CREEPY CORNER: The Mystery of Dyatlov Pass

What happened to the hikers of Dyatlov Pass?
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Louise Hung
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What happened to the hikers of Dyatlov Pass?

Last night as I was lying in bed looking over my resources for this week's Creepy Corner, I made the mistake of getting sucked into one of those "list sites". 

You know those supreme time-wasting rabbit holes: "The 10 Most Terrifying Playgrounds", "5 Bizarre Abandoned Dog Houses", "23 Creepy Banana Factories." 

I can typically skim most of the "creepy" lists pretty quickly. When you sleep as little as I do and write a series called Creepy Corner, very little on those lists is surprising anymore. (Was that a Creepy Corner Humblebrag? Just a brag? NO SHAME.)

But sometimes I'll encounter something on those lists that I'd forgotten, and wish I hadn't been reminded of right before bed. 

On this special night, I came across a blurb about Dyatlov Pass. "Oh shit nuts..." I muttered as I compulsively read link after link on the topic. As much as the details of the Dyatlov Pass Incident unnerve me, I can't resist learning about it. 

Dyatlov Pass is one of those mysteries that, as many times as some smarty pants is like, "Look y'all...it's obviously (this science thing), nothing spooky happened at Dyatlov Pass! Sorry nerds!", nothing can shake the chills it gives me. 

Even if there is nothing supernatural about Dyatlov Pass, that everything can be explained by natural occurrences, the whole incident is still freaking terrifying! I don't know about you, but I don't need aliens or the Blair Witch to scare me. Sometimes just good ol' human behavior and Mother Nature can be scary enough. 

(But really, after The Blair Witch Project, what red-blooded 90s/aughts child doesn't hear about a camping story gone wrong and isn't like, "OH HELL NO."?)

Here's a rundown of what I know about the Dyatlov Pass Incident. 

In January 1959 Igor Dyatlov and his band of eight merry Soviet hikers ventured into the Ural Mountains. They specifically hiked Kholat Syakhl or "The Mountain of the Dead". Did anybody in the group pause to ask Igor, "Um so...Mountain of the Dead huh? We're okay...right?"

Not much is known about their actual hike, but it wasn't until three months later that all of their bodies were found on the snowy mountain approximately six miles from where they started. Tragic? Yes. Mountain ski-hiking accidents happen right? Yes, sadly they do. This is just one of those accidents right? WRONG. 

It was the condition of the campground and the bodies that troubled authorities and has spurred numerous conspiracy theories. 

First of all, their tent was torn to shreds — cut open from the inside out. It appears that all of the hikers fled the tent, leaving behind all of their snow gear. Prior to the night on which Dyatlov and company fled the tent, their diary entries and photographs indicated they were enjoying the expedition. 

Dyatlov campsite pic

The group's tent found torn to shreds. Source, Wikimedia Commons

They even created a little newspaper of their journey, one of the headlines curiously reading, "From now on, we know that the snowmen exist."

Is that a funny hiker joke that I don't get? Does the Blair Witch have friends? Is that code for, "We're losing our goddamn minds out here, and Igor took us to Dead Mountain, and WTF"?

Snowmen or not, it appears that the hikers (all experienced, mind you) ran from their tent in such haste that they either didn't have time to take the gear that would save them from the -30 degree weather, or they didn't want it. 

Outside of the tent, the bodies were found scattered:

Six of the skiers died of hypothermia and three died of injuries. They died separately — two of them were found under a cedar tree near the remains of a fire, while three others were found in intervals of hundreds of feet from the tree, and four more were in a ravine another 250 feet away. 

Only the footprints of the hikers could be accounted for, and there did not seem to be any animal footprints (though, when the last of the bodies were found three months after the search started — approximately two weeks after they left — additional human or animal prints could have been covered). There did not seem to be any struggle, and all evidence was in keeping that the hikers' actions were of their own volition. 

Dyatlov Pass last photo

The last photo the Dyatlov hikers ever took. Source, Atlas Obscura via Wikimedia. 

The hikers were found in various states of undress, which is in keeping with hypothermia conditions when victims often think they are heating up instead of cooling down. Some had even given others their clothes. One hiker had her foot wrapped in another hiker's pants. 

And while the hikers by the fire died of hypothermia, some had burnt hands and there was a pile of unused branches by the remains of the fire. Maybe they were out of their minds, and their lack of clothing was probably the main culprit in their death, but there is evidence that steps to potentially save themselves (however futile) were not taken. 

Weirdly, trees near the fire had branches snapped off as high as 15 feet up, and the bark had human skin embedded in it. The hikers had apparently tried to climb the tree unsuccessfully, leaving many of their hands mangled and bloody. 

But it was the violence apparent on some of the bodies that is truly disturbing. Hikers' clothing and bodies had gashes and scratches on them as if the clothes were ripped from them. 

A few of the hikers — including Dyatlov — seemed to have died while attempting to return to their torn up tent. One of those hikers had a cracked skull. Dyatlov was found clutching a small branch and in a pose suggesting that he was protecting his head from something. 

Four bodies were found in a nearby ravine. Their injuries were so severe that a Dr. Boris Vozrozhdenny of the investigation, equated the carnage to that of a car wreck, rather than the hands of humans. 

One hiker's chest was crushed, another had a skull fracture, still another had her tongue torn out "by the root." Yet upon examination of the bodies, "the corpses showed no signs of bruising or soft tissue damage." The cause of death seems to have been crushing. 

To make the whole scene even stranger, many of the hikers' skin were discolored and there were traces of radiation on their clothing. 

The Dyatlov Pass Incident (the area having been called "Dyatlov Pass" since the accident), has yet to be officially solved. Many people have offered explanations, but none can be proven without a doubt. 

Popular theories include: secret military testing, a yeti, an attack from local Mansi tribesmen, and of course, ALIENS. 

 No evidence was found to concretely support any of the above. 

The theory that is most intriguing to me is posited by author and filmmaker Donnie Eichar in his book "Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident". 

Eichar supports the theory of "infrasound". Suggested by "Yuri Kuntsevich, head of the Dyatlov Foundation, a Russian organisation dedicated to the memory of the party and to resolving the mystery," infrasound is:

...wind colliding with topographic features can produce low-frequency waves ranging from audible to sub-audible. Tests of infrasound on subjects have induced powerful feelings of nausea, panic, dread, chills, nervousness, raised heartbeat rate and breathing difficulties. Scientists believe the ridge below which the tent was located might have generated vortices producing audible and sub-audible infrasound on a windy night such as that of 1-2 February 1959

I don't know how legit this theory is, but the idea that the hikers could have been gripped by a seemingly unexplainable fear that may have caused them to run from the safety of their tent, could account for all that befell them after. 

Mostly. Except the radiation. And the death-by-crushing. 

Anyway, this is one of those mysteries that really gets inside my head. Nobody knows, or may ever know, what REALLY happened out there that night. Those hikers, excited and upbeat about their hiking getaway, undoubtedly died in terror and desperation. What drove them to that point? 

All that's left of their experience are some cryptic journals and a few photographs. They are largely remembered as "the bodies of Dyatlov Pass." Nobody deserves that. 

dyatlov pass grave pic

Monument to the Dyatlov Pass hikers. Source, ru.wikipedia.org

But will it ever be possible to solve the mystery?

What are your theories on the Dyatlov Pass Incident? Do you think there is something supernatural going on here? Do you think the Soviet government withheld information at the time, as has been suggested? 

What about the snowmen?