Honestly I don’t know where to start on this story or what I think of it. I will do my best to relay what I found and my thoughts. I spent the most time yet researching it hoping I’d find an answer I felt was the right one. I didn’t. As much as I like mysteries I don’t like them when it takes nine gifted live loving people’s lives. That’s what happened to these nine Russian hikers in 1959. They set out doing something they loved and wound up dead not from hazards of the arduous hike but from something unexplainable. Why was Lyuda’s tongue removed while she was still alive? How did two of them wind up with radioactive clothes? What removed both eyes from two? What crushed the chest of three? What flailed the chest of one? Why was their tent cut from the inside? What happened? What compelled these highly experienced hikers to do what they did? Why was the region closed for three years after the event? Why were the documents related to it classified until after the fall of the Soviet Union? If after this you favor a theory or have one let me know. The more I found out the less I felt I knew except as the coroner ruled “an unknown compelling force” caused their deaths.
Before I outline the story let me thank two friends who wish to be unnamed for the help with Russian translations. I think that their improvements on Google translate helped me debunk some things that are passed about the internet in English as being truths. I tried to go with at least secondary documents (original Russian translated to English) than tertiary information (someone reading translation or original and telling about it in English) because unfortunately I don’t read Russian so primary was out.
The events involve 10 ski-hikers from the Ural Polytechnical Institute who wanted a Level III certification in ski-hiking back in 1959. This required a 350 km (217.5 mi) round trip ski-hike in Siberia. They planned their hike and chose to go to Otorten, a mountain, from Vizhai (a small village) the terrain met all the requirements for the certification. They would have to document the whole of their trip for their hiking club at UPI to grant the certification. To do this they took many photographs, kept a group hike log and individual diaries of the trip. This gave investigators great documentation of the trip to review when things went wrong.
Let me first introduce the hikers and what I will refer to them as.
- Igor Dyatlov – Igor – the leader of the expedition and whose name would be given to the pass in which the group died. He was 23 years old and very experienced hiker. He was a genius having built radios since a child. He designed the stove used in the hiker’s tent to warm the tent but not take up floor space. He was studying Radio Engineering and seen as a gifted engineer. He excelled at his studies. He was a methodical man and took the responsibility of leading the expedition seriously knowing the other’s lives depended on his leader ship. He was described as a tender caring man who loved the outdoors. He was in a relationship with another hiker, Zina. During another hike with many in this group they were overcome with a herd of stampeding wild horses. Per Yuri’s calm instruction the group stood in a circle with backs to each other and the stampeded came through. The horses went around them as a river goes around a bolder and all were unhurt from the incident thanks to Yuri’s leadership.
- Yuri Doroshenko – Yuri – 21 – Was a huge man physically and once on a ski-hike with friends chases off a large bear with a hammer. He was every jolly and loving. He wasn’t a crack student like Igor but he was doing well in radio engineering. He had been in a relationship with Zina and they had broken up but maintained a brother sister like friendship. He was the one that introduced her to Igor.
- Ludmila Dubinina – Lyuda – 20- She was a staunch party supporter studying construction. She was known to be very athletic and strong. On another ski hike she was accidently shot by a hiker who was messing with his gun. As the group helped her make her way out to get medical help she joked and laughed lightening the concerns of others. She was in excellent physical shape and very athletic.
- Yuri Gregori Krivonischenko – Gregori – 23 – He always went by his middle name unlike another hiker we’ll discuss later. He was what we’d today call a Health Physics Major . He had graduated and was present doing his internship at Chelyainsk-40 disaster that became known as Kushtumkoy Accident (worse than Chernobyl but not as well known) He was on the clean up team at that site. So he was very knowledgeable about radiation which will come into play later. His personality was one of a jokester and played the mandolin making up funny songs to amuse other hikers. His mandolin was left in the cache to retrieve on their return as they entered the arduous part of the trip.
- Alexander Kolevatou – Alexandar – 24- He was very quiet and matter-of-face type of man. The discriptions of him strike me as a modern day hipster type. He wrote poetry and unlike others he kept his personal diary of the trip to himself. He was studying nuclear physics and already had a bachelors in metallurgy of heavy non ferrous metals. He wanted to work in nuclear fuel and weapons production. Oka so not so hipster unless you are an avid communist of the 1950s fear the attack of the capitalist… that kind of hipster.
