The Unsolved Puzzle of Dyatlov Pass: Here’s What We Know About the Mysterious Incident

By: Ronda Fuller | Published: Oct 26, 2023

Until now, the Dyatlov Pass incident has remained one of the most mysterious stories in history. Indeed, it has all the makings of a thrilling tale – a remote and beautiful setting, extreme conditions, a group of friends pushed to the edge, and a camera to capture it all.

Recent scientific findings may shed some light on what really went on with the missing hikers. However, we must warn you that their story contains some horrific elements that may upset some readers.

Setting the Scene

The Dyatlov Pass story starts in February 1959, when a group of experienced hikers set off on a multi-day trek into the Ural Mountains of Western Siberia. Sadly, this was the last time any of them would be seen alive. 

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The hikers were found again eventually, but their bodies were frozen solid and covered in strange injuries. The more the search party found, the more confused they became. One thing was clear – this was not a simple case of getting lost and freezing to death. 

What Happened to the Dyatlov Group?

When a search party finally stumbled into the remains of the Dyatlov group’s last camp, they were horrified. In addition to the odd injuries, the frozen hikers were missing body parts, and unusually high levels of radiation were detected in the camp. 

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Each discovery should have brought them closer to the truth, but the opposite happened – the more they uncovered, the more confusing the scene became. A troubling question soon emerged in the minds of the rescuers: Who — or what — killed these young, fit, and highly experienced trekkers? 

Dyatlov Group Conspiracy Theories

When something happens that defies human understanding, conspiracy theories are bound to arise. The Dyatlov incident offers an interesting example of this phenomenon. 

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Nine young, hardy adventurers were dead, and while Siberia is famous for its harsh environment, their camp offered none of the clues you’d expect to find. Instead, it was a place of strange and eerie anomalies. So, from aliens and Yetis to political espionage, conspiracy theories began to spread.

Dying on Dead Mountain

Decades after the discovery of the missing hikers, new conspiracy theories continued to emerge. It didn’t help that the slope they died on was called Dead Mountain – surely that’s too poetic to be real, right?

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Well, that’s what the conspiracy theorists thought anyway, and they had no intentions of calming down. The Dyatlov Pass Incident soon became Russia’s most famous unsolved mystery, inspiring theories of abominable snowmen, secret military projects, and even evil arctic dwarves! 

Reopening the Cold Case

Considering what happened to the hikers, it’s perhaps poor taste to call this a “cold case,” but it’s also 100% accurate. The mystery was never solved, but the conspiracy theories got so out of hand that 61 years after the incident occurred, the Russian government decided to do something about it. 

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The Prosecutor General’s Office of Russia released an announcement that thrilled the nation and conspiracy theorists the world over. They were launching a fresh inquiry into the deaths of the hikers to stop the “growth of rumors and establish the truth.” 

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Uncovering the Truth of the Dyatlov Pass Incident

Russian investigators trekked out to Dead Mountain, and wild as this sounds, they reenacted some key elements of the incident to see if they could get to the bottom of it. 

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This is an incident that has been mulled over, analyzed, and debated for decades, not just by conspiracy theorists but also by respected journalists, scientists, and academics. Could the Russian investigators really figure out something these experts failed to catch? 

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Real Photos From the Dyatlov Pass Trek

Perhaps one of the eeriest parts of the mystery is the fact that the hikers were documenting their trek with a camera. This camera was recovered from their final camp, and the images were mostly salvageable. So, we have a window into what went on during their final days on Earth. 

Source: dyatlovpass.com

The photo you’re looking at was, from what the investigators were able to gather, taken the day before the hikers died. You can see how heavy the snow was and how exhausted they were. 

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Using the Eerie Photos as a Guide

This and other photos guided the reenactments performed by the new investigative team. Adding to the insanity of the situation is the fact that they used technology borrowed from the movie Frozen

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Though it seems crazy that a reenactment expedition guided by a Disney movie could solve a 63-year-old mystery, it seems those intrepid researchers may have stumbled upon the truth. There’s just one problem with the discovery they made – not everyone believes them. 

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Back to the Original Search Party

To fully explain the new discoveries made, we first need to take a detour back to 1959. In late February of that year, a search party set out to rescue the missing hikers. They had high hopes of finding at least some of them alive, considering how experienced they all were. 

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At that point, the hikers were eight days late, so it wasn’t unreasonable to suspect that they were still alive. After all, they were in rugged terrain, so it wasn’t all that out of the ordinary. 

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Climbing Kholat Syakhl – Dead Mountain

The Dyatlov Expedition was composed of young and highly skilled cross-country skiers, most of whom were students. An equally skilled search party set off, headed for Kholat Syakhl, which means Dead Mountain in the Ural region’s indigenous language.  

