The Tragedy of the Dyatlov Pass Mystery

One of the most discussed mysteries of all time: Nine experienced hikers died under eerie circumstances on a mountain. Was it a military cover up or an accident?


This is the tenth in a series of Friday posts on this blog called Friday Thoughts, or #Foughts, an in depth discussion on a character or topic I have found particularly interesting, or has divided opinion.


The Dyatlov Pass Mystery has captivated many since the fateful night 59 years ago when a nine experienced hikers died after tearing apart their tent to flee into the freezing night, leaving behind their clothes and equipment. Although wild speculations around what happened have been attributed to aliens or government conspiracies, or even the Yeti, fueled by the original coroner’s report indicating that the hiker’s deaths were caused by an ‘unknown compelling force’. The mystery remains unsolved, but in this post we will try to piece together what happened that night.


In 1958 a group of hikers was formed to reach Otorten Mountain (named ‘Don’t go there’ in the local Mansi language) in Russia by Igor Dyatlov, a 23-year-old student at the Ural Polytechnic Institute. The other 9 hikers were also students from the same institute, and all of them had Grade II level hiking experience. On completion of this hike, they would have been awarded Grade III level hiking experience, as this was a particularly treacherous route, scored as Category III, the most difficult. This team consisted of 21-year-old Yuri Doroshenko; 20-year-old Lyudmila Dubinina; 23-year-old Yuri (Georgiy) Krivonischenko; 24-year-old Alexander Kolevatov; 22-year-old Zinaida Kolmogorova; 23-year-old Rustem Slobodin; 23-year-old Nikolai Thibeaux-Brignolles; 38-year-old Semyon (Alexander) Zolotaryov; and 21-year-old Yuri Yudin.


On 28 January, the ten hikers began their route from Vizhai, the last inhabited settlement on their way, to Mount Otorten. Yuri Yudin, who suffered with a few health problems, stayed behind because they were playing up. In some publications he contracted dysentery, and in others he had knee and joint problems that were playing up. This would have seemed a major setback to Yuri’s aspirations of reaching that peak, this setback saved his life.


dyatlov pass mystery


Diaries updated daily by the hikers trace their last moments. The team wanted to pass the mountain and make camp over the other side of it by February 2, but aggressive weather conditions pulled them from route and they found they had wandered west of it, forcing them to stop on the top of Kholat Syakhl, a small mountain that translates to ‘dead mountain’ in Mansi language because of the lack of wildlife. Although setting up camp on a mountain is not good advice as there is a danger of avalanches starting and getting trapped in them, it seems that leader Dyatlov didn’t want to further deviate from the route and chose to stay in an area where they could clearly mark their next steps. This was the night of February 1, the night when something terrifying must have taken place and ultimately caused their deaths.


Dyatlov had told the institute that he would call them on February 12 when they’d reach Vizhai to let them know they had crossed the pass safely and were on their way back. He had told Yuri that, due to the weather conditions, it would probably be later, so when that date came nobody thought anything of it. The institute continued to wait passively until February 20 when the hiker’s relatives demanded they send a search team out. The first search teams consisted of volunteer students and teachers, and eventually the military got involved to find the team.


The tent was found first six days later, partially covered in snow and torn through the middle. The tears were found to be from the inside, and showed that the team escaped the tent in a panic, slashing from the inside to get out. This is the most speculated element of the mystery – why would nine experienced hikers tear open their only shelter in the middle of the night? The student reported 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’. Inside the tent searchers found precious items including boots, warm clothing, hiking equipment, and food. The team were in such a hurry to get out they left items that were essential to survive the night. Nine sets of footprints, some barefoot and socks and one boot, led from the tent down the slope to the edge of a forest. Here they found the remains of a small fire and the two bodies of Krivonischenko and Doroshenko, wearing the least amount of clothes out of the whole team. The bodies were laid below a pine, which branches had been broken up to 5 metres high, possibly for use on the campfire or to see where the tent was.


Between this campfire and the tent, the three bodies of Dyatlov, Kolmogorova and Slobodin were found. It seemed that these three were headed back to the tent to retrieve supplies, and had died on the way. They were each apart by about 100-200 metres, and probably in their heightened sense of panic were set on making it to the tent to save the others they had left behind. The remaining four bodies were not found until two months later, at the bottom of a ravine 75 metres in the forest from the small campfire. They were wearing the most clothes and had severe injuries, which the coroner commented were comparable to a car crash. It seems these four took the clothing from the two by the campfire that had died first, and stayed in the ravine to avoid the harsh weather and wait for the other three to bring back supplies.


The Autopsy

To read the coroner’s reports in detail, this website is fantastic – they have translated the original reports from Russian and include photos of the bodies.


Wearing underclothes that were torn and burned in different areas, and evidence of freezing from the red-purple colour of his fingers, he died from hypothermia.


Found beside Doroshenko, he was in a similar state of undress. Theories claim that the two undressed in a phase of ‘paradoxical undressing’ where the victim of hypothermia feels like they are burning hot and so take off their clothes, but the clothes were not ripped from the body, they were taken off and some cut off with a knife, and the bodies were placed carefully side by side. Krivonischenko also died of hypothermia.


Leader of the group was wearing more clothing, including a fur jacket, but had no boots on. He also died from the cold temperatures.


She was wearing several layers of warm clothing including woolly hat, but was not wearing boots. She also died of hypothermia.