- Zinaida Kolmogoroua – Zina– 22 – She was very popular, outgoing, and made friends everywhere. She was considered quite a beauty. She was outspoken and always chatted up everyone. She was, like all the others, a very experienced ski-hiker with many trips under her belt. She was a well know person on the UPI campus and considered one of the most influential members of the student body. There she was studying radio engineering. She had dated Igor for a short time but now was good friends with him as a sister but was dating Yuri after being introduced by Igor.
- Rustem Slobodin- Rustik – 23 – He was a quiet studious man. He was known for his honesty. He liked to watch others being silly and laugh with them but he himself was quiet and shy. He was very athletic too as I assume you have to be to be eligible to go for the Level III certification. His father was a professor at the university. He was studying radio engineering.
- Nicolai Thibeaux-Brignolles – Kolya – 23 – The reason for the French name is he is the son of a Frenchman who immigrated to Russia due to his communist beliefs and then be killed by Stalin. Kolya was born in concentration camp where his pregnant mother was thrown after his father’s execution. Now to feed into theories later this makes him sound like the best candidate of the 10 to be a US operative to me. His unfortunate start in life gave him great compassion for others struggling. He was known to help struggling hikers by lightening their load and carrying it himself. He’s help others set packs more comfortably and enjoyed training as well as assisting weaker hikers. He was very energetic, friendly, and open going well with Gregori’s jokester personality.
- Semyon (aka Alexander) Zolotayiov –Sasha– 37 – The oldest and most enigmatic of the group. First off his name was Semyon (Simon in Russian but pronounced Semen get your giggles and move on) but he introduced himself to the group as Alexander going by Sasha a common nickname for Alexander. (think in English how Dick is short for Richard). Second he joined at the last minute claiming his plans of going on a Level III certification hike with his group fell through due to schedule conflicts. Yuri liking the man and seeing he fit well with the group allowed him to join them. He was a vet of WWII and his unit had a 3% survival rate. He was a Cossack and due to this heritage his opportunity for advancement in the arm was little to none despite having 4 decorations when most in his unit died after receiving 2. He never married nor had kids which is unusual someone raised in the Cossack culture. After the war he left the arm and worked as a hiking tour guide the moved cross country without reason to another position then left it to move again to UPI. Upon autopsy it was revealed he had unusual tattoos at a time when tattoos were not so common. He has 1920, letters of the Russian alphabet in a math problem adding up to 4, and DAERMMUAZUXYA tattooed on him which no one is sure of that meaning either. It has been suggested that they are the first letters of the names of people in his unit who died. The equation does have a character often used in the army to represent brother-in-arms kind of friendship that develops in warfare. Still it is unknown what meaning the tattoos had to him.
- Yuri Yudin –Yudin-22- I know I said 9 were killed but when they set out there were 10. Yudin was a member of the party and wanted the certification. He had joint and back problems all his life and ski-hiking has helped him. It’s the old move it or lose it case, his way of moving it had been more hiking that skiing. However as they got further along the trip and deeper into Siberia his problems resurfaced and he went into a flare. He knew he would hold them back and the only way for him to recover was to get in a warm place and rest for an extended amount of time. He turned back and went to visit friends while he recouped from the flare. When he returned to UPI it was already discovered the team was missing. From then until he died in 2013 he was known as ‘the survivor’ though he has no idea what happened to his friends that fateful night.
Now that we have the players let’s get the timeline of known events…
27 Jan 1959 They arrive at Vizhai by truck after taking a train to Ivdel. They begin hiking to the starting point where they will cache goods for their return and start the most arduous section of the trip. Yudin knows he can’t do it.
29 Jan 1959 Yudin bids his friends good-bye and turns back they continue on to planned cache point.
31 Jan 1959 The now group of 9 arrive at the edge of the highland section of the trip and cached items they did not want to carry for the next section of the trip. They planned to retrieve these on their return.
1 Feb 1959 The group intends to go through pass on Kholat Syakhl and camp on other side. However a snowstorm comes up and is getting worse cutting visibility significantly. They are off course but may not realize it given the worsening conditions. Not wanting to lose the gained altitude Yuri decided the group will camp and check off the requirement of making a slope encampment. There is a photo of the group setting up tent.
