In 1959, a team of experienced hikers in Russia went missing. When they were finally discovered, all 9 of them lie dead, under very mysterious circumstances. This event, known as the Dyatlov Pass incident, has gone down as one of the most mysterious deaths of all time. But some new data may have solved the mystery once and for all.
Maybe a similar story of a mystery that conjured up all kinds of crazy theories that turned out to be something basic and mundane.
Basic bitch version…
A couple of years back I did a video on 4 Mysterious Deaths and Disappearances, which no list of mysterious deaths would be complete without talking about the Dyatlov Pass incident.
So, I’ve covered this topic before, but there’s a lot more to the story than I was able to get across in just a few minutes, and there’s been some research in the last year that seems to kinda tie this mystery up in a bow. Most of it anyway.
So why waste time? It’s the Dyatlov Pass incident, it’s one of the weirdest internet mysteries in the world, and it might be solved, let’s talk about it.
On Jan. 27, 1959, seven men and women went on a hiking and skiing trip in the Ural Mountains of Russia.
Their plan was to hike from the city of Vizhay (vee-zhy) to the top of a mountain named Otorten. It was going to cover 306 kilometers (190 miles) over 14 days.
Let me stop for a second and acknowledge something I never hear people talk about when this mystery comes up, this was an ambitious and dangerous trip these guys were on.
They were going to be hiking, camping, and skiing for two straight weeks over nearly 200 miles of mountains in Russia, in January. I think it’s safe to say there were a lot of opportunities for things to go wrong.
The group consisted of graduates and students from Ural Polytechnical Institute. All of them were experienced hikers and skiers. Which they would have to be to attempt a trip like that. In fact, that’s one of the things that people point to, is that the fact they were such experienced hikers makes this whole thing even weirder.
To be fair, there are some super weird circumstances around this particular expedition.
Okay, so they left on January 27th. There was a 10th member of the group named Yuri Yudin. He got sick at the start of the trip and dropped out.
Dyatlov told Yudin he would send a telegram to their sports club when they returned to Vizhay.
This was supposed to happen by February 12th, but he told Yudin it could be longer.
So, that day passes with no message. Nobody thinks anything of it.
But then more and more days pass. Relatives got concerned and demanded a rescue mission.
The first rescue group of volunteers set out on February 20th. Then the army and police got involved.
The hiking group was located on February 26th. This is when things get strange.
Let’s start with an abandoned tent.
It was half torn, covered in snow, and all of the hikers’ belongings were still in it, including their shoes.
Even stranger: It looked like it had been cut from the inside.
Footprints were found. They lead to the woods nearby to the bodies of Doroshenko and Krivonischenko, who were beside the remnants of a fire.
Also, they were wearing only their underwear.
A nearby tree had broken branches up about five meters (16 feet) that suggested they climbed the tree to look for something.
Traces of skin in the bark supported that theory.
Searchers found Dyatlov and Kolmogorova’s bodies the next day between the tent and the woods. Slobodin’s body was found on March 5.
All three looked like they tried to return to the tent, and like the others, were found in only their underwear. Medical examiners named hypothermia as the cause of their deaths.
While the fact that they were found half-naked is strange, there is a logical explanation.
It’s called paradoxical undressing, and it’s something that happens a lot in the final stages of hypothermia.
As the nerves become damaged and brain functions start to dwindle, it creates a sensation of extreme heat. People feel like they’re burning up, so they strip off their clothes, which of course only accelerates the process.
The searchers found the rest of the bodies over the next couple of months. But more mysteries appeared.
It took the searchers longer to find the other group members because they were in a ravine covered in snow, 76 meters (250 feet) from the tree mentioned earlier and close to an improvised shelter.
These members were dressed better than the others, but they had fatal injuries, like chest fractures and skull damage.
One of them was even missing her tongue.
One doctor described the internal injuries as similar in force to what you’d receive in a car crash, but there were no external wounds.
The weirdest thing of all: Some of their clothes were radioactive.
