Deep in the northern Ural mountains in Russia lies a mountain known as Kholat Syakhl. The name literally translates to the phrase "Dead Mountain." For nine members of the Ural Polytechnical Institute in Ekaterinburg, Sverdlovsk in February of 1959, that would prove to be absolutely true. Taking place during an era of Cold War tension, the team embarked on a skiing expedition across the Northern Ural's. The objective for many of the people was to acquired Level III skiing certifications, with the final destination being Otorten Mountain. Their journey, however, was destined to end approximately six miles north of their intended destination mountain at Kholat Syakhl, a level III difficulty mountain.
The leader of the group, who was working on his Level III certification was twenty-three year old Igor Dyatlov. Prior to his disembarkation with his group in January of 1959, he had informed family and friends that he would telegram when they had returned to the populated village at Vizhai. Estimations suggested that this would be on 12 February to as late as 17 February. He departed on 27 January with a group of ten, but one of the members had to turn back due to health complications. The nine remaining members continued on their way towards Otorten.
Records were made by the group from 31 January, and weather, tracking, and other data was made available to coordinate the events that happened on 1 February. It seemed as though the group had intended to make their way opposite the pass, but poor weather conditions forced them to camp on the slopes of Kholat Syakhl - west of their intended destination for the night. The group opted to camp in the open, rather than in a forested area further downhill. This choice was supposedly made to compensate for the altitude gained. However, had the group moved further downhill, they would have been better sheltered from the elements.
By 20 February, family and friends had launched a search party for the missing expedition. It was not until 26 February that their campsite was located, however. Remains were found within a day to a few weeks, but the last remains were not uncovered until 4 May.
"An Unknown and Compelling Force"
"The tent was half torn down and covered with snow. It was empty, and all the group's belongings and shoes had been left behind."
Eight or nine sets of tracks that indicated that people had run either in stockings or a single shoe were seen flowing away from the campsite down the mountain. However, at certain points it seemed that the tracks were deliberately covered. All of the tracks made a run towards the woods. Under a tree, there were remains of what appeared to be a small campfire. Two bodies were found, both in their underwear. Branches were broken relatively high up in the tree suggesting that the duo were looking for something. Three other bodies were located between the camp and this tree, all in such a way that suggested they were returning to the camp. The last four were found in a nearby ravine, all dressed slightly better than the previous group.
Of the members of the group, the following causes of death were determined: six by Hypothermia, two from severe chest injury, and one from a fatal skull injury. One of the individuals with a chest injury also had their eyes removed. Another had their eyes, tongue and nose removed. The chest injuries were of such a magnitude that they could only be compared to a car crash, but no other adjacent injuries were visible. One of the hikers was wearing clothing that was determined to be radioactive.
It had been initially speculated that native peoples in the region may have killed the members of the expedition, but two factors contribute to this theory being dismissed: no other footprints were found at the site, and the force required to impale the individuals was not of human capacity. In May of 1959, the documents of the case were classified, and the official cause of the incident marked as "death by an unknown compelling force." The case was reopened in 2019 by the Russian government, with the only "acceptable" causes being an avalanche, snow storm, or hurricane force winds.
Various theories circulate still on the cause of the strange events that unfolded early in February of 1959, ranging from an Avalanche, to Infrasound, to Military Testing, and even pseudoscientific explanations. Nevertheless, Dyatlov Pass remains one of the unsolved mysteries in the immense space known as Russia.