12 Feb 1959 The date the group were supposed to telegram the Sports Club upon their return. However as this was just a target date, no concerns were raised when the telegram didn’t come in. It wasn’t unusual for the long hikes like this one to be a few days off of their target date due to unforeseen trail conditions.
20 Feb 1959 Still not notification from the team. Families begin to worry. Find Yudin had turned back and was well. Search and rescue efforts begin for the remaining 9 hikers.
26 Feb 1959 Campsite is found. The tent still contains belongings undisturbed. Footprints of 8-9 people lead from the opening made in tent to wood line 1.5 miles away. However shoes were found in the tent and footprints indicate the people were moving without shoes. On the wood line under what became known as THE cedar the bodies of Doroshenko and Gregori were found. They were dressed only in their underwear were found next to the attempt to build a small fire. Limbs from the cedar were broken off up to 15 feet high. Upon further searching three more bodies were found in a line from the tent to the tree in order from tent to tree they were Igor, Zina, and Rustik. The bodies were sent for autopsy to the nearest Gulag. I’ll go over the results in the autopsy section but there were unusual things found about the bodies so at this point it is known something strange has happened.
Late February 1959 Inquests into the deaths begins. Lev Ivanov was named lead investigator he questions all in the village, hikers that were nearby (a few mile away), and all involved in the autopsies. He was the man that ruled the cause to be “an unknown compelling force.” He did live a long life and gave interview to a Western journalist in the 1990s about the incident after the majority of the documents regarding the incident were declassified. More on him when I get to theories. At the inquest the deaths of the five found were to be hypothermia. However as the inquest and its investigation carried on the other bodies were found on…
4 May 1959 The search for the other four did not stop but grew as helicopters, military, Mansi natives, and locals all joined together to find the lost gifted students. Lyuda, Alexander, Kolya, and Sasha were found about 250 feet further away from the cedar and tent in a ravine. They had built a den in the snow and had a fire there but were found behind that. These were dressed better than the others and wore some clothes that are thought to have been taken from the others bodies. The cause of death on all three was ruled to be bodily trauma from a force equal to a bodily injury in a car crash.
End of May 1959 Inquest closes with classic Ivanov ruling of “an unknown compelling force” then classified and buried. Tales and rumors continued throughout Russia.
1967 Yuri Yarovoi who was one of the searchers wishes to publish a novel based on his experiences searching for the nine as the search unit photographer. It takes three submissions with alterations to make it past the Soviet sensors. He died in 1980 and unfortunately all his research and documentation on the event was lost and/or destroyed.
1990s Remaining files are fully declassified. I could not get a specific year.
Now we are at the odd findings at the camp and in the autopsies. First the tent – Everything in it was orderly. The stove, designed by Yuri, had yet to be assembled. But it appears there was going to be a meal and tending of their feet before doing that. It is thought they were hungry and had wet feet from hiking and setting up the tent in a storm. There were tears in the side of the tent from which the escaping foot prints originated when the tent was site. When the tent was set up and being photographed it happened a seamstress came by to see one of the photographers, she looked at the rips and stated she thought tears for the opening were cuts from the inside of the tent. It was sent to a textile specialist who analyzed it and gave the finding the seamstress’s hunch stated – the tent had multiple cuts from the inside. Some were slits and others made the two openings. Yet the interior arrangement and exterior set up were by the book for Level III certification. Found on top of the tent was Igor’s flashlight and it was in working order. At the entrance to tent was an ice pick seen in the photos of setting up the tent and was still standing when the tent was found.
I have copious pages of notes from the autopsies but I’ll just go over a few things that struck me. All the autopsies but Lyuda do not make notes about internal organs. The notes on her are 100g of clotted blood found in her stomach, related to her tongue missing, and the right atrium of her heart hemorrhaged due to compression injury.
Lyuda had several injuries that were odd. First was the already mention missing tongue it is not noted if the tongue was ripped, bitten off, or cut from her mouth only that it is gone and there is 100g of blood in her stomach to indicate it was removed while she was alive. Her upper lip is gone but lower lip, nose, and ears are intact. Those play into the next odd thing about her and Alexander– no eyes. Both have their eyes missing and exposed bone on the left eye socket. Both have lips, noses, and ears intact seeming to dispel the predation theory. These are also easy fleshy bits predators go for before eyes. Sasha was missing his left eye in the same manner.