The government’s official statement at the time was that Dyatlov committed a series of mistakes and the group died from overwhelming natural forces.
Some of the mysteries have logical answers.
We already talked about the reason for the disrobing. An animal may have taken the missing tongue.
But the strange jumble of other evidence has caused some wild speculation about what happened to the hikers.
Why did they abandon their tent, cutting themselves out instead of just unzipping it?
What caused the internal injuries with no external ones?
And what’s with the radioactive clothes?
So, there are a few theories about what exactly happened to them.
One is that an Indigenous people in the area called the Mansi attacked them. But the Mansi are known to be peaceful, and there were no indications of an attack.
Another theory is wild animals killed them. Investigators didn’t see any evidence to support this.
And then some people think the group ate psychedelic mushrooms, which lead to their disorientation.
Of course, some people believe things like a Yeti or aliens attacked them.
An interesting bit is that other hikers in the area did report seeing orange globs in the sky around the same time the hikers were traveling.
But that could be related to parachute mine tests the Soviet military was conducting at the time in that region.
Those mines are known to cause internal, but not external, damage to bodies. So, maybe that was it?
Or could infrasound lead to their deaths?
A wind phenomenon named the “Kármán vortex street” can create a powerful and terrifying sound.
Winds blowing through the pass could’ve been warped as they hit the sides of the mountain. This would’ve created a series of small tornadoes with deafening noise.
Under certain conditions, the noise can be subtle and produce infrasound, a vibration in the air with a frequency so low human ears can’t detect it.
Studies have shown that it can affect humans with sleep loss, shortness of breath, and extreme dread.
While that sounds interesting, I think the most plausible explanation is something more common than that: An avalanche.
Now, the area they were in wasn’t very steep. Plus, their diaries said the snow was thin at the time.
But there are some new findings that show it could’ve been a slab avalanche.
There are two main types of avalanches: loose snow and slab. And they behave very differently.
All avalanches have massive potential energy, how much depends on their height and the mass of snow.
For example, if a small avalanche contains 1,000 kilograms of snow, its force is 9,810 newtons.
Loose snow avalanches often start on a small area and expand as they move.
They are caused by snow getting deposited at a steeper angle than the snow’s natural angle of repose.
Slab avalanches are different. And way more dangerous.
With slab avalanches, instead of a little bit of snow slowly accumulating and spreading out, an entire layer of snow slides away all at once.
Basically the force of gravity overcomes the bond between the snow layers and they just separate.
The avalanche theory for the Dyatlov Pass is the most plausible.
But it was the slab avalanche theory that was proposed by two scientists based in Switzerland in a study published in Communications Earth & Environment in 2021.
There were some questions they wanted to answer:
- Such as why there weren’t obvious signs of an avalanche when the search team arrived 26 days later,
- whether the slope angle above the tent was steep enough for an avalanche,
- why the skull and thorax injuries weren’t typical for avalanche victims.
- And whether the hikers made a cut into the slope for the tent,
That last one has been a bit of a debate for a while but that’s a common thing that campers do in the snow, they clear out a little space in a snow bank and then use that snow bank as a barrier against wind.
The theory is that the campers did that when they set up their tent, and may have triggered a slab avalanche that then fell on top of them.
The big question is what caused the delay in the avalanche? Why didn’t it trigger an avalanche right when they cut it? Why did it wait until several hours later before it fell on them?
Their theory suggests that there might have been a deeply buried weak snow layer that might have been strong enough to support the weight above at first, but that strong katabatic winds in the area slowly accumulated snow over the hours, eventually causing the weak layer to give way.
And according to their computer models, this would support the argument that an avalanche could have occurred between 7.5 and 13.5 hours after the hikers made the cut.
As the researchers wrote in their study:
“Dynamic avalanche simulations suggest that even a relatively small slab could have led to severe but non-lethal thorax and skull injuries, as reported by the post-mortem examination.”
They concluded that pitching a tent on an even mild slope of fewer than 30 degrees can be dangerous.
