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31 Mar, 2023
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Soviet history

Dyaltov Pass Incident: An Unsolved Mystery Of Hikers’ Death

Dyaltov Pass, a region in the Ural mountains, has always been a topic of discussion among trekking enthusiasts. However, the mountain pass came into the limelight only after February 1, 1959, when nine Russian hikers lost their lives during a trekking expedition. The ‘Dyatlov Pass Incident’, added a new chapter to Soviet history because it attracted attention from the global media as it remained one of the unresolved mysteries of the world.

Due to harsh weather conditions of the Dyaltov pass, it was not simple for investigators to identify the real causes of death. This was why there emerged numerous theories to define the hikers’ killing in Dyaltov pass.

What Was Dyaltov Pass Incident?

On February 1, 1959, a group of youngsters- with one exception- planned to carry out a trekking expedition to Dyaltov pass. The trekkers were students and fresh graduates from the Ural Polytechnic Institute. The excepted candidate was Semyon Zolotaryov, who, at 37, was older than the others.

In the early stages of the trek, one member of the group went ill, due to which he didn’t proceed further with the group. The remaining candidates carried on with their trek mentioning things they were doing in their diaries. Some of those members were highly excited as they expressed their excitement as- “I wonder, what awaits us on this trip?” While the other one wrote– “I am very excited to encounter difficulties of our trek”.

Although the trekkers were highly excited about their trek, they were unaware that their expedition was the last trek of their lives. It was because all trekkers lost their lives in an overnight mysterious event. The event happened over their is described as follows-

One night, the trekkers pitched a tent and settled in to take a rest. After a few hours of their stay, they fled the safety of their tent and perished in the freezing, snowy conditions for mysterious reasons. That incident led some group members to succumb to hypothermia, while others lost their lives due to grisly injuries.

How Did Hiker’s Bodies Recover From The Site?

After a few weeks, when the trekkers didn’t come from their expedition, a search party went on to locate them. The search party, after putting some efforts, found the remains of hiker’s tent on the side of a mountain known as Kholat Syakhl. The party was stunned after finding no one inside the camp. Instead, the party found hiker’s boots, clothes, maps, and some foodstuff intended for that night’s meal. The side opening of the tent reflected the desperation of hikers to leave the tent comfort.

Next to the tent, there were footprints of hikers, which made it clear that the group had left the tent without wearing shoes. The footprints led the search team to a nearby tree, next to which laid the corpses of 21-year-old Yuri Doroshenko and 23-year-old Yuri Krivonischenko. Both corpses were frozen and were exhibiting marks of burn and multiple abrasions.

A few metres apart from those corpses, the bruised bodies of the group leader, 23-year-old Igor Dyatlov, and 22-year-old Zinaida Kolmogorova were laid on the snowy surface. The body position reflected that both were trying to return to the tent when they died. After a few days of the search operation, the body of 23-year-old Rustem Slobodin was recovered with a fractured skull from a nearby location.

The bodies of the remaining hikers, Nikolay Thibeaux Brignolle, a 23-year-old graduate, and 24-year-old Aleksander Kolevatov, were found in a ravine near a shelter they attempted to carve out from the snow. Their bodies reflected horrific marks on their face and other parts of their bodies.

The body of the oldest hiker, Seymon Zolotaryov, and 20-year-old Lyudmila Dubinina had crushed chests with broken ribs and deformed bones. Both had lost their eyes, and Lyudmila’s tongue was gone.

Looking after the deformed corpses of missing hikers, a criminal investigation was carried out by a prosecutor named Lev Ivanov. However, the investigation leads to a cryptic conclusion. According to that, “The cause of hiker’s demise was an overwhelming force which they were unable to tackle on their own.”

Theories Defining The Death Of Hikers

The team of investigators reached a cryptic conclusion because the investigating team found varied pieces of evidence defining the death of hikers. Some of those pieces of evidence have their traces in the Soviet history as those led to the formation of theories involving:

The Mansi Theory

According to some investigators, the Dyaltov party was killed by the Mansi people. Mansi people are proud and secluded people, who consider mountain regions as their hunting grounds. Anyone, whom the Mansi people found on their hunting grounds, will have to face repercussions in the form of their shamanic rituals. The idea that the hikers were slaughtered for straying onto their sacred land persisted for some time.

