Ten students in Soviet Russia set out for the hike of their lives in January of 1959. But what they encountered on their journey left everyone puzzled for decades. Since then, endless mysteries have ensued...
Where It All Began
The mystery that has puzzled scientists for years began as a journey for nine college students in the winter season of 1959. It started when Igor Dyatlov decided to take his friends out on a winter hike.
Dyatlov, a 23-year-old radio engineering student at Ural Polytechnic Institute in Russia, had a passion for hiking and skiing. He had his heart set on hiking in the Ural Mountains, but he knew that it would be unwise to take on such a risky activity alone.
The Ural Mountains
The Ural mountains are a mountain range that extends approximately from north to south in the western region of what was then the Soviet Union. It's a known fact among hikers in Russia that these mountains can be quite challenging for hiking, especially during the country's harsh winter seasons.
The mountains, spanning 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles), pass through the Arctic tundra and are completely covered in snow and glaciers. And although they are some of the oldest mountains on the planet, their elevation points are relatively high - with the tallest point reaching an altitude of 1,895 meters (6,217 feet).
Not An Average Team
Because of the dangerous risk that the journey posed, Dyatlov decided to round up a group of fellow hikers who would be up to the exhilarating activity. And so, he invited a few extremely talented and experienced hikers to join him in hiking the Urals.
Joining Dyatlov would be fellow college students who were certified Grade II hikers. Experienced as they were, these people came totally prepared for what they had expected to encounter in the icy mountains of western Russia. But unfortunately, nothing they imagined could prepare them for what they eventually faced.
The Journey Begins
It was a cold January day - the 25th day of the winter month, to be exact - when Dyatlov and the rest of the team set out on their hike. It's unfortunate we have to say that these people had no idea they would soon be going down in history - and not for breaking any records in hiking.
The group decided to first take a train to a town near their hiking trail called Ivdel, located in the northern province of the Soviet Union. From there, they rode together on a truck to Vizhai, a small village from which they would then embark on a journey that changed everything.
Preparing for the Trip
Like we said, this group of students were masters of the sport, and their years of practice had shown them the ropes of how to organize properly for such a trip. So, when they got to Vizhai, they began to prepare everything they would need for the two weeks that awaited them.
The day after the group's arrival was spent gathering supplies they would need and getting plenty of rest before the arduous journey. A few students made sure to bring diaries and cameras to record their forthcoming experiences. And it's a good thing they did...
Saying Bye to One Student
The big day finally arrived, and on January 27th, the ten hikers left Vizhai and set out towards a mountain called Gora Otorten. They had prepared everything they would typically need for such a trip, and when they began to approach the mountain, everyone was excited - except for one student.
One day into the trip, the hike began to take a toll on 21-year-old Yuri Yudin. The student had been suffering from chronic joint pain, and the journey had begun to impact his knees and joints. Although he was initially upset he wouldn't be able to continue the trip, he was probably later glad he made the decision to withdraw.
Although the group was disappointed that Yudin wouldn't be continuing the journey with them, they decided to move forward without delaying it. They documented every day of the long hike, writing in their diaries and taking pictures as they trekked along in the snow.
Although the icy cold was bitter and unrelenting, the students had expected it and prepared themselves well. Together, they pushed through the wind, snow, and freezing temperatures to make it to their next stop, just a few days later, on January 31...
A Journey Through the Snow
At the beginning of their trip, the college students were hiking on fairly even land, and they didn't feel too exhausted. But things began to feel a bit different as they made their way through the frozen woods towards the base of the tall mountain.
But once the group reached the edge of what was known as the Highland Area, they expected the journey to become even more difficult, as they would then begin to climb the mountains. However, even with these expectations, they were unprepared for what would come next...
The Original Plan
The group of hikers, led by Dyatlov, had initially planned to continue their route northward toward the nether-polar Urals. This part of the mountains had the tallest peaks in the range, with altitudes reaching approximately 1,895 meters (6,217 feet).
Although the mountains were incredibly tall, the group was well-prepared for the journey and continued their trail to the north. However, soon after, they were faced with terrible weather conditions, which forced them to make the move that completely changed their lives...
Knocked Off The Trail
Seeing signs of snowstorms coming their way, the group decided that it was best to change their route. They figured, if they continued to walk toward the north, their hiking would be challenged not by the height of the mountains but by the storm that was decreasing their visibility.
So, instead of going over a mountaintop and setting up camp on the other side, the group now decided to change their route. However, a few hours after rerouting, they realized they had made a big mistake and were now heading west. But it was too late to go back...
Setting Up Camp
Having been traveling west since 10 o'clock that morning, the group of hikers knew they wouldn't be able to make it back in time to their previous campsite before sunset. And so, once again, within just a few hours, the group had to rethink the dangerous path they had accidentally switched to.
