On February 2nd, 1959 in the Ural Mountains of Soviet Russia, investigators found a grisly scene; the remains of nine missing mountain climbers scattered across a campsite. Soviet police determined they had died of hypothermia and attempted to put the case to rest. Unbeknownst to the public and anyone outside select party leaders, the victims had other injuries as well. One of the female hikers was missing her tongue which appeared to have been ripped out, some showed signs of physical trauma and what looked like radiation burns. A male hiker had brain damage with no apparent damage to his skull.
So named after the group's leader Igor Dyatlov, the Dyatlov Pass incident is one of the most mysterious cases in history. Ten veteran mountaineers journeyed to the mountains on January 25 and only one would survive. There have been endless theories, fabrications, and cover-ups associated with this case, being in the Soviet Union, comes as no surprise. Aliens, Bigfoot, Mountain dwellers, and secret testing are a few of the possibilities others have put forward. Skeptics all agree with the official explanation: hypothermia and/or avalanche.
Here's what we know: journals were found at the campsite that was abandoned by the hikers, many without their clothes and even one, according to his tracks, left barefoot. The tent had been cut open from the inside. The bodies were found scattered across the site, some in the woods as if they'd been watching the campsite from afar. Others were found in a ravine nearby. Besides the hypothermia, there were strange markings that looked like chemical or radiation burns, twisted looks of horror on some of their faces, and one of the female hikers was missing her tongue as if it had been ripped out. The tongue was never found.
All images are authentic from the scene before and after the mysterious deaths.
Some say the case is solved, governments say closed, and others say it's still a complete mystery. Here are 15 conflicting theories regarding what happened at Dyatlov Pass.
This is the accepted mainstream answer, still a theory however since evidence is lacking. The group was on the ascent through the pass when the weather turned against them. Lost in the storm, the group got off track and ended up changing course due west— up the slope of the peak known as "1027", which local tribes of Mansi call Kholat Sykahl, Death Mountain. When the mountaineers realized their mistake, they made camp, not in the nearby trees which would have provided shelter, but right there in the open. Something Igor Dyatlov, the group leader and experienced climber would have known. No matter, all seven men and two women possessed the same class of skills.
The avalanche hit at night. The thundering sound of ice and snow speeding down the slope at speeds of up to 80 miles per hour woke the group. In a panic, they ripped their way out of the tent— cut their way out. Running for their lives, it's doubtful that they would have put on clothes, or shoes. The escape attempt is futile. They went in different directions, three groups running for cover. Two groups made it to the tree line that provided some cover, while one was caught out in the open and tried to hide in the ravine, however, they are ran down by a sheet of traveling ice at speeds of a semi truck coming down hill.
15 Paradoxical Undressing
Soviet Investigators and others years after have posited that hypothermia is the cause. Evidence for a massive avalanche was lacking and it made more sense as to why the expedition members had shed clothing. While hypothermia is caused by exposure to freezing temperatures, a process occurs as the body gets colder and colder. The hypothalamus, being cold-induced, goes on critical meltdown. Being the part of the brain responsible for body temperature, it begins shutting down and in a last-ditch effort begins increasing the body's temperature to compensate for the difference. They must have stripped off their clothes from the overheating caused by this defense mechanism and died shortly after since paradoxical undressing is part of the final stages of hypothermia.
So, this causes the experienced climbers to run from their tent, some cutting their way out, split off into three directions, receive fractures, lacerations and one who had severe brain damage, yet, no exterior damage to his skull? This theory alone is dubious at best. Some have simply added the avalanche and hypothermia explanations together for the ultimate theory, despite the lack of evidence for an avalanche. Then there are the two bodies found with what amounts to ripped scraps of clothing from the others, why did they not try and stop the others? Why wouldn't they observe a way of staying warm humans have used since our beginnings. Huddling together against the storm?
14 Weapons Testing
This theory suggests that on the night of February 2nd, 1959, the Hammer and Sickle's secret military was testing weapons in the secluded mountain range. Maybe they knew the nine mountaineers were there, maybe they didn't, more likely they didn't care. Whatever the case may be, the Soviet government may have been testing Infrasound technology.
Infrasound is the use of low frequency sound to subdue, demobilize, and even kill targets, however the only sound heard was likely their screams. Infrasound is at such a frequency that human ears cannot detect it, the only thing they notice is the burning, then panic. The US has a weapon called the Active Denial System that works along these lines. The sound can range from mildly irritating to lethal. Even causing burns on the skin.