More was found about the presence of a Mansi Chum, or dwelling, near the hiker’s tent. One of the hikers, Zinaida Kolmogorova, noted in her diary- “We often see Mansi signs on the trail, I wonder what they write about”? While the other hiker (identity unclear) also recorded that “Mansi writings appear on trees… all sorts of obscure and mysterious characters”.

The critics rejected this theory citing, “Hikers killing by Mansi people is a baseless theory rooted in a misunderstanding of Mansi culture and rituals. It is because if they were indeed rounded up and murdered the hikers, why were the bodies found in different locations, some more injured than others”?

The Espionage Theory

According to some, two members of the Dyaltov group were the focus of particular speculation. If not, why did Semyon Zolotaryov, a 37-year-old veteran of WWII, join a young hiker’s group? Moreover, is it significant that, a few years earlier, Yuri Krivonischenko assisted in clearing up a radioactive leak at a secret Soviet nuclear facility– an incident which had since been compared to the Chernobyl disaster?

According to one theory, Zolotaryov and Krivoniscenko were members of the KGB and joined the Dyaltov trek to meet CIA agents in the Ural mountains. However, when they were handing over radioactive materials and fake nuclear secrets, the Russians took photos of the American agents. The theory goes further that the CIA men soon learnt about the happening, due to which they attacked and led to the massacre of the Dyaltov party.

The UFO/Military Weapons Theory About Dyaltov Killing

In 1990, Lev Ivanov, one of the lead investigators of the Dyaltov killing, published a sensational article claiming he received orders to censor some of his key investigations. Particularly the unusual char marks on trees near the place of corpses recovery. According to him, those char marks “confirmed a source of heat ray,” which was purposefully aimed at some of the helpless hikers.

In his article, Ivanov also alleged that floating balls of light and other unusual phenomena were reported over the Ural mountains in February of that year. He mentioned- the gathered evidence clearly indicated the role of UFOs on hikers killing”. He added that “it was unclear whether the supposed UFOs were of alien origin or experimental Soviet weapons, depending on the reader’s belief“.

Theory Supporting Yeti Attack

The theory that Yeti killed the hikers depends on a few pieces of dubious evidence. The first of those shreds of evidence involved a photograph taken by one of the slain hikers that showed a dark humanoid figure that seemed to be hiding behind a tree. However, the picture’s blurriness created confusion because some cited that the picture might have been of another hiker.

The second piece of evidence supporting the Yeti theory was hiker’s writing works in which one wrote that “The Yeti lives in the Northern Urals, near Mount Otorten”. Meanwhile, those writings were intended as jokes because the other things mentioned in those writings were the exaggerated account of things which the hikers did. Therefore, the Yeti theory was assumed to be inspired by people’s myth that Yeti stalked and abruptly killed the hikers’ group.

The Avalanche Theory

Among various theories that prevailed about the Dyaltov killing, the most accepted one was the slab avalanche theory. According to this theory, the group fled the tent because of a slab avalanche. However, the group could not escape the avalanche and succumbed to the harsh conditions.

A slab avalanche is counted as natural disasters because it is a phenomenon in which a compacted block of snow slides down a slope when the underlying layers of snow grow weaker. The theory suggested that a combination of factors, including mountain winds and the weakening of snow layers in the pitching area, led to the catastrophic avalanche.

Theory supporters believed that the impact of the avalanche was so sudden that the group ran out of the tent in panic. However, the avalanche’s suddenness did not give any time to hikers so they could move to a safer location. Therefore, some hikers got severely injured, and their bodies were recovered from different locations. Some of those, however, succeeded in keeping themselves safe.

The moment the situation got normal, the alive members of the group tried to find and assist others (the suggested footprints support the movement and dragging of bodies). However, the harsh conditions didn’t allow them to do so and took their lives as well. The story suggested that the facial distortion resulted from animal scavenging and decomposition.

Final Words 

The discussion we made till now reflected some theories which grew popular for describing hiker’s killing in the Dyaltov pass. Many Dyaltov commentators are still sceptical about the slab avalanche theory. This is why they still come out debating the life lost of hikers due to slab avalanche.

To this moment, we do not have any strong evidence supporting other theories. Therefore, the slab avalanche theory is considered the best theory describing the Dyaltov killing in Soviet history books.


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