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It seems the Indigenous Mansi people knew what they were talking about when they named the mountain. Soon after arriving, the search party saw that something had gone terribly wrong on Dead Mountain. 

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The horror of Dead Mountain

In the picture below, you can see the slashed-apart remnants of the tent the search party found. Upon inspection, they determined that the tent had been slashed from the inside – the first of many mysterious discoveries. 

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According to Mikhail Sharavin, one of the rescue party members, “it was empty, and all the group’s belongings and shoes had been left behind.” Around the tent, they saw several sets of deep footprints, but there was something wrong about those, too. 

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Vanishing Footprints

The snow was so thick that the footprints were deeply imprinted. A panicked trail of them circled the tent and then shot off away from it. However, just a few meters out, they vanished as though the humans who created them had been lifted up into the air. 

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What could have driven the hikers to rip their tent open and abandon it? And, how on Earth did their deep footprints just disappear? The snow was equally thick everywhere, and it wasn’t like a snowstorm would have magically avoided the tent, leaving only those footprints intact.

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Dangerous Conditions

The tent discovery was made on February 26, 1959, which was the latter part of winter. At this time of year, the Siberian mountains can get as cold as -22F (-30C), so it’s not safe to be roaming around at night. 

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The rescuers had no choice but to put their search on hold until morning. They set up camp and spoke in murmured tones about the strange discoveries they’d made – all while sipping on a flask of vodka they’d found near the slashed tent.

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Horror in the Snow

No one was excited about resuming their search the next day. Indeed, that search party member we mentioned earlier, Mikhail Sharavin, recalls one of his fellow crew members admonishing the others for toasting the hikers’ health over shots of vodka. 

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“Best not drink to their health, but to their eternal peace,” he apparently said. As it turns out, he was 100% right. When they resumed their search the next day, Sharavin and his colleagues had nothing but gruesome discoveries in store. 

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Sweeping the Slopes of Dead Mountain

The search party moved in methodical sweeps, searching the area around the tent. When they got about 1.5 kilometers out, they reached the edge of a forest where they found the frozen remains of 21-year-old Yuri Doroshenko and 23-year-old Yuri Krivonischenko. 

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This picture shows Yuri Doroshenko, who was only 21 years old at the time it was taken. To modern eyes, he looks like a man in his 50s. We put this down to the fact that he was a rugged outdoorsman who was partial to vodka.  

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Strange Discoveries

Doroshenko, an engineering student and experienced cross-country skier – was found wearing only his underwear. The coroner later determined that he had died of hypothermia. The search party had assumed as much, but they also noted that the branches of a nearby tree had all been broken off. 

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The broken branches stretched more than 16 feet up the trunk of the tree. Had Doroshenko broken them off? Or was it something else? Doroshenko and his companion, Krivonischenko, also had matching burns on the palms of their hands. 

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More Bodies Found

As the search continued, more bodies were uncovered in the snow. The group’s leader, Igor Dyatlov, was the next to be discovered, along with Rustem Slobodin and Zinaida Kolmogorova. These three were found a little closer to the tent than Doroshenko and Krivonischenko.

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In the picture above, you can see Zinaida Kolmogorova, who was 22 years old at the time of her death. She and her companions, Slobodin and Dyatlov, also succumbed to hypothermia.

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The Coroner Found Other Clues

Though he still deemed hypothermia to be Rustem Slobodin’s cause of death, the coroner noted that he had a small crack in his skull. This, the broken tree branches, and other injuries sustained by the hikers suggested something sinister may have occurred. 

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As for the other four crew members, their bodies were not found until months later, when the deep winter snow had melted. They were in a far worse state than the first five, which only served to deepen the mystery. 

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The Final Four

During the Spring of 1959, searchers found Lyudmila Dubinina, Nikolai Thibeaux-Brignolles, Semyon Zolotaryov, and Aleksandr Kolevatov at the bottom of a ravine. A small stream of water was flowing around their bodies.

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While the first bodies had been found in strange circumstances, the final four were in a condition that was nothing short of brutal. There was no question that something violent and unthinkable had happened to them. 

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Brutal Injuries Tell a Chilling Story

Nikolai Thibeaux-Brignolles had not died from hypothermia. Instead, his skull had been caved in. Lyudmila Dubinina, the youngest member of the group, had sustained severe chest trauma, leaving her with broken ribs and other injuries. She was 20 years old at the time. 

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The oldest member of the expedition, 38-year-old Semyon Zolotaryov, had injuries that almost perfectly matched Dubinina’s. All three of these young people had died from their injuries, not from the cold. 