That would explain why they ran in a panic, trying to escape something that was seemingly everywhere, in opposite directions. This could account for the missing tongue (biting it off in agony), the burns on the bodies, maybe even the brain damage (who knows what frequency the Soviets were testing). But it doesn't account for the fire being built or the campsite being in complete shambles. Nor does it account for why their clothing, well some, tested at high levels for radiation.
13 UFO & Aliens
This is a very popular theory for the incident and the draw is likely that one can come to just about any conclusion under this banner. There were reports of lights in the sky over the pass at the time, there are the autopsy photos that show one of the adventurers with what appears to be orange skin. The followers of this idea state that the aliens attacked the campers, chased them into the woods, performed experiments on and tortured them, and left.
Not only are the chances of an advanced civilization finding this tiny blue dot astronomical, one could say with confidence that an advanced civilization wouldn't travel all this way to essentially torture a group of nine people in the middle of nowhere. If they were that nefarious, I imagine there would have been a larger test group.
12 Classified Missile Test
Strange orange glowing lights in the sky over the area had been reported for weeks leading up to the incident. It is speculated that the group of adventurers witnessed a missile test. It was 1959 and the idea of missiles was not as well-known and would have been top secret. It could explain why the hikers' skin was orange as well. Missile fuel contains 'unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine' as one of its key ingredients. This bipropellant has a strong, fishy smell and can turn things an off-color of orange if exposed to oxygen.
While the hikers were asleep, a test missile crashed not far from the camp, the sound of the incoming rocket woke them and scared, they dispersed in disorder. The sound of a flying missile is comparable to thunder with heavy rain, only louder than if said thunder cracked right above you. In such a state of fright, they did anything to run and hide, even ripping their way out, with no time to dress, and scattered into the night. Then the rocket crashed nearby, causing injuries like broken ribs and brain damage, from the shock wave.
There is a select group that postulate a Yeti, Bigfoot, Abominable Snowman, or whatever, had something to do with the mystery of Dead Mountain. That maybe the hikers encountered not just one of the ever-elusive creatures, but perhaps a pack of them. Stories and legends of the cryptozoological beast have run rampant throughout the area of the Ural Mountains. Much as one could expect, the stories are all generally surmised with this phrase: a large, smelly, lumbering creature covered in matted hair came out of the woods, looked at me/my friend/across, down, up, at something, and then turned and walked with abnormally huge strides back into the woods. Hundreds of sightings have been reported in the area of the infamous range and the forest that surrounds it.
The Yeti came upon the camp and began curiously looking through it. This startles at least one of the Russian expedition party members awake, they in turn alert the others, panicked from the sight of the over seven-foot-tall monster, they all run for their lives into the surrounding area. However, the Yeti is not alone, and he and several of his ilk easily overtake the climbers and brutally murder them. The few that made it to the trees hid and died from exposure while trying to out-wait the Yeti clan. This theory not only conflicts with the evidence, but with reality as well. One may ask why the Yeti would attack in the first place? Since they normally tend to flee. Then, as impossible the odds are that you may even spot one, several are present, because in order for there to be so much physical trauma to the hikers there would have to be more, and suddenly blood thirsty? This one is actually harder to accept than aliens traversing the galaxy. All the same, there are entire sites dedicated to the idea that Bigfoot's Russian cousin is responsible for the incident. No empirical evidence has been gathered to support it.
10 Satanic Ritual
The missing tongue, the circle of fires, the odd color of the skin, maybe something truly evil took place on that mountain slope? Maybe the hikers had been targeted for some time, planned on being at that exact spot? While details or even conclusive theories are hard to come by on this one, it's as valid as any of the other left-field theories. It's possible that the group leader, Dyatlov, could have been approached by cultists, was maybe even one himself, and arranged for the expedition as a guise for more nefarious purposes. It is odd that being an expert mountaineer, he would not only lead his team up an obvious slope but then camp on it instead of the safety of the timberline not far below them. Exposed, out in the open, easy to find.
Perhaps a group of cultists came into the camp and, betraying Dylatov as well, murdered or 'sacrificed' the hikers in the name of Satan, or whatever/whomever they worship. No matter, this theory is easily dismissed since there were no evident tracks besides those of the nine hikers when they ran off into the waiting arms of death. Then again, maybe the cultists were just really good at covering their tracks?
9 Mansi Tribe
There is a group of nomads, called the Mansi, that roam the area of the Ural Mountains. Perhaps a group stumbled upon the hikers and, somehow, a confrontation ensued and the hikers ended up running for their lives and some were captured and murdered by the natives. However, there are no real recorded events of the Mansi being violent to other expeditionary groups in the past nor anyone else for that matter. Like most nomadic tribes, they tend to keep to their own and stay away from outsiders. Nevertheless, for the sake of context we shall review one possible conflicting theory.
