Way back in 1959, nine experienced hikers set out on a skiing expedition in Russia’s Ural Mountains. In an area now known as the Dyatlov Pass, in honour of the group’s leader, the group set up camp around the 1st and 2nd of February. The area was experiencing sub-zero temperatures and heavy snowfall, not unusual for the time of year or that area and the team were fully equipped for such weather. But the temperatures were not going to be the worst of what they would experience and now the mystery that sparked the production of many films, including The Dyatlov Pass Incident, and tons of documentaries could have been solved.
The eight men and two women were hoping to obtain their grade III hiking certification on their return. With a route planned out and approved by Sverdlovsk city route commission, the group wasted no time in setting out.
Initially a group of 11, they numbered only 10 as they headed to the last inhabited settlement, Vizhai. Here they spent their last night in civilisation and made their final preparations. And on the 27th of January, they set out. But the following day one of their team was forced to turn back with knee and joint problems.
Nine Go On
On January 31st the group reached a rest point and readied themselves to begin the trek through the pass the following day. They cached food and items for their return journey, lightening their loads somewhat, before going on.
As they made their trip through the pass the weather began to worsen and caused them to deviate from their planned route. Realising their mistake, and knowing they would be unlikely to make it to their next intended rest stop, they set up camp where they were and settled in.
They were expected to contact their sports club on the 12th of February when they returned to Vizhai, but Dyatlov suggested they could take longer and so when the 12th arrived and passed without any contact no alarm was raised.
The Dyatlov Pass Mystery
The group’s tent was found on the 28th of February, a month after they initially set out. It was badly damaged and partially collapsed under snow. Appearing to have been cut open from the inside. The group had clearly abandoned the tent in a hurry, footprints leaving the site indicated that they hadn’t even had the time to put on shoes.They had left in a hurry, but why?
The footprints all headed towards a nearby wooded area. For a time the group must have thought to be safe, for they made a fire amongst the trees. And it was clear that they desperately needed the warmth, for not only had they escaped without proper footwear but two of the hikers were found without anymore clothing than their underwear.
Branches on the pine tree above were found to be broken. Investigators thought that someone had climbed up for a higher view of the area.
Three more bodies were found between that pine and the tent. It took a further two months to find the other four hikers who had gone in the opposite direction. They were found in a ravine, buried in snow. These four seemed to have had the majority of the clothing the group would have been wearing as they escaped. Perhaps they had been sent back to Vizhai for help, whilst the others tried to retrieve what they could from the damaged tent. Or perhaps in the end that had seemed like their only option.
But what could have forced them from their shelter, in subzero temperatures with nothing more than the clothes they had on their backs in the first place?
Car Crash Tests, Avalanche Simulations, and Frozen Animation.
A crime had been ruled out, and whilst many had floated the ideas of it being a Yeti, Russian Soviet tests, or Aliens, few possibilities remained.
The avalanche theory had been one of several after the initial incident but argued against. The slope wasn’t sufficient for an avalanche. No additional burden to snow already on the mountain from further falling snow. And avalanche victims usually die from asphyxiation rather than the injuries that were present in the group’s recovered bodies.
Puzrin and Gaume
But what if an earthquake had triggered a delayed avalanche? This was Alexander Puzrin‘s theory and teaming up with Johan Gaume they used simulations to recreate what could have happened on that fateful night.
Turns out, the snow disguised the topography of the slope and it was steeper than previously thought. And the original investigators had found the snow above the base layer to be weak and slippery.
The group’s own diaries mentioned strong winds that could have driven the snow towards their campsite, destabilizing the layers. And their dugout tent base would have initially destabilized the snow as well.
All of these small things together could be the reason for the eventual deaths of the group, no earthquake required. But the initial avalanche simulations didn’t quite explain the injuries the group had suffered.
With help of Frozen’s specialist animation team’s code and a General Motors car crash experiment from the 70s (that had some bodies on rigid structures and some not) Gaume was able to simulate the effects of the avalanche on the Dyatlov’s team.
Occurring whilst they were in their sleeping bags on top of their skies, they were forced to cut themselves free. And, injured, drag themselves and each other to safety. The temperatures and their injuries would do what the avalanche did not.
It was an unforeseeable tragedy for a group of students trying to achieve the highest level hiking grade possible in Russia at the time. They set out with high hopes, a wealth of experience, and well prepared for what was ahead of them. But, as in many such incidents across the world, mother nature isn’t as predictable as she sometimes appears.
- Mechanisms of slab avalanche release and impact in the Dyatlov Pass incident in 1959
- Smithsonian: Have Scientists Finally Unraveled the 60-Year Mystery Surrounding Nine Russian Hikers’ Deaths?
- National Georgraphic: Has science solved one of history’s greatest adventure mysteries?
Horror and Fantasy Author – Also writing as K.T. McQueen. Love Western Horror, cowboy boots, my cactus Collin, & my Demon Cat.
Moths – I hate moths, the way they flutter at your face!