While on the head common injuries found were busted bruised lips that had bled before death – Yuri, Igor, Dorodhenko, Rustik, and Kolya. The bilateral injury of the temporalis muscle (jaw muscles used in chewing) severe enough to cause bruising to notable bleeding occurred in Gregori (so severe there was blood pooling in the back of his head), Rustik, and Koyla. For Koyla a circular skull fracture on right side under the muscle was noted. Rustik had bilateral skull fracture under those muscles but this was not related to his cause of death, hypothermia. Related to head injuries would be Alexander’s broken neck which also was not ruled to have contributed to his cause of death which was hypothermia. Granted skull fractures and broken necks don’t always result in death but when hiking in Siberia I would consider it a major contriubiting factor and maybe rule as Zina’s was hypothermia due to violent accident at the very least.
Now to chest injuries – Lyuda had for ribs broken on the right and 1 rib broken on the left. All of her ribs that were broken were actually broken twice leading to the crushing of her heart. Sasha’s ribs were fully flailed on the right. Doroshenko had pulmonary edema with grey foam frozen on his face from his mouth caused by severe pressure on his chest. Gregori had a large abrasion from clavicle to last rib on right. All had chest injuries on the right side in the same area.
Also I want to talk about hand injuries. It is noted in the group log that some had gotten hand injuries while breaking old boards in a ghost town where they camped the night before Yudin departed. So even discounting these injuries which I would expect to be on the palm not to the back of the hand. There are numerous hand injuries noted on all victims. In Igor’s case his autopsy even notes the similarity to his hand injuries and fight injuries. Many read as descriptions of ‘fight bites’ the skinning of knuckles on opponent’s teeth or defensive wounds, made when fighting off another person. Their face injuries of bruises and scrapes reflect the same thing.
Now to lower body. Most didn’t have shoes on, except Sasha who appears might have been out of the tent at the time of the incident or just entered not removing his foot gear for the washing of feet and changing to dry socks and shoes. Many have bruised and abraded shins but might be the mark of ski-hiking in deep snow.
Oddities on the bodies – Lyuda and Alexander had radioactive clothing. The isotope profile on of one matched the Kushtumkoy Accident. The isotope profile of the others wasn’t noted if it was known. For those wondering yes every reactor has its own thumbprint of isotopes – what’s there, in what proportion, and relation to others. I knew a radio-chemist that could look at a spectrometer reading of radioactive waste and tell you what reactor created that just based on his memory of profiles. Did Alexander contaminate himself and carry that contamination for two years on his clothes? Seem unlikely for a knowledgeable health physicist. Even if he did that where did the other contamination come from?
Burns were found on Doroshenko on his head in the back and on the right side. He also had a hunk of his own flesh taken from the back of his left hand in his mouth.
Finally, the autopsies noted odd skin colorations on the first five found. Mostly grey-green. The second four found skin wasn’t noted as much since they had been exposed to the elements longer and had more reason for discolorations.
One other thing an obmotki (a foot wrap as used by soldiers to keep feet warm and secure trousers for an example see WWI US soldiers or Luke Skywalker when first seen on Tattoonie) was found at the site that did not belong to any of the hikers. Yudin testified he had not see it before. It was catalogued among the evidence but at the time of the event but by time of declassification it was missing from the evidence.
As for the rumor that their hair had turned white that you hear and see in some telling. Nothing is noted in the autopsies of hair discoloration. Looking at the autopsy photos (which I chose not to publish here but you can find them with an easy Google search) shows no discoloration of the hair.
Another group that hiked about 30 miles away noted orange lights playing around the pass on that night. Ivanvo noted this in his investigation report along with the observations from nearby village and Gulag of the same thing. However after his leaving to visit A.P. Kirilenko, member of the Soviet Congress, along with his advisor A.F. Ashtokin Ivanvo returned and struck all mention of aerial phenomena from the report. Also his notes of specific trees burned at the top were removed. There had been failed rocket testing in the area at other times and none of that was to be acknowledged. However, when interviewed in the 90s Ivanov noted locals stated when the rockets were used by the military there were loud noises associated with them but these were silent. He also stated the removal of all notes on burned trees and aerial phenomena were removed as ordered.
