On January 30th, 1959, nine seasoned hikers in Russia hit the trails in a portion of the Ural mountains that the Mansi tribes of the region called The Mountain of the Dead (srsly). They never made it home alive.
It should come as no surprise that hiking the mountain ranges of Northern Russia in the dead of winter carries with it greatly increased chances of freezing to death, even for expert winter survivalists, but the facts, or lack thereof, surrounding this event tell a story that is anything but your average lethal case of hypothermia.
The hikers, Igor Dyatlov, Zinaida Kolmogorova, Lyudmila Dubinina, Alexander Kolevatov, Rustem Slobodin, Yuri Krivonischenko, Yuri Doroshenko, Nicolai Thibeaux-Brignolle and Alexander Zolotarev departed from the settlement of Otorten for the mountains. All went well until day 2 of the trip when blizzards threw them off course. When they realized what had happened, they set up camp and planned to back track the following day. By morning they were dead. A couple of weeks went by before search and rescue went out looking for them with groups of hikers, dogs, planes and helicopters. Six days into the search, the abandoned campsite was found. The hikers’ tent had been torn open from the inside and footprints were followed away from the camp before they disappeared. A half a mile away, the first bodies were found under a large pine tree near the remains of a camp fire. Krivonischenko and Doroshenko were found dressed only in their underwear. Backtracking to the camp from the pine, the bodies of Dyatlov, Kolmogorova and Slobodin were found positioned as though they were trying to return to camp. The remaining four bodies were found months later under 12 feet of snow in a ravine a little further out from the pine, away from camp.
So what happened? Anyone experienced with extreme cold is going to tell you that this is clearly a case of nine deaths as a result of acute hypothermia. A symptom of hypothermia is something called paradoxical undressing. That is, as your body temperature slips, you become confused, feeling unbearably hot. Those suffering from this phase of hypothermia take off their clothes in the cold to bring what they think is a spike in body temperature down but they’re actually facilitating the hypothermia and die sooner. However, if all nine had died of hypothermia, would this story be listed in my spooky story blogathon? I think not!
Prior to discovery of the four bodies in the ravine, medical examinations concluded that the group had obviously succumbed to hypothermia but the discovery of the remaining bodies was a game changer. Three of these bodies had sustained major internal trauma. Thibeaux-Brignolle had major skull damage, and both Dubunina and Zolotarev had major chest fractures. Additionally, Dubunina was missing her tongue! Fucked up? Here’s where it gets even weirder, my friends. Not one of these three bodies exhibited external injuries of any kind. This is to say, no one had inflicted these wounds on them from the outside. Forensic investigation suggested that the force required to cause these kinds of injuries would have been something like being hit by a car yet not one of them exhibited signs of trauma to the soft tissues around the injuries. How Dubunina’s tongue had been severed and where it went is anybody’s guess. Can this story get any stranger? Word. The clothing recovered from the bodies exhibited signs that it had been exposed to a particularly strong dose of radiation. Want to get even weirder? Of course you do.
The official inquest concluded that an “unknown compelling force” in the night had caused the hikers to burst out of their tent rather than just open it. There were no signs of any struggle, so it’s not like some of them lost their minds and hurt the others or forced them to do anything weird. The paradoxical undressing theory came under scrutiny when it was revealed that not everyone was discovered undressed. Some had died partially dressed, as though their death was sudden. Some were wearing scraps of clothes taken from those who presumed to have died first. The Soviet government sealed off the area for three god damn years following the discovery of the bodies and when no guilty party could be found, the case was closed for good and sealed up in secret archives. Only in the 90’s was the case declassified with portions either redacted heavily or missing, entirely. At the funerals of the hikers the families of the deceased remarked that each one of them seemed to have a bizarre orange tan and their hair had turned completely grey. Reports from other hikers in the area, as well as the state meteorological survey and the Soviet military installed nearby, observed strange orange spheres in the sky near what is now known as Dyatlov Pass on the night of the hiker’s deaths. Since that time, tremendous amounts of scrap mental have been found in that area.
What could have happened in those mountains to drive these people from their tent in such a manner that they tore their way out and ran wearing whatever they happened to be wearing at that time? What was so awful about this that the Soviet government sealed the area and classified all documents related to the investigation top secret? No one will ever know.