Having only a few hours of sunlight left in the day, the students began to think of the optimal spot to set up camp for that night. They thought of the dangerous winds, snow, and freezing cold they had to protect themselves from. After all, they had just changed their path due to bad weather conditions.
The Unfortunate Decision
Brainstorming ideas together, the students thought of possible places to spend the night. They could camp out in a nearby forest to shield themselves from the harsh elements of the Russian winter. However, they quickly realized this option would set them back a mile on their journey, and the snowstorm wouldn't allow it.
Thinking of the time that was running out, the hikers ultimately chose the slope of the mountainside for their campsite that evening. They could then pick back up on their trail the next morning. However, little did they know, they had just made the worst decision they possibly could on that trail...
The "Dead" Mountain
It was the night of January 31st that Dyatlov and the group of hikers began to prepare their campsite on the side of the Kholat Syakhl Mountain. And in the language of the local indigenous Mansi people, its name translated to "Dead Mountain," which makes the story all the more eerie.
The mountain's name simply meant "lack of game" for Russian hunters on the mountain pass. However, the ominous name did give it a creepy feeling, and the hikers would soon find out what it had in store for them. But for the time being, they sat comfortably around a campfire they had built on the site.
The Evening Before
As is common with campsites, especially in such freezing weather, the students had built a campfire to keep them warm in the icy weather. And, as he had done every day of their journey, Dyatlov wrote about their trip in the diary he had brought with him, as he sat near the flames with his companions.
Dyatlov wrote about the warmth the fire had brought amid the harsh winter snow of the Ural Mountains. "It's warm," his entry read. "It is hard to imagine such a comfort somewhere on the ridge, with a piercing wind, hundreds of kilometers away from human settlements." But unfortunately, the comfort wouldn't last long...
This is where our story starts to get mysterious. Little did Dyatlov know, the diary entry he had written that night near the campfire would be the last one documenting the journey. Soon, the campfire would die out, and so would any further memories the students had of their trip.
Before setting out on their long hike, Dyatlov and his companions had promised their families to send a telegram to the school's sports club on February 12th - as soon as they returned from their trip. But February 12th came and went, and the students were never heard from.
The Investigation Starts
The students had informed their parents that they should expect a telegram to arrive no later than a couple of days after February 12th. And so, after a week past the set date with no word from the students, their parents knew something had gone terribly wrong.
On February 20th, the families of the students demanded the Ural Mountains be searched by a rescue operation. Soon, the Soviet armed forces became involved in the situation and searched the area for five days. They had almost given up hope when, on their sixth day of searching, they made a dreadful discovery.
The Hikers' Tent
One student named Mikhail Sharavin, sent by the university to search the area, happened upon a camping site that looked like it had hosted a horrifying event instead of nine hikers. "The tent was half torn down and covered with snow," Sharavin said in an interview at the time.
"It was empty, and all the group's belongings and shoes had been left behind," he continued. Investigators hurried to the site, and upon their arrival, they determined the tent's fabric had been slashed open from inside the tent, not from someone trying to break in. But that wasn't all they found...
More Strange Clues
In the snow around the tent, investigators identified eight or nine sets of footprints that all appeared to be heading in the direction away from the tent. What's more, they all revealed that their owners had either been barefoot or wearing only socks. This seemed bizarre for campers spending a night in a -13-degree environment.
Even more alarming was the next discovery investigators made: the footprints all showed that these people had not been running away from the tent in panic. Instead, they appeared to have been walking calmly. It was too bizarre for detectives to make any sense of.
Following the Footsteps
The detectives decided to follow the odd footsteps to see where they would lead. At the end of their trail, just about half a kilometer from the tent, investigators made the most unsettling discovery yet. Under a tall pine tree, they found traces of a small fire, beside which lay two deceased bodies.
The bodies, which belonged to hikers Yuri Krivonischenko and Yuri Doroshenko, were dressed only in their undergarments. They also noticed that, in the tree above the bodies, the branches were broken, likely because someone had attempted to climb up the tree. But unfortunately, there was more to the disturbing story...
Finding Three More Clues
As detectives continued to explore the area, they made more chilling discoveries. In separate locations, but all between the tree and the campsite, three more bodies were found. They belonged to Dyatlov, Kolmogorova, and Slobodin, and each lay between 1,000 and 2,000 feet away from the tree.
According to investigators, the three bodies seemed to have been trying to make their way back to the campsite, based on how they were posed. And strangely, they too had not been wearing shoes when they died. The investigators were puzzled as to why these expert hikers had left their tent to walk barefoot in the snow.
What Caused the Accident?
The bodies of the four remaining hikers were never located. After a careful inspection, coroners came to the conclusion that the five hikers that were found had died of hypothermia between the 1st and 2nd of February. But three months later, more discoveries raised puzzling questions that not even the coroners could answer.