The name Kholat Syakhl is a Russian corruption of the Mansi name form the peak. It translates to Mountain of the Dead not Dead Mountain. The Mansi referred to it as this because there was no game to hunt there for many generations. In the numerous photos you will see members of the group posing next to Mansi marks on trees. These are marks of groups passing through it tells of the tribe or family, number in group at that point and number of dogs in the group. It’s a way of marking path on long hikes or hunting trips when going around the mountain to hunting grounds.
Okay a few rumors that persist in Russian media. First that the military helicopter pilot insisted the bodies be put in zinc coffins before taking off an even delayed the departure of the bodies to the gulag to have this. Zinc coffins were used for people who died of contagions and were used in victims of bio-warfare. Next an unnamed nurse (maybe she made her way here after Roswell) is said to have claimed there were eleven bodies flown in for autopsy at the gulag but two were removed by soldiers.
In the group hiking log Zina makes note about the Yeti/Bigfoot. She states merely that now they know what one looks like. The meaning of that entry is still debated – joke or reality?
Finally, the last photo – I’ve put it here. According to the translated notes I received the lab photographer noted the camera was wound and ready to make a pictures he snapped off one in lab without ‘making effort to compose a shot but to release shutter mechanism.’ Seem to explain that shot to me so I consider that mystery put to rest.
Now I’m to theories. I don’t feel any one addresses all the points. Only the victims footprints, radioactivity, eyes gone, tongue removed while living, running from a good tent when experienced hikers… lots of odd ends to tie up with an answer. I’ll go over the pros and cons of each.
Avalanche – snow covered the opening of the tent and these well seasoned ski-hikers who had fought bears, faced down horse stampedes, been shot panicked and ran. They felt big one was impeding so cut their way out and didn’t pause to put on their shoes.
Pros – chest injuries and frost bite from the avalanche snow.
Cons – footprints found at site when discovered. Ice pick was still upright and not buried. Tent not buried. The initial five bodies found were in 5 inches or less of snow. IF there had been an avalanche there would have been more snow. If they thought there was going to be an avalanche as he had in the horse stampeded Yuri would have followed the well known protocol for that. Also site chosen was chosen due to geography and lesser chance of avalanche there.
Also doesn’t explain radioactivity, missing tongue, missing eyeballs, or why they would build a den that would be in the path of the avalanche if that was what was feared or why they didn’t return to tent after threat was seen to be unfounded.
Infrasound – This is a fairly recent proposal made popular by Donnie Eichar’s book Dead Mountain. Infrasound is below hearing sound that still effects human bodies. There is a documented case of a lab fan in the 1960s lab of Vladimir Gavreau emitting infrasound causing illness, paranoia, headaches, hallucinations, and more in a people. Once the cause was found the study of infrasonics was born. If given the right weather conditions with wind the Dylatov pass is formed such that infrasound is generated.
Pros – explains the irrational aspects of the hiker’s actions. Explains why only the hiker’s footprints are there. Explains why area is barren for hunting
Cons – doesn’t explain the radioactivity, the missing eyeballs, chest wounds, fighting type wounds, or stolen tongue. Doesn’t explain why classified.
Human Attack .
KGB/CIA theory. During this time Russia was a very closed country and interaction with any foreigner was noted. The CIA operated by recruiting Russian citizens to do the spying for them. It could be as simple as bring a knitted cap contaminated with radioactivity from your work so we can determine what is happening there. It was actually this method that a plant was determined to be enriching uranium. So could Gregori have been recruited and meeting out in the middle of nowhere with his contacts to hand over his contaminated clothes from the accident and his current job? The ardent communist Lyuda fought trying to take the items got contaminated herself and with being discovered the contacts took out the group? Or maybe Sasha was KGB and caught Gregori with the ‘goods’ and a fight ensued killing all. OR maybe both were KGB there to trap the CIA and things went wrong.
Pros– explains the radioactivity. The second where the fight is among the group explains there only being foot prints from the group. Gives reason for fight type injuries. Explains why classified.
Cons – footprints indicate no others present but the groups so if this happened it was within the nine. Doesn’t explain the missing eyeballs and taken tongue or why not return when Gregori is disabled under tree?
Gulag escapees – There have been documented cases where people escaped the gulags and lived in the wild for years. There were such prisons close by that did have escapes in the pasts but none recent.
Pros– attacked by mountain men could explain running and not returning to tent.
