by Mansi warriors
One of the first theories proposed, and investigated by authorities, was that the group of nine hikers had been attacked by native Mansi tribesmen. Mansi are traditionally believed to be territorial – and savage. The theory proposes that the Mansi may have seen the expedition members as intruders into their sacred territory.
Investigators quickly determined Mansi had not killed the nine hikers. Firstly, the damage done to the bodies was inconsistent with an attack by a human. Secondly, no other sets of footprints were found in the area. Lastly, interviews with Mansi convinced investigators that they not only had not attacked the expedition members but had met the team along the way and warned them to stay off the “Mountain of the Dead”. In fact, Mansi, who would normally refuse to enter the “Mountain of the Dead” during the winter, graciously assisted authorities in the search and rescue efforts.
Russian missile explosion
Some have theorized that the hikers could have been unfortunate victims of a Russian military exercise gone wrong – an exploded nuclear missile could perhaps explain the high radioactive traces on some of the victims’ clothing (as could the fact that they were military surplus supplies). In addition, later reports hinted that a great deal of scrap metal was found in the area. However, there was no damage to any of the surrounding trees or vegetation (other than broken branches from the tree the victims attempted to climb) and Russian records show no signs of a launch from Baikonur, the only site within range of the area where the expedition team died. Lending credence to the theory – much of the investigative reports have never been released to the public.
UFO – strange orange orbs in the sky
Coincidentally (or not), about 30 miles south of the mountain, another group of hikers reported seeing strange orange spheres hovering in the night sky to the north (in the direction of Kholat Syakhi) on the night of the incident. Around the same time period, additional reports of the strange spheres and discs emerged from various independent witnesses including meteorology and military officials. One wrote:
“We saw a shining circular body fly over the village from the south-west to the north-east. The shining disc was practically the size of a full moon, a blue-white light surrounded by a blue halo. The halo brightly flashed like the flashes of distant lightning. When the body disappeared behind the horizon, the sky lit up in that place for a few more minutes.”
Avalanche on mount Kholat-Syakhl
Some have theorized that the members heard the telltale sounds of an avalanche and rushed from the tents to escape impending death. Others, however, note that no rock nor debris was found clearly proving that no avalanche took place. In addition, the experienced team members moved no further than the treeline, an area that would have still been susceptible to a rushing wall of ice and snow. Finally, the massive injuries were far more severe than injuries sustained in an avalanche.
Katabatic winds are rare events and can be extremely violent. A sudden katabatic wind would have made it impossible to remain in the tent, and the most rational course of action would have been for the hikers to cover the tent with snow and seek shelter behind the treeline.
Some have proposed that the expedition members were victims of the infamous Siberian yeti, known as Almas or Menk. In this scenario, the scream of a Menk frightened the hikers who fled from the beast. Discovery Channel revealed in 2014 that large footprints had been found on the scene. One key piece of evidence that supports this theory is a piece of notepaper found with the bodies. Written in large, oversized letters, it reportedly read, “From now on we know there are snowmen.”
Then we have this photo taken by the Dyatlov group. Is this a Yeti or a party member returning from a bathroom break? We’re going to go with “Yeti” since it’s much more fun!
The Dyatlov Pass victims
Igor Alekseievich Dyatlov (Игорь Алексеевич Дятлов), the group’s leader, born January 13, 1936
Zinaida Alekseievna Kolmogorova (Зинаида Алексеевна Колмогорова), born January 12, 1937
Ludmila Alexandrovna Dubinina (Людмила Александровна Дубинина), born January 11, 1936
Alexander Sergeievich Kolevatov (Александр Сергеевич Колеватов), born November 16, 1934
Rustem Vladimirovich Slobodin (Рустем Владимирович Слободин), born January 11, 1936
Yuri Alexeievich Krivonischenko (Юрий Алексеевич Кривонищенко), born February 7, 1935
Yuri Nikolaievich Doroshenko (Юрий Николаевич Дорошенко), born January 12, 1938
Nicolai Vasilievich (Vladimirovich?) Thibault-Brignol (Николай Васильевич (Владимирович?) Тибо-Бриньоль), born June 5, 1935
Alexander Alexandrovich Zolotariov (Александр Александрович Золотарёв), born February 2, 1921
Yuri Yefimovich Yudin (Юрий Ефимович Юдин), born 1937
Image CreditsExamining the tent at Dyatlov Pass via Wikipedia Commons with usage type - Public Domain
Rustem Slobodin wearing Yuri Krivonischenko's burnt jacket via Dyatlovpass.com with usage type - Public Domain