On January 25, 1959, nine Russian students embarked on a journey across the Otorten Mountain range, which is nestled in the northern Urals, for a strenuous cross-country skiing trip. Eight days after they were due to arrive at their end destination a search party set out to find the missing mountaineers. On February 26, the search party came upon the flapping remains of a tent pitched on ski poles on an uppermost slope of Kholat Syakhl, or ‘Mountain of the Dead’ in the native language of northern Siberia.
The tent had been ripped apart, torn to shreds from the inside, suggesting that they had fled in panic. Footprints found around the outside of the tent indicated that those who fled into sub-zero temperatures did so in just their socks or barefoot, and in one case a single shoe. Two sets of prints led down a slope toward a densely forested area which would lead the searchers to the first bodies.
Besides the remains of a long burnt out fire, beneath a looming, ancient pine tree was the frozen bodies of two hikers. The searchers noted with bewilderment that both men were naked and shoeless, save for their underwear. They also noted that the branches of the pine tree had been snapped off up to a height of almost 15-feet, indicating that the pair had frantically attempted to climb the tree for safety.
Around 350 yards away lay the body of 23-year-old engineering student Igor Dyatlov. His name would later be given to the area where the tragedy took place. Nearby, the remains of three more bodies were discovered under four inches of snow. The bodies were found in a line, 200 yards apart, suggesting they had been trying to crawl behind each other back up to the shelter of the tent.
Two months after the initial search the remaining bodies of the group were found. Buried under 15ft of snow in a den they had desperately hollowed out for themselves before succumbing to the cold. Some had broken bones and terrible internal injuries but, strangely, no external wounds. Not even a scratch could be found upon their skin. Stranger still, odd bits of their clothing contained higher than normal levels of radiation.
The post-mortem examinations of the nine bodies also threw up a string of bewildering anomalies. What could cause nine experienced mountaineers to flee in terror into sub-zero temperatures? Why were some fully clothed, but others nearly naked? Most disconcerting of all was the body of Lyudmilla Dubinina, which was missing its tongue and eyes.
There are various theories concerning what happened in those dark and dreadful hours on the Mountain of the Dead. Possible explanations such as an avalanche or the Russian Military and secret experimental weapons testing have been blamed, even Yeti’s and alien abduction (the latter being the belief of Soviet investigators at the time) are also popular theories. However, the simple fact is no theory holds up to scrutiny, and so endures the legend of Dyatlov Pass one of the greatest unexplained mysteries of our time.