Cons – were found with over 160 rubles between them. Pocket contents of bodies or tent contents not disturb. No other footprints. Doesn’t explain the radioactivity, missing eyeballs, or missing tongue. Doesn’t explain why classified.
Russian Special Forces – This goes with the rocket testing that Ivanov mentioned in his 1990 interview. The nine saw the failures and if that got out it would be an embarrassment so the special forces took out the group.
Pros – explains fight injuries, explains torture injuries – may have used them for ‘practice’ explains obmotki found. Gives reason for all nine being dead. Explains why classified.
Cons – doesn’t explain why only 9 people’s footprints found at site when discovered. Doesn’t explain radioactivity. Doesn’t explain why the other four had time to build den before they were killed.
American Special Forces – This ties back to the CIA section. It was hard to get into Russia so maybe in this area to meet citizen recruit. Meets up with group and kills them so they don’t tell they found Americans in Sibera. Or maybe Sasha was sent with group to look for US and photograph with his extra camera he had under his clothes (all known cameras according Yudin were found in the tent but another ‘extra’ camera was found on Sasha under his clothes. Yudin said he did not know Sasha had two cameras) was to make photos of the intruders if seen.
Pros – Again explains fight injuries and why all nine were dead. Explains Sasha’s extra camera. Could explain radioactivity, Americans getting samples from contacts then in fight gets on hikers. Explains why classified.
Cons – doesn’t explain footprints again. Doesn’t explain den. And really why would the Americans take time to torture hikers with rib flailing, eyeball stealing, and tongue snatching. Seems eliminate and move on would be objective there.
Mansi Natives – This theory has the group camped in a sacred spot and they are attacked ritualistically as punishment.
Pros – Explains odd injuries to bodies. Gives reason for attack during a snowstorm. Also gives cause for cutting tent and running in fear.
Cons – Area not scared to Mansi only seen as barren hunting area to go through to get to good hunting. Mansi seen as peaceful people and helped immensely in search for the hikers. Doesn’t explain why classified.
UFO – Don’t know so Aliens right?
Pros – Explains why Ivanvo was instructed to remove all aerial references. Explains why classified. Explains the sighting of silent orange lights over area that night. Explains burns in tops of trees. Explains radioactivity. Might explain odd ‘cattle mutilation’ type injuries of eyes and tongue and ribs. Explains panic of hikers. Strange orange lights were well documented by both sides in WWII and were called Foo Fighters by the US troops. Both sides suspected it was secret weapons from the other side after the war it was discovered
Cons – Doesn’t explain lack of footprints. Doesn’t explain why just small radioactivity there and why isotopes from Kushtumkoy Accident present. Also as with all ‘don’t know so aliens’ answers don’t explain why.
Yeti/Bigfoot – Okay this one makes my head hurt. It all started as far as I can tell with one of those Discovery Channel mockumentaries like the ones they had on Dragons or Mermaids or VooDoo Sharks. This one had a guy ‘discovered’ Zina’s entry about the Yeti and a ‘hidden’ photo of it. Yes the photo seen here. That’s the basis of the theory.
Pros – explains entry by Zina. It also explains slits cut to watch outside of the tent and the panic in the hikers.
Cons – Well it’s a mockumentary in a line of mockumentaries. Second no bigfoot tracks were found at the site. Thirdly I suspect the photo is like several in the collection and out of focus shot of a member of the party. There are few goofy shots on the roll of playing in the snow, faking going in the snow, tree climbing and this one. I suspect it’s a member jumping out from a tree. Still doesn’t explain the den, the radioactivity and honestly the body mutilations. But then again like aliens we don’t know the method of killing used by such creatures so possibly the eyes, flailed chest, and tongue could be normal.
Okay after all this research and the longest post yet – where am I?
These kids seemed great – fun loving, intelligent, productive, outdoorsy types with tonnes of experience. I can’t imagine what a seasoned WWII vet that survived an almost killed off unit, kids who faced down bears and stampeding horses, a kid that got shot and joked on the way to medial help, could encounter that would make them run without adequate supplies. I don’t know what they could have encountered that didn’t leave footprints but crushed chests, stole tongues and eyes, left radioactive traces on two, and kill them all. No answers, no answers it all. So I’m left only knowing for sure that it is a strange and troubling way to lose nine young people on the Mountain of the Dead.