It wasn't until May 4th that searchers found the final four bodies - some of which were also discovered without clothes. Other hikers seemed to have tried wrapping themselves in the garments of their (presumably) then-deceased friends. But none of these discoveries came close in strangeness to the injuries found on the bodies...
When the four remaining hikers were found, investigators recognized that their deaths were a lot more obscure than their peers'. One hiker had been wearing the burnt clothes of another - who turned out to be one of the hikers discovered first near the pine tree. It appeared this hiker had suffered a severe chest trauma.
Another hiker, name Zolotaryov, had also suffered a chest injury, while a student called Thibeaux-Brignolles bore signs of a fatal skull injury. According to investigators, their injuries were equivalent to ones that could have resulted from a car crash. Mysteriously, none of these injuries were external ones.
Looking For Explanations
It had seemed that investigators had solved the case of the nine hikers when they reported their cause of death to have been hypothermia. It seemed logical and aligned with the facts they had discovered until then. However, with the freshly discovered and unexplainable injuries, they found themselves reopening the case.
There were so many questions that had been left unanswered. Why did a group of expert hikers cut open their tent and walk out into the snow without any shoes on in the cold winter? Why weren't they running? What happened after they left the tent? They had to figure it out.
A Case (Not) Closed?
That same May, three months after the hikers' deaths, coroners further inspected their bodies that had been left on Dead Mountain. But although police collected every piece of evidence they could from the location where they had died, the clues just weren't adding up.
The final statement made by officials regarding the case was that the hikers had "died because of a compelling natural force." No further explanation was given, and the case was then marked classified, so that no one else could look into the case. However, the people of Russia were far from satisfied with this conclusion.
Soon, theories began to emerge regarding the unbelievably terrible end to a trip the hikers were very excited and well-prepared for. Could it possibly have something to do with the indigenous Mansi people who lived in the area? The investigations had previously thought the hikers' deaths may have been part of a spiritual sacrifice.
However, the possibility was ruled out after police interviewed members of the indigenous population. There was no evidence that a struggle had taken place, and the only footprints found were those of the hikers. But as soon as one theory was down, another popped up in its place...
An Avalanche of Mysteries
Many people believed - and some still do - that the hikers' deaths were caused by an avalanche that had taken place in the area at the time. They thought it was possible that the hikers, fearing an upcoming avalanche, had left their campsite in search of a safe place to hide. But the theory doesn't answer all of the questions.
Why, then, did the hikers walk calmly out of their tent, instead of running for their lives? Why weren't they wearing shoes? Also, why did no other hikers in the area report an avalanche? But it wasn't the only wild theory that had emerged from the perplexing event.
The Russian Government
The deaths of the nine hikers on that mountainside, with the only clues to the mystery defying all logic, created a pool of theories that attempted to explain the unexplainable. Nearly 75 theories went around regarding the incident - but none of them managed to encompass all of the bizarre observations made by investigators.
One strange explanation was that the hikers' deaths were planned by the government. Traces of radiation had been found on some of their clothes, which led some to believe that the hikers had witnessed a secret Soviet weapons test. The theory went that the hikers' deaths were then staged as part of a government cover-up.
Is the Air Full of Answers?
One conclusion, written in a 2013 book, suggested that the answer lay in the wind on the mountain the night the hikers died. According to the theory, the wind had produced infrasound, a low-frequency sound that could possibly cause panic attacks. The result, in that case, would be that the hikers went into emotional distress.
A 2019 joint investigation, conducted by Sweden and Russia, brought forth the theory. According to them, an extremely violent "katabatic wind" could have been caused by the weather, during which the group couldn't stay in their tent. The hikers would then wait for the winds to settle before they could return to the tent. However...
The Case Was Reopened
In February 2019, the Russian government decided these theories were not enough. Almost exactly 60 years after the tragedy took place on what is now known as the "Dyatlov Pass," the government had a surprising announcement. Prosecutors were launching a new investigation into the nine mysterious deaths.
Despite being classified since the 1970s, the case now had the chance to reveal more evidence that may lead to a plausible story surrounding the end of the hikers' journey. However, the question still remained as to whether this investigation would finally offer some real answers.
A "Natural Phenomena"
As prosecutors said, the latest investigation would focus on the theories that were most probable, according to the evidence found at the scene. And that ruled out the possibility of crime. "Crime is out of the question," a spokesperson said. "There is not a single proof, even an indirect one, to favor this criminal version."
The investigation has instead focused on anything that is "somehow connected with natural phenomena." So although the case of the nine Russian hikers has still not been solved, we can only wait and hope for investigators to discover more evidence that could explain the simultaneously tragic and bizarre mystery...