Perhaps, while the climbers were sleeping, the Mansi warriors that had been stalking them, crept into camp, attempting to ambush them, the tribesmen may have done something to alert at least one of the campers, who woke the others and in a mad attempt to flee, cut open the wall of the tent, the warriors gave chase and caught some while others got away to live, albeit temporarily. It may have been sacred ground, or the climbers disturbed something important during the climb. There is no known evidence to support this claim.
8 Yuri Yudin
The lone survivor of the group, Yuri Yudin, was the tenth member of the team and after arriving at the train station near the settlement of Vizhai, he fell "ill" and had to stay behind. So, the other nine adventurers said their farewells and set out in a trek towards the starting point of their final ascent. Yuri Yudin would never see his comrades again. Well, what if he did see them one last time?
It's speculated in small circles that villagers witnessed Yudin, Dyaltov, and Lyudmila Dubinina in a sort of love triangle and that the two suitors were seen arguing about it at the station. It is said that Dyatlov purposefully left Yudin behind, telling the others including Lyudmila that Yudin had fallen ill. When in reality, Yuri was at a supply depot attached to the train station purchasing something Dyatlov had sent him for. When Yudin realized that he had been betrayed, supposed witnesses say he set off in another vehicle headed in the same direction and then mysteriously reappeared at the village settlement on February 8th. On the 11th, the others were supposed to be arriving as well, of course, they never did.
Is it possible that for the above, or any, reason Yuri not only caught up to the others but outmaneuvered them and stayed hidden that long? Wouldn't he have needed a fire to stay warm at night as well? If so, then someone would have spotted it at night, right? While it makes an interesting story it's highly unlikely, especially since Yuri Yudin had returned home long before the time anyone spotted him in the settlement on the 8th. Then again, we only know what the investigators tell us. Maybe out of jealousy, he sought revenge. All the same, why would that incite the type of panic that is evident? How did he cause the brain damage without fracturing the skull? Most of all, why would nine fully grown, physically fit, Russian mountain climbers simply allow one man to overpower them?
7 Wrong Place, Wrong Time
It's possible that Dyaltov and the others, while trekking through the mountains witnessed something they shouldn't have. Perhaps a government agency was testing or using a super secret weapon or other apparatus and these poor nine souls, unbeknownst to the location of this test, stumbled upon it all the same.
Speculations suggest that the nine climbers came across a valley, ravine, or any other open space along their trek and observed a government agency performing some sort of experiment, test, or drill that was never meant to be seen. Others say the mountaineers witnessed a UFO recovery operation. When the group noticed they had been spotted and were not being chased down, they deviated off course, and were forced to camp on the slope. Exhausted, they had no choice but to succumb to sleep. Something happened to wake at least one of the campers and the civilians attempted to flee in a panic. Using government-issued weaponry, the troops easily dispatched some of the hikers and lost others to the woods where they knew the barely clothed hikers would not survive the night.
Witnesses have claimed to see a group of soldiers coming down from the area just a few days before search-and-rescue operations discovered the abandoned camp. Of course, Soviet and now Russian officials deny any such events involving government entities were associated with the incident.
Did it even really happen? Is it possible that the story was created, along with the climbers, as a propaganda event? Did the Soviet Union want NATO to think something strange had happened? Maybe it was the KGB who even started rumors of Missile tests, infrasound and other military fringe testing? Creating the illusion that the Hammer and Sickle had created something that was worth the controversy, or to plant the idea that they were ahead of the United States in black ops weaponry?
After all, it is plausible that a branch with enough power could have created the story, produced identities, paid actors to portray families or simply used threats to incite cooperation. Yuri, the sole survivor, could have also been an actor or even an agent of the Party himself, after all, he did enter Soviet Military service upon returning home. During the Cold War, Smoke & Mirror operations were standard operating procedure for both East and West.
Propaganda has been around since the beginning of politics and was streamlined most notably by Joseph Goebbels, the Minster of Propaganda for Nazi Germany. While a horrible man, he was a genius at creating the fluff to get millions of people to believe in an ideal. With his use of stories involving German victories with impossible odds in ancient settings and flashing between scenes of battle and civilian life to entice a feeling of unity, he was a master of deceit, and many of his tactics are found in use today, even in advertisements.
The Soviets took his craft and built it even bigger. Taking the throne of Propaganda, they were not just masters of it, they were natural savants. So, in order to create a false sense of advancement, they created the incident to inspire conjecture within enemy governments possibly for reasons of distraction or a false show of superiority.