The only body wearing one boot, he had an injury to his head that suggests that he fell and hit it on a rock, causing him to fall unconscious or stun him, and this quickened his freezing and he died from hypothermia.


She was found in the ravine, cause of death extensive hemorrhage resulting in internal bleeding. Her ribs and a bone in her neck were broken, causing severe internal bleeding. She had no skin injuries, meaning that her injuries weren’t caused by being hit.


Similar to Dubinina, he was found to have multiple rib fractures causing internal bleeding.


He had a broken nose and neck, and a wound behind one ear. Like the others, his injuries caused internal bleeding but cause of ultimate death is thought to be by the cold. The coroner proposed that he could have been in a fight, and some theories state that a broken neck is a method of killing by special forces.


Well protected from the cold and wearing boots, it’s thought that him and Zolotarev were outside the tent when whatever terror struck the team, but the clothing could have been taken from the two bodies by the campfire. He had extensive skull fractures and a hemorrhage on his arm.


What happened on the Dyatlov Pass?

Hikers know that setting camp on a slope is dangerous because of the risk of avalanche. This seems to be the most likely event that happened. It corresponds with the injuries of the bodies that suffered massive internal injuries, as the compacted snow would be a heavy force capable of inflicting massive injuries but no injuries to the skin. This would be enough of a terror to cause the trapped team to tear open the tent, and make their way from the tent to shelter in the trees. The footprints from the tent to the forest were not scattered or deep, meaning that they calmly walked down the slope. Four of the team were badly injured, and, even though they were not prepared for a night outdoors, they made their way down to the forest for shelter.


On the edge of the forest, they tried to make a campfire to keep warm. They stayed there a while trying to make the fire but two men succumbed to the cold weather and died. Dyatlov knew that the other four were in bad shape and they were dressed in the clothes of the two dead men, and helped further into the forest where they fell into the ravine, or helped into the ravine where they would stay warm and safe. The ravine was 17ft deep and, combined with the injuries, seems that the four fell into the ravine that further worsened their injuries and killed them. Dyatlov took the other two unscathed hikers to find the tent and retrieve items.


Barely dressed for the weather, the three hikers tried to find the tent in the dark, desperate to help their friends. One hiker fell due to the freezing temperature and died, the other two continued and another fell and hit his head, dying from freezing, and finally, Dyatlov, striving to save his team, fell and froze to death. In the ravine, the four hikers died from their injuries.


dyatlov pass mystery


Did an infra-sound occurrence cause the team to panic?

Some people don’t believe an avalanche was the cause of the team to leave the tent. A theory about infra-sound, caused by the wind flowing around the mountains, could answer the mystery. This sound causes a low rumbling sound, akin to a starting avalanche, which could have sent the team into a panic, fleeing from the tent. With this theory, it means that the four hikers left behind in the forest fell into the ravine, causing their life-threatening injuries.


dyatlov pass mystery


Did the stove spill out in the tent?

Dyatlov had made a stove with a pipe, the pipe jutting out of the tent to release fumes and smoke out into the air while they could cook and eat food in the tent. In some photos on the expedition, some of the team have burnt clothing and it could be that Dyatlov’s invention wasn’t quite accident-proof. Could some embers re-ignited and caused smoke to fill the tent, causing the team to panic and rip it open, desperate for air? It is possible, and some of the bodies having blood around the lips may be caused by smoke inhalation.


dyatlov pass mystery


Mysterious Circumstances

There are elements of this incident that have baffled people for years, and have been the root of crazy conspiracies. But there are answers to them.


This has often been sensationalized as evidence of extra-terrestrial input, but some of the hikers worked at plants that made nuclear weapons for the Soviet, resulting in some radiation on their clothing. All natural elements have some level of radiation, so finding it on their clothing is not peculiar at all.

Dubanina’s Missing Tongue

Some journalists reported that her tongue had been ‘ripped out’ but it’s normal for soft tissue in the body to decompose first.

Orange Skin

Reports of strange orange skin seemed to point to weird goings-on on the mountain but the bodies with a tan skin were the ones found later in the ravine, which is again normal decomposition. The photos taken of the bodies had a sepia hue just due to the age of the technology, so there is nothing strange here.

Orbs in the Sky

On one of the cameras, there is a blurry picture of lights and another hiking team some 60 miles away that night saw lights in the sky. Although there are no reports of Soviet testing or military flying over that area, the incident happened in the years of the Cold War and it seems feasible there could have been testing nearby.

Military Cover Up

Conspiracies of a military cover up spread after the pass was closed to hikers, in an effort to cover up an accident or killing by Russian militia. In reality, the pass was only closed off to amateur hikers in an effort to avoid replicating what happened to the team. The military deemed the incident a tragic accident, although they weren’t certain what had happened to the team.


Unfortunately, this mystery may continue to be the source of conspiracy theories as there is no way to know what happened without being there. Yudin, the hiker who turned back after illness, claimed that when he identified the equipment there were items of military cloth he couldn’t identify. He lived until 73 believing all his life that the military had some involvement in his friend’s deaths. In my opinion, these items could have been left by a search team from the military and got mixed up with the hiker’s gear. For me, there are three possible explanations for what happened: an avalanche, an infra-sound that sounded like an avalanche, or the stove filling the tent with smoke.


What do think happened on Dyatlov Pass? Send me a tweet or comment below!