There were some objections to this theory.
These included that there wasn’t any snow cover on the slope, there wasn’t any wind the night of the incident, the slope is too flat, and avalanches don’t happen in that area.
They did find two Russian scientists to confirm that there was snow on the slope and that wind was present that day and night.
For the objection about how flat the slope is, the researchers helped organizers who were producing a documentary called “The Dyatlov Mystery.”
Two expeditions to the area were completed in March and September 2021. The winter expedition had snow cover, so they weren’t able to see the terrain’s topography.
But the summer session was clearer, and they were able to use a drone to create a high-res 3-D digital model of the area’s terrain.
And what they found was steps in the terrain with inclinations exceeding 28 degrees, and many steeper slopes of more than 30 degrees.
The slopes weren’t just local. They were everywhere, meaning you would likely be below one no matter where you pitched your tent.
To test the theory that avalanches don’t happen in that area, the organized another expedition to see for themselves, but it didn’t go well.
They set out on snowmobiles but hit some nasty weather. Like the wind was gusting so hard it was blowing them over kind of weather.
And when they finally got there, they found evidence of not just one slab avalanche, but two of them.
In fact, since the study’s publication, there have been several documented slab avalanches on the eastern slop away from the Daytlov group tent.
The mountain guides reported that one of the slab avalanches was invisible after less than an hour of snowing.
So the fact that they didn’t find any evidence of an avalanche three weeks after the incident, doesn’t really mean much.
As the researchers wrote:
“In such severe weather conditions the Pass cannot be easily accessed by hikers, while traces of small slab avalanches disappear within few hours.”
As for some of the other mysteries, like the fact that one of the bodies was missing a tongue… That’s not that unusual with bodies found in nature.
Yeah, when scavengers find a body, they often focus on the mouth and the eyes because… well, they’re holes.
Why spend the energy tearing a hole through the flesh of an animal when there’s a perfectly good hole right there? One with a big, loosely connected muscle just hanging out inside of it.
It’s an easy meal for a scavenger. So, there’s nothing really weird about that.
Another part of the mystery is that their clothes were slightly radioactive, which has led some to think that they were killed by some kind of nuclear test.
But the amount of radiation on their clothes was way too little to be harmful or be from a nuclear blast. My guess is they had some old items with glow in the dark paint on them.
I know old school clocks used glow in the dark paint that had radium in it – I did a whole video on the Radium Girls, which was insane.
But I imagine there could have been multiple pieces of camping equipment that had glow-in-the-dark paint on it so you can use it at night, and when impacted by the avalanche may have broken and scattered that paint on their clothes.
The only other bit of woo-woo around the story were the reports of seeing lights in the sky by other people in the area on the night it happened.
This is mostly unsubstantiated and most people believe that if there were any lights in the area they were probably from military exercises.
Which, to be fair, might have helped set off the avalanche.
I think mostly the avalanche theory wasn’t considered for a long time because they didn’t think there was enough of a slope, that’s just not something you see on areas that flat.
And these guys were experienced enough hikers to know what is a dangerous slope and what is safe.
But maybe in this instance, there might have been an optical illusion that made it look flatter than it was, they might have been a little off due to exhaustion, combine that with a hidden weak layer of snow and some unfortunate winds… Well there you go.
Now the researchers are quick to point out that they haven’t completely solved the case, there’s no way to definitively prove this is what happened. But they did show that it was plausible.
And in my experience with these types of cases, the most mundane answer is usually the most likely.
I know, I’m a huge buzzkill.
But I actually like finding answers like that, when you think there’s a big fantastical mystery and then you find out that oh, it’s just, you know, the guy tripped or something.
Kinda shows just how random life can be sometimes. And to me that’s the most interesting thing of all.
For the record, I don’t think there’s anything random about a group of hikers on a 2-week trek through the Russian mountains in January getting hit by an avalanche. In fact, I’d call it pretty darn inevitable in the long run.
All the same, rest in peace comrades.