5 Random Energy Event
Some small circles speculate that there are dimensions or universes that stretch on for infinity, layered on top of one another. It's suggested that these neighboring universes are far more advanced. Perhaps so much so that they travel to ours? If they do, they would want to enter in a very secluded spot. Not just to remain unnoticed, but, also for the amount of displaced energy a doorway between alternate universes would likely create.
This event of high energy could also have come from space, the earth itself, or even our old friends the military. A strong enough release of energy could have been responsible for the state of the campers. The event could have caused the burns, the orange could also have been a sort of burn caused by the immense light such an event would create. The resulting shock wave of such an event would, theoretically, be powerful enough to scramble someone's brain without causing physical damage to the skull, it could have hit Lyudmilia with enough force to make her bite through her tongue, perhaps even swallowing it.
Following this theory, somehow, some survived and retired to the woods for shelter, watching all night for whatever created the hellish tragedy. But, what woke them up? With enough time to run? The only other known energy event of this magnitude is a nuclear bomb detonation. And that would have given the climbers about enough time to open their eyes before they were annihilated.
4 Coup d'État
Mutiny is another idea thrown at the wall of guesses. Perhaps the crew came to a head at what they should do after discovering that they were essentially lost in a storm. Animosity could have been building, perhaps Dyaltov, an intellectual 23-year-old, had become superior in attitude and egotistical in skill, leading the group closer to danger everyday under the guise of expert opinion from the team leader.
'Us and Them' occurs and the team divides into two groups. Bitter arguing, threats, and steadily building animosity leads to a climactic confrontation on the slope of Death Mountain. Fighting continues throughout the night, barbaric tactics are used in place of any weaponry, and the few remaining survivors stalemate in the forest and freeze to death while defiantly staring each other down.
3 They Never Left The Village Alive
In the settlement of Vizhai is where the party line says that Yuri Yudin came down with dysentery and because of their strict timeline, was left behind while the other nine friends continued on. If you research this village, you'll find page after page of references to the Incident on Death Mountain with only mere mentions of the village itself; its location, demographic, etc. Perhaps there is a reason for this? Maybe it's not a village at all? Could it be something far more sinister?
Speculation suggests that the village could have been a front for gangsters, secret societies, or a front for a government black op. It's possible that the hikers, entered the village, and saw something they shouldn't have, they were summarily executed; all save Yuri whom was left alive to serve as a voice of propaganda, that he had been there, saw the friends leave and met plenty of friendly villagers. The bodies were then taken to a remote area, displayed to cause confusion, and the village remains obscure. It is rather odd that a place of such notoriety is barely mentioned online, besides when speaking of the incident. Most of the images of even the surrounding area are in black and white, obviously more than twenty years old as well. There are no images to be found of the village besides a distant shot of a few log cabins.
While there would have been much evidence of a cosmic impact, also an obliterated campsite and disintegration of organics, there is another way the asteroid could be responsible. It would enter the atmosphere at cosmic velocities, speeds so fast that the air in its path could not get out of the way fast enough and would be compressed (think of a bicycle pump). At that sort of speed, who knows what the sound of one streaking not far overhead would sound like? Also, who can say with certainty that the asteroid passing over alone wouldn't produce a shock wave detrimental enough to cause the injuries sustained?
The asteroid starts its decent not far above the hikers, the sound of what can be imagined as several freight trains speeding towards you startles the campers awake and causes them to run for cover. The asteroid creates a sonic boom and the result is broken ribs, pressure enough even to crush the brain through the skull. A few survive the initial onslaught and in fear continue to hide only to be overtaken by the elements. The twisted faces being the result of the fear and impact caused by the celestial object speeding by.
1 Government Assassination
While conflicting theories are being explored here, we might as well throw in the one with the smallest demographic. The hikers were not just students, they were actually a crack team of trained black ops specialists used for covert mountain terrain operations. Traversing the globe and infiltrating countries via the mountain ranges. Setting up covert radar stations, or maybe the elusive number stations, then returning to Mother Russia for vodka and party members secret congratulations.
Dyatlov and the others were actually on a training mission, which is why they camped on the slope, it was practice. However, the powers that be for some reason decide that the group has reached the end of its practical use, or perhaps again, they saw something they were not supposed to— maybe even accomplished a critical mission that could not afford any witnesses. Whatever the reason, they were murdered by agents of the Soviet Union and arranged in a way that would cause controversy and unsatisfying answers. Keeping the masses distracted from the truth.
The conflicting theories of the Dead Mountain incident are all interesting, good points, and possible conclusions. No matter, the fact is that nine people died and their families still have no answers.
Sources: wikipedia.org, atlasobscura.com, discovery.com
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