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The Dyatlov Story Gets Worse

Though brutal, these injuries weren’t the worst of it – not by a long shot. Young Lyudmila’s eyes and tongue were missing. Zolotaryov’s eyes had also been removed. As for Aleksandr Kolevatov, his neck had been hideously twisted, and his eyebrows somehow removed. 

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Though this sounds like the work of a Dahmer-esque serial killer, one of the examining doctors suggested that the injuries seemed to have been caused by a powerful blast of some sort. No one could come up with a rational explanation for the bizarre and brutal clues found at the site. So, after months of examining the bodies and combing the area for evidence, the government declared the cause of death to be “an insurmountable force of nature.”

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Investigation Closed

At this point, the investigation into the Dyatlov Pass incident was closed. All the evidence was locked away and declared top secret, but nothing could stop people from theorizing about the strange incident. 

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In fact, the government secrecy only served to fuel the flames of conspiracy theorizing. Many experts settled on the idea that an avalanche had caused their deaths. However, an examination of the terrain revealed that this was highly unlikely. 

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Who or What Killed the Dyatlov Pass Hikers?

The avalanche theory was quickly discarded as the patterning of the snow around the tent just did not match what you’d see after an avalanche. With each abandoned theory came dozens more, but, all the while, the Soviet government remained tight-lipped. 

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With no access to the records, conspiracy theorists went wild, suggesting it might have been a failed alien abduction, a Yeti attack, or some kind of bizarre gravitational anomaly. 

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Nothing Fits the Evidence Perfectly

A Russian journalist named Svetlana Oss suggested that hunters high on mushrooms may have killed the hikers. Meanwhile, a Russian news station suggested that tensions within the group erupted, leading one (or some) of them to attack the others. 

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The problem with all these theories is that not one of them could account for all the evidence. The coroner made it clear that no human being, no matter how strong, was capable of inflicting the damage he found on their deeply traumatized bodies. 

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Was the Military Responsible for the Dyatlov Pass Incident?

Many conspiracy theories center around the concept that the Soviet government may have been conducting tests in the remote Ural mountains. From parachute mines to radiological weapons, it’s possible that the expedition simply stumbled into the wrong place at the worst possible time. 

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The Cold War was well underway in 1959, so it isn’t beyond the scope of reason to suspect that the Russian government may have been using Dead Mountain for weapons testing. 

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What About the Radiation Found at Dyatlov Pass?

As you may recall, unusually high levels of radiation were found around the torn tent. Radioactive weapons might also explain the burns found on some of the victims. Of course, they may also have burned their hands while lighting and managing their fire.

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Meanwhile, the radiation may have been from the thorium found in the group’s gas lanterns. This left parachute mines as the most likely military explanation. Indeed, friend of the group Yuri Yudin was a vocal proponent of this theory. 

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Could It Have Been an Avalanche After All?

Finally, we arrive back in the 21st century, where the new team of investigators has been using advanced computer simulations to reenact the events that befell the Dyatlov expedition. 

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Snow experts, geotechnical engineers, and other relevant professionals used the new evidence gained to develop a fresh take on an old theory. Though Dead Mountain’s incline was not steep enough for a normal avalanche to occur, there was another possibility to explore.  

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The Dyatlov Group May Have Triggered a Slab Avalanche

It’s possible that the Dyatlov group dug into the side of the slope to protect their camp from the cold and harsh winds. This may have destabilized a layer of snow, creating a slab large enough to crush them once it dislodged.  

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This is where Frozen comes into the picture — Disney gave the researchers access to the animation codes they used to make realistic snow scenes in Frozen. These codes enabled them to create a simulation of the slab avalanche, confirming that it would have hit with the force of a four-wheel drive.

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Has the Dyatlov Pass Mystery Been Solved?

Though rare, snow slabs are known to occur in the region. Indeed, the researchers found evidence of two slab avalanches on Death Mountain in the early 2020s, adding support to their theory. 

Source: dyatlovpass.com

The theory could also explain why the hikers ripped their tent open and fled without getting dressed. It may also explain the branches torn from the tree – perhaps they were simply trying to get a fire going to stay warm. As for the missing body parts, the scientists theorized that wild animals may have scavenged their bodies. 

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Is There Consensus in the Scientific Community?

In a word, no. Many scientists insist that the slope simply isn’t steep enough for such an avalanche to occur. Others add that no trekker in their mind would leave a tent in Siberia wearing only their underwear. 

Source: dyatlovpass.com

The scientists behind this new theory do admit that the slope is only just steep enough to allow for the possibility of a slab avalanche. However, they’re convinced that their theory is sound. For many others, however, the fate of the Dyatlov expedition will forever